How a Plant-Based Diet Benefits Athletes

Ever heard these catchy phrases when thinking about the effects of eating a whole-food, plant-based diet on athletic performance…

  • The secret sauce.
  • The competitive edge.
  • The hidden weapon.
  • The plant-based advantage.
  • The secret sauce.
  • The competitive edge.
  • The hidden weapon.
  • The plant-based advantage.

These are just a few catchy phrases to explain the beneficial effects of eating a whole-food, plant-based diet on athletic performance.

There are many reasons why countless athletes are switching to a plant-based diet. Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton, tennis champs Venus Williams & Novak Djokovic, Olympian cyclist Dotsie Bausch, MMA Champion James Wilks (of the plant-based athlete documentary The Game Changers)…all plant-based athletes, proving that animal protein is highly overrated, and plants have all we need to thrive and perform.

Why? A plant-based diet contains all the nutrients your body needs for training and competing at the highest level.

The high fibre, high antioxidant, nutrient dense, low saturated fat, and no cholesterol package that plants come in, creates the optimal equation for quicker recovery, less inflammation, more energy, better heart health and smoother blood flow. And for those wondering what a plant-based diet is, put simply, it’s all about eating nutrient-rich foods that are derived from plants and eliminating any animal-sourced ingredients. Not only are plant-based foods good for you, but they can help anyone perform their best!

Heck! I started eating plant-based 6 years ago so I could lessen the inflammation in my knee after multiple knee reconstructions from my Ski Cross crashes on the World Cup, and it worked for me! I run daily and rarely have an inflamed knee.

If you’ve thought about going plant-based, here are 4 ways eating plant-based benefits performance (for athletes, or recreational adventurers).

Anti-inflammatory benefits:

Plants are packed with antioxidants, and antioxidants help neutralize free radicals! Since free radicals can lead to muscle fatigue, inflammation, reduced athletic performance and impaired recovery, it is important to boost antioxidants in your system to prevent the harmful effects of free radicals.

Gut health support:

The number one precursor to a healthy gut microbiome is the diversity of plant fibre you eat. Why does having a healthy gut matter? A happy and healthy gut means that the nutrients you eat are being assimilated optimally, and your trillions of microbes are producing anti-inflammatory short chain fatty acids! A diverse microbiome benefits all aspects of your health: your mood and serotonin levels, immunity, energy, digestion, and brain health.

Faster recovery:

We can praise the anti-inflammatory effects of a plant-based diet for this. With less inflammation, your body is able to bounce back quicker, allowing you to get back to your training, or whatever activities you love to do most. Plus, for athletes, plant-based foods have been linked to improved blood flow, helping oxygen reach the muscles more easily – improving athletic performance and recovery.

More energy:

Our muscles primarily run on glycogen, which is a form of carbohydrate stored in our muscles and our liver. Carbohydrates come almost exclusively from plants. Plants provide our muscles with glycogen and our brain with its favourite fuel: glucose. Whole foods, like plant-based carbs, are KING when it comes to staying sharp and energized during training sessions!

As an athlete, it’s wonderful to know that switching to a plant-based diet, for environmental or ethical reasons, won’t hinder your performance, but it could actually lead to you being a better athlete than ever before.

And although we’re talking about the benefits of plant-based food for athletes, remember that these benefits can be experienced by anyone who wants to perform, brainstorm, and feel better in every aspect of your life (you don’t have to be an Olympian, World Champ or Ironman to be at the top of your ‘game’!). A plant-based diet changed my life as an athlete, and I hope you can experience it too.

Julia Murray

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