People are drawn to the idea of a plant-based diet for many different reasons. For some it’s because they love animals, for others environmental, and for some, to take care of their heart. It’s also interesting to note that many athletes are now switching to a predominantly plant-based diet to improve their performance, even if they have no other reason. One of the reasons a plant-based diet may enhance performance isn’t just because meat is off the plate, but what comes along with leaving meat off the plate. Lower amounts of chemicals in the body, removal of harmful dietary cholesterol, and higher amounts of nutrient-dense foods. While it’s not a guarantee, many athletes and bodybuilders have testified a plant-based diet to enhance their health significantly, and some have even called it a game-changer. Brendan Brazier, author of the Thrive Diet being one of the most popular athletes that came to a plant-based diet to enhance performance, along with the famous ultra athlete Rich Roll and co-author of The Plant Power Way, the Olympian Carl Lewis, and even the well-known tennis star/celebrity, Venus Williams.
If you’re an athlete and wondering if you might benefit from a plant-based diet, it’s worth giving a shot. To inspire you to do so, here are some top signs to look for that signify your body may benefit from switching to a meat-free, plant-based diet:
1. Slow to No Recovery
Not recovering after exercise isn’t normal, nor is it healthy for your body. While there are supplements you can take, of course, the better way to optimize recovery is to eat foods that lower inflammation and enhance recovery. These include anti-inflammatory proteins, antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, bananas, and broccoli, along with magnesium and calcium-rich greens, nuts, and seeds. Beans and legumes are also excellent sources of B vitamins, complex carbs, magnesium, potassium, protein, and iron to enhance recovery even further.
2. Poor Energy and Stamina
Poor energy during workouts is also a tell-tale sign something in your diet isn’t working. While junk foods are a given for ruining your energy, so are foods that are hard for the body to digest. Digestion takes up a great deal of energy in the body because blood is diverted away from the muscles during digestion to help the body process food into nutrients. It’s important to eat simple, healthy sources of complex carbs, natural sugars, and small amounts of plant-based protein before a workout for optimal energy. Sweet potatoes, raisins, dates, oats, and banana are all good options. Easier to digest sources of amino acids and protein include chia, hemp, pumpkin seeds, and quinoa. Stamina during your workouts is a tell-tale sign of your diet, possibly due to a lack of necessary carbs, fats, and raw, nutrient-dense foods. Plant-based foods enhance oxygen to the brain and muscles, specifically foods like spinach, beets, kale, and blueberries. Foods like maca, sweet potatoes, bananas, raisins, dates, and goji berries also benefit sources of carbohydrates and amino acids that enhance stamina during workouts while acting as slow-burning sources of glucose for the muscles when its most needed.
3. Poor Sleep
Inflammation and muscle soreness can also compromise your ability to sleep well. If you’re eating a large amount of meat and animal-based foods, your digestion could also be keeping you awake at night when it should be in repair mode. Animal-based foods not only take double (sometimes triple) the amount of time to digest as plant-based foods, but many also increase inflammation markers in the body known as C-reactive proteins. These contribute to inflammation, muscle soreness, and even an unhealthy heart. Plant-based foods are high in raw sources of vitamins and minerals like magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E to reduce inflammation and support health on all levels. Not to mention, they’re also natural sources of complex carbohydrates that help produce serotonin and melatonin in the body to help induce sleep and work to repair and replenish glucose in the muscle cells. You may also notice you wake up in the morning feeling less tired and with a bit more pep in your step due to better, deeper sleep and less achy muscles!
4. A Slow Metabolism
You wouldn’t think athletes suffered a slow metabolism, but chronic dieting is something certain types of athletes participate in to keep their weight down. This can result in low calorie, high protein foods (from animal foods like egg whites, chicken breast, white fish, etc.) eaten at all their meals. While these foods are high in complete proteins, not eating enough calories can also cause the metabolism to slow down which will ultimately result in little to no hunger, poor recovery, constant fatigue, and a less-than-optimal performance. If you’re dieting your way to an athletic body by eating highly inflammatory animal-based foods, try revving your metabolism with plant-based foods that will still keep you lean, yet give you energy and start the fire again. These foods include: oats, berries, hemp, chia, flax, coconut, avocado, almonds, walnuts, tempeh, beans, legumes, quinoa, tofu, and any type of fruit or vegetable. Don’t expect to reduce your calories from healthy, whole foods and your metabolism benefit. The body needs to be fed, and plants do an excellent job of that on all levels!
5. You’re Not Progressing
If your current diet isn’t working for your performance, it’s time to change things up! Recovery isn’t the only thing necessary for performance — so is seeing constant, consistent strides during your workouts. If you’ve seen a stall and have tried everything else, you might try looking at how you’re fueling your body. Eating more clean sources of vitamins and minerals from whole, plant-based foods, less inflammatory proteins from meat, eggs and dairy, and getting back to foods in their most natural state are three key things to focus on for higher energy that comes naturally without the need for fancy workout aids.
Plant-Based Meal Plans to Try
If you’re interested in trying out a plant-based diet for performance, we’ve got three meal plans that you can try! If you’re a general workout enthusiast or athlete, see our weekly meal plan for The Vegan Athlete here. If you’re a bodybuilder, you can check out The Bodybuilding Vegan Athlete menu, and if you’re a runner or other type of endurance athlete, see The Endurance Vegan Athlete here. For the ladies out there, you can also check out A Sample Meal Plan for the Female Plant-Based Athlete here.
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