A plant based diet has benefits that can improve athletic performance and optimize rehabilitation after injury.

Plant-Based Sports Nutrition Benefits

It’s clear that plant-based sports nutrition and its benefits for decreasing injury recovery time and improving athletic performance is a hot topic for discussion.

The Game Changers Buzz

The Game Changers Documentary Cover Image
The Game Changers, Netflix, 2019. Meeting visionary scientists and top athletes, a UFC fighter embarks on a quest to find the optimal diet for human performance and health.

Is it just me or does it seems like every year, there’s a new documentary on Netflix trying to persuade us to go vegan? 

Well if you’ve seen the latest release, The Game Changers, you know that 2019 is no exception. 

The buzzy documentary is unique in that, unlike its predecessors (What the HealthForks Over Knives, etc.) this one targets a unique niche of humans who could possibly transcend their current performance levels by adopting a plant-based diet: professional athletes.

It was my boyfriend who enthusiastically cued up The Game Changers for movie night. He works as a professional basketball coach and came home one day buzzing about watching the film that was having a few players express interest in trying a plant-based sports nutrition diet. 

As critics of a plant-based diet and the documentary have pointed out, the film does heavily rely on an anecdotal approach to sharing the benefits of the diet for improving sports performance and reducing injury recovery time. 

Nevertheless, the research for plant foods improving biometrics is an easy internet search away, and those film anecdotes happen to be extremely memorable. I’m sure many guys will think twice about ordering a steak on date night, if you know what I mean…

Creating a Plant-Based Household

 

The health benefits of a plant-based diet are not foreign to my partner or myself. 

For over five years as a NASM certified Fitness Nutritional Specialist, I’ve been educating my clients about the health and lifestyle benefits of making plant foods the basis of their regular diets. 

I practice that at home, also. Our household diet is 100% plant based and has inspired a multitude of meat, fish, and dairy-free recipes. Eliminating animal products encouraged us to expand our palates and create crave-worthy meals out of different combinations of plant foods. 

Vegan enchiladas filled with sautéed veggie and topped with homemade tomatillo sauce
Vegan Enchiladas Suizas with Homemade Tomatillo Salsa Verde
BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sliders with Classic Vegan Coleslaw
Veggie Baked Ziti with Cashew Ricotta Cheese topped with basil
Veggie Baked Ziti with Cashew Ricotta Cheese

Is a Plant-Based Diet the future of Sports Nutrition?

Beyond the digital entertainment space, the narrative on what compromises an optimal athletic diet has been slowly shifting within the last few decades.

Perhaps some professional athletes are feeling the burnout of digesting large quantities of animal products to meet protein intake recommendations. 

Or perhaps some are simply seeking a performance booster to level up on the competition. 

Nevertheless, athletes across a wide range of sports have become very open-minded about adopting a plant-based diet as a long term strategy for improving recovery, performance, and longevity after sports. 

Here’s three science-backed benefits of a plant-based diet that can lead to significant improvements in athletic performance and potential reduction in injury rehabilitation time:

Reduces nutritional stress on the body

Nutritional stress occurs when low nutrient and energy dense foods trigger a stress response, signaling the adrenal glands to release cortisol to provide quick energy. 

This becomes detrimental to athletic performance with chronic cortisol release, which keeps inflammation high in the body, interferes with blood sugar regulation, and increases body fat.

A plant-based diet is naturally nutrient dense and anti-inflammatory. The high fiber, low glycemic, low saturated fat, high antioxidant diet promotes a healthy balance of nutrients and energy in the body, keeping non-essential cortisol release low. 

Improves blood flow and oxygen uptake during exercise

Plant foods that are free of saturated fat limit plaque accumulation in the arteries and reduce cholesterol in blood after a meal, allowing for highly efficient blood flow.

Some plant foods also contain nutrients that increase nitric oxide in the blood. 

Nitric oxide has been shown to dilate blood vessels increasing blood flow, improve the strength of muscle contractions, and improve cardiorespiratory performance (ex: increased VO2 Max, anaerobic threshold, and time to exhaustion).  

 

 

Optimizes recovery after workouts.

Two components of the post-exercise muscle recovery process that can be positively impacted by a plant based diet are oxidative stress and inflammation. 

Oxidative stress naturally occurs with exercise, but creates tissue damaging free radicals within the body. Athletes can optimally neutralize these free radicals through high antioxidant intake from plant foods rich in vitamin C, E, beta-carotene, etc. 

A plant-based diet has also been shown to significantly reduce C-reactive protein concentration, which is a measurable marker of inflammation in the body.

Still skeptical?

Still need some convincing to significantly reduce the amounts of meat, dairy, and fish products in your high performance meal plan? 

Try it out! 

At the end of the day, noticing beneficial differences in how YOU feel after a period of plant-based eating can do more convincing than any research article or documentary. 

Just be sure to design a highly nutrient-dense meal plan that provides sufficient caloric and nutrient intake to meet your body’s individual needs. Oh, and don’t forget to get creative with your meals!

 

Sources:

Duong, Michelle et al. “High cortisol levels are associated with low quality food choice in type 2 diabetes.” Endocrine vol. 41,1 (2012): 76-81. doi:10.1007/s12020-011-9527-5

 “Cortisol – Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy.” Today’s Dietitian, https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml.

G. Cevahir, E. Aytamka & Ç. Erol (2007) The Role of Nitric Oxide in Plants, Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment, 21:1, 13-17, DOI: 10.1080/13102818.2007.10817406

Domínguez, Raúl et al. “Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review.” Nutrients vol. 9,1 43. 6 Jan. 2017, doi:10.3390/nu9010043

Barnard, N.D.; Goldman, D.M.; Loomis, J.F.; Kahleova, H.; Levin, S.M.; Neabore, S.; Batts, T.C. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports. Nutrients 201911, 130.

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