The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet for Athletes

The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet for Athletes

Special guest blogger, Julian Hong, an avid volleyball and basketball athlete, who shares with us the many benefits of a plant-based/vegan diet and how it can affect an athlete's performance. 

With many Olympic athletes, celebrities and possibly many of your friends and family telling you about their love for a plant-based lifestyle, we are all much more aware that a vegan diet is better for our bodies and for the environment, but are still worried about getting the proper nutrients from a vegan diet. There are stereotypes that a vegan diet might limit an athletes ability to perform in sports. This was the subject of the Netflix documentary, The Game Changer, which featured visionary scientists and top athletes including former heavyweight champion Arnold Schwarzenegger and Olympics athletes, a UFC fighter discussing the subject about meat, protein and strength. The film dives deep into the science behind vegan versus meat protein and whether meat protein is necessary for top athletic performance. The documentary also talks about the myths and misconceptions one may have about athletes on planet based programs. It points out that animals are plant based eaters and several experiments showed that meat proteins did not give a competitive advantage compared to plant based proteins. The documentary provides compelling reasons to move toward a plant based diet.

Vegan Olympic Athletes

Olympic Vegan Althetes

There is a trend of more and more athletes switching to a vegan diet and continuing to dominate their sport. Nowadays, almost every sport has high performing vegan athletes from Dustin Watten who plays for Team USA for volleyball, to Venus Williams who has won 49 singles titles in tennis. These athletes are all vegan, and are at the top of their sport. Is there a correlation between a vegan diet and performance in athletics?

Carl Lewis, 10 time Olympic medalist said,

“I’ve found that a person does not need protein from meat to be a successful athlete. In fact, my best year of track competition was the first year I ate a vegan diet.”

It turns out that in a new study conducted by researchers Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine shows eating meat, and by extension cholesterol, increases inflammation, which can result in pain and affect athletic performance and recovery. Several studies show that a plant-based diet may have an anti-inflammatory effect, resulting in less inflammation. 

One of the major reasons that athletes choose to follow a plant based diet is that a plant based diet gets more antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals. Free radicals lead to muscle fatigue, reduced athletic performance, and impaired recovery. Many athletes don’t have much time to recover between competitions, so fast recovery is critical to long term health and success. Too many athletes don’t take proper care of their bodies, and this leads to their promising careers ending due to preventable factors. 

Another reason that athletes use a plant based diet is because these diets are low in saturated fats and lack elevated levels of cholesterol which helps improve blood thickness, which helps more oxygen reach the muscles, therefore improving performance. For many sports such as cycling, the amount of blood that can reach the muscles is a crucial factor in high elevation races such as the Tour de France. In those races, blood oxygen is such a crucial factor that many athletes turn to performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) to increase that factor. So, a vegan diet is a cleaner, healthier alternative to the typical meat diet, which also increases the crucial factor of blood thickness.

Twrl at the USA Volleyball Finals

As an athlete myself, I am exploring more plant based diets as I see many clear benefits to athletes and that more and more high performing athletes are making the switch to a vegan diet. Research shows vegan diet increases the blood oxygen levels, and allows for athletes to perform better and have a faster recovery. The added benefits of antioxidants make a plant based diet more attractive, and finally, plant based diets also help the environment and limit greenhouse gas emissions. I have incorporated more plant based proteins starting with plant based products such as vegan burgers, protein bars, and protein powders and even the milk tea I’m drinking! In that search, I was introduced to Twrl Milk Tea, which I am now a big fan of, and can barely tell it is plant-based. 

Now if this isn't enough, there is a lot of evidence that plant-based and vegan diets are highly beneficial for the planet. A study from the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from one’s diet can reduce an individual's carbon footprint from foot by up to 73 percent. Furthermore, the same study also reports that a single glass of dairy milk results in almost three times as much greenhouse gas emissions and nine times more land use than the equivalent glass of plant-based milk. Even more reason to embrace plant-based drinks like Twrl Milk Tea which can make a traditionally dairy drink taste great as a plant-based milk tea.

I am testing to see if I feel any difference during competitions and practices. With the Olympics in full swing, I have been watching all sports in particular US Men’s Volleyball. I’m inspired to continue working on being the best athlete I can be. Being a competitive athlete

requires discipline and focus and diet is a critical component of an athletes overall health. And, since plant based diets show so much promise, I am leaning towards embracing a plant based lifestyle, for the environment and myself.

— Julian Hong