Over the past few years veganism and plant-based diets have grown rapidly. No longer seen as a minority, many athletes are now adopting this way of eating after recent research has shown that being vegan can improve and enhance training and fitness levels.
As a long distance ultra-runner, I’m continually looking for ways to improve my own health, my strength and running ability. Exercise is a great remedy to keeping us fit and well, but I’m also a firm believer in "food as medicine". Since I switched to a plant-based diet, and cut all meat and animal products from my meals, there have been lots of noticeable improvements to my health and fitness.
Vegan athletes in the news
Thanks to the release of the documentary film 'The Game Changers' it’s become apparent that a plant-based diet isn't just a healthier way of eating. Many big name athletes such as Venus Williams, Lewis Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger have discovered that their fitness and recovery levels improved once they switched their eating habits.
Veganism has erupted significantly within fitness and bodybuilding. Eating a plant-based natural whole-foods diet is one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies, and I was interested to discover more about the link between veganism and fitness. Often we hear many contradictory information, such as vegans not getting enough protein in their diets. But in fact we only require 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, more depending on how much training you undertake per week. There are several plant-based sources of protein: beans, lentils, nuts, quinoa, couscous and tofu – all of which are healthier and natural food sources.
Scott Jurek, the famous ultra-runner, even wrote a book about how his vegan diet is the key to his success as an elite athlete – Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. Nobody can ignore what some of these athletes have achieved on a plant-based diet.
“In regards to competing and training I noticed my recovery times had shortened, that I was less injury prone, and I had a higher level of energy.” — Scott Jurek
My own journey
By sharing my own journey I hope to inspire others to see how our eating habits can have such a big effect on our training and fitness levels. Not too long after cutting out all meat, dairy and other animal products, I soon noticed differences in my body. I felt more energetic, I was less stressed, my skin and hair improved, and I began to sleep a lot easier.
The big differences
And when it comes to my running, I noticed my recovery times reduced. The aches and pains I used to get after training or racing, completely disappeared. Improvements in fitness levels comes from training, but what we eat is just as important. Physical training is not the only factor that helps improve fitness capabilities. Changing our eating habits can play a major part.
Plant-based foods give athletes all of the protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and nutrients we need to grow stronger, without the saturated fats and high levels of cholesterol found in animal products. Not only that, plant-based whole foods are a much healthier source for muscle growth and repair, all of which is vital for recovery time after exercise. Quinoa, tofu and soybean products are all high in protein, but low in saturated fat. Exactly what our bodies need for repair and recovery. There is a wealth of resources for vegan recipes and meal ideas. Books such as the No Meat Athlete Cookbook by Matt Frazier shows how easy it is to be healthier, fitter and perform better on whole plant foods.
Improving our health through food
The truth is, there are so many different plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy these days, there really is no need to eat meat to build strength. And many athletes have proven that we don't need to consume meat to get strong. Our bodies can get all of the protein we need from plant sources.
Food plays a vital role in overall health. It's often hard to believe that what we put in our bodies can have such a positive effect on our health. American physician Dr Michael Greger discusses ways to prevent and treat disease with our diet in this insightful video on Nutritionfacts.org.
What the Health
One of the most insightful documentaries I have watched over the past few years is ‘What The Health‘ (currently available on Netflix). This film taught me to open my mind and become better informed about the foods we consume. It taught me to do my own research and make better choices when it comes to the food I buy. The information and facts that are uncovered in the docu-film, quickly gave me the proof I needed to show why I was feeling a lot healthier on a vegan diet.
Making a positive change
I never expected that turning vegan could improve my fitness levels as much as it has. Not only has it helped me become fitter and healthier, it's given me new insight and helped to educate me about food and how it affects sports performance. Now my aim is to help educate and inspire others on how our diet affects fitness. Right now I'm in the best shape I've ever been, and I truly believe that eating natural plant-based foods is the healthiest thing we can all do for our bodies.
I would like to add – I’m not a doctor or scientist, neither am I a nutritionist. I’m simply stating what has helped me be a better runner from my own proven techniques. I’m not suggesting everyone should immediately make a drastic change to their diet. Please please, do your own research first. Simply cutting meat and other animal products from your diet is not enough, you need to make sure you’re replacing these foods with the correct alternatives to ensure you’re still getting the right levels of nutrients. If you’re really concerned about issues with your current diet, I recommend seeking professional advice in the first instance.