How Does a More Plant-Based Diet Affect Sporting Performance?
All around the world, plant-based diets are on a rise — and with good reason. Increasing the amount of plant based food sources can be beneficial to, not only your individual health, but can aid in promoting more sustainable consumption. A move towards more plant-based options can benefit anyone, and increasingly those with active lifestyles are turning to this diet, including many top athletes such as tennis player Venus Williams and basketball player Kyrie Irving, as well as Sproud ambassador Robin Arzòn VP of fitness at Peloton.
Indeed, increasing the amount of plant-based food sources in your diet can have a positive effect on sporting performance, and here are a few reasons why:
It promotes leaner body composition and lowers body fat
Plant-based diets are mostly low in fat and high in fibre. This gives you a leaner body composition, as it reduces fat so more of your own bodyweight is maintained. This is important for athletes as less body fat also means increased aerobic capacity, which leads to better endurance. Plus, by reducing fat, plaque can be reversed — keeping your heart healthy.
Many plant-based alternatives are also much lower in calories and sugars compared to their traditional counterparts. For example, our unsweetened variant, which is 25kcal per 100ml (and zero sugar too!) allows athletes, or anyone else, to implement a lower calorie intake without making hugely noticeable changes to your diet or taste preferences.
It boosts oxygen and blood flow to tissues
Another reason athletic performance can benefit from an increase in plant-based food options is that it can lead to a greater intake of nitrate, which can help increase the levels of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide helps improve blood viscosity, which in turn helps more oxygen reach the muscles, and helps that blood and oxygen be distributed efficiently. The improvement in blood flow and muscle metabolism improves both cardiovascular and muscle endurance.
It reduces inflammation and supports training recovery
Recovery is a key area of performance that, if done correctly, enables athletes to perform at a greater level and intensity for longer periods of time, whilst simultaneously reducing risk of injury. Exercising can put your body under a lot of oxidative stress, possibly causing inflammation of joints. An increase in plant-based intake can boost this as plants contain phytonutrients, and these have anti-inflammatory properties that regulate pro-inflammatory cells. On top of this, plants have complex carbohydrates that are needed for energy and muscle glycogen storage. This is vital to recovery as it is the main source of fuel for skeletal muscles during intense exercise.
Common misconceptions about plant-based diets
There are many misconceptions regarding plant-based diets that make some athletes and active consumers sceptical about them. For one, it can be assumed, that it can be difficult to hit one’s protein goals, which is a key aspect of sporting nutrition. In reality, there is a vast array of recipes and protein-rich plant-based food making it easy to live an active lifestyle and hit one’s protein goals if more plant-based options are introduced into the diet. Take our friends at Explore Cuisine, for example, who produce gluten-free pasta out of Green Lentils and Edamame (Amongst other great gluten-free sources) which contain up to 40% protein!
Another misconception is that a plant-based diet is boring and bland — it’s not. Oftentimes, it’s simply a matter of how you prepare it. There are many great sources out there that prove plant-based recipes can be just as inventive and delicious as their non-plant-based counterparts. Take grain bowls, for instance. Not only are they filling and versatile, but they’re also very nutritious. Unrefined and high-protein grains like quinoa and barley are extremely easy to prepare and can be cooked in batches using mini rice cookers.
Another great source of inspiration is Gaz Oakley, the Avant-Garde Vegan and Sproud Ambassador, who really showcases how diverse and versatile vegan cooking can actually be. His Youtube page and Instagram have a ton of great vegan recipes, and there are also sections specifically about high protein vegan food. He shows that it’s completely possible to live an active lifestyle and hit one’s protein goals without meat.
There is still so much we don’t know about the link between athleticism and diets. And with new research being conducted all the time, there is no definitive answer to be had as to what diet is best. One thing for certain though is that the key to athletic performance, and life, is to find a healthy balance. Whether you are vegan, pescatarian, flexitarian or whatever you may be — you’ll still need to have a balanced mix of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins and more to perform on the field or in everyday life.
There are plenty of reasons to increase the amount of Plant Based options, whether it makes up the majority of your diet or just a small portion of it. It’s a great way to minimize the environmental harm done through our consumption.
We at Sproud believe our products are for everyone and can help people maintain a healthy balanced diet, whilst at the same time helping build a more sustainable future for the next generation of part-time runners, professional athletes, and people in general.
Written By: Jennifer Birch
Edited By: Alex Forbes