Walk into any gym at 5pm on a weeknight and ask someone lifting weights if he or she has heard of all the benefits of a plant-based diet. Odds are, you’ll get a confused stare in return, or perhaps a “What’s that?”. In the fitness industry today plant-based nutrition is seldom the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think of proper sports nutrition, despite the mounting evidence illustrating that a vegan diet fuels performance, enhances recovery, and prevents/reverses many chronic diseases. More often than not, the gym rat and the athlete alike will assume that a perfect meal for pushing their performance should be centered around skinless chicken breasts, eggs whites, and low fat dairy products. While most sports have this under-appreciation (or even ignorance) of plant-based nutrition, nowhere is it more widespread than in the strength and power sports such as weight lifting, bodybuilding, football, and martial arts.
The foundation of this strong emphasis on animal products for strength athletes is protein. Animal protein, and lot of it. Some might even say that if you don’t eat meat you will be skinny and weak – I know I’ve run into this opinion more than a few times. While the rationale behind this exuberance for animal products – namely that it’s a concentrated source of essential amino acids which help you recover from training and grow new muscle tissue – seems sound, animal products are hardly the only source of protein available to humans, nor are they anywhere near the healthiest! There are many complete plant proteins which contain all nine essential amino acids and none of the cholesterol or saturated fat found in meat such as hemp, soy, quinoa, potatoes, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and many others. As opposed to animal products, when these foods are eaten as part of a diverse diet they provide all the protein you could ever want for excellent recovery and muscle growth, plus a bounty of fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals along with it.
Add to the disease-fighting nutritional value of a plant based diet the fact that it also requires less water, land, and fossil fuels to produce, and that it is without question the most humane and ethical way to eat, and the case for switching that chicken breast for an extra helping of beans becomes inarguable. While this information is still unknown to many athletes, word is spreading. After being a self-proclaimed carnivore for my entire life, I began following a plant-based diet five years and have seen my physique, exercise performance, and immune system improve dramatically.
Since becoming vegan, I’ve gained 20lbs of lean muscle and have lost 5% bodyfat from an already very lean and athletic physique; my strength, endurance, and explosiveness have all improved substantially. And my story isn’t unique. I’ve used the same approach for my clients that I use for myself and have had tremendous success training everyone from pre-contest bodybuilders to weight-loss challenge grand prize winners. As word spreads and more athletes become familiar with the benefits of plant-based nutrition, this once obscure way of eating will become the tool more and more Derek Tresizeathletes use to give themselves a competitive edge in their field, all while maximizing their long term health and minimizing their impact on the world around them.
Image Source: Whitney/Flickr