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Impact Of Vegan Diets In Athletic Performance

Have you watched “The Game Changers?” It’s a 2018 documentary that was aired on Netflix. The documentary suggests that the vegan diet plays a vital role in improving the performance of professional athletes.

“The Game Changers” weights in on proof from athletes with extraordinary physiques and power as valid proof. The documentary is clearly suggesting that vegan is more beneficial for humans. It claims that the advantages of plant-based diets go way beyond improving athletic performance; it helps people live a healthy life in the long-term.

The film that was produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger features world-class athletes who testified to the benefits of plant-based diets. Cycling champion Dotsie Bausch, Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris, and top distance runner Scott Jurek were among many that claimed that vegan diets helped them get stronger and faster. Many also claimed that it aids fast recovery from injuries.

Vegans exclude animal-based products such as meat, eggs, and dairy from their diets.

Although there no solid scientific proof that a vegan lifestyle can improve physical performance, more professional athletes are going vegan. A leading sports nutritionist that has worked with many professional athletes admitted that many of her athlete clients are switching to plant-based diets.

These professionals experienced the beneficial effects of a plant-based diet, loved it, and eventually embraced vegan diets permanently.

On the contrary, a couple of researchers have studied the effect of diet types on athletic performance. The result of the studies shows that vegan or omnivore diet does not improve athletic performance.

Many health professionals and nutritionists have diverse opinions about the influence of a vegan-based diet on health and physical performance.

David C. Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, a professor of health and exercise science, is a vegetarian and also a marathon runner. He believes that a vegan lifestyle provides many benefits that do not include improvement in athletic performance. However, he said the exception may be in sports that last more than an hour. And such an athlete must have been taking a high carb and high-fat diet before going vegan. He emphasized that the benefit is limited to an increase in the level of endurance of such an athlete.

However, the studies that back the influence of vegan, vegetarian, and animal-based diets on performance are few.

A study that was published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition gave another perspective altogether. The study, which lasted for six months, monitored the maximum exercise capacity of 76 recreational runners over six months. Three groups were created, out of which 26 ate food containing meat and plants, another 26 were on vegetarian diets, and the final 24 on a vegan diet.  Participants' ages ranged from 18 to 35 years.

The published result shows that there is no difference in the exercise capacity of all the recreational runners that participated in the study.

So, one may conclude that all types of diet are suitable for performance. However, it is essential to make healthy choices, irrespective of the dietary lifestyle you choose to follow. There are good and bad diet options in vegan, lacto-ovo-vegetarians, and omnivorous diets.

For instance, it is a bad choice for a vegan to live on crackers, vegan cheese, and other processed plant-based food. A healthy vegan diet that would enhance athletic performance ought to have decent levels of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes seeds, and nuts.

“The Game Changers” documentary emphasized both the long-term benefits of vegan diets as well as the immediate impacts on performance. However, another angle worth considering is the influence on diets on recovery after workout sessions.

Neiman explained that the role of nutrition on performance should be studied from three angles -the immediate, long-term, and post-workout recovery. He further explained that long-term health should be a priority for everyone, including athletes. And that plant-based diet is central to all types of healthy eating patterns, from vegetarian to DASH, and everything in-between.

Nutritionists and performance experts stressed the importance of the last three days before a sporting event. At such periods, athletes should eat diets with high carbs, which are derived from plant sources such as grains and dried fruits. Nutritionists believe that the food choices you make every day plays an essential role in your performance and health. However, the meals you take before workouts and a sporting event are the most important.

Do you realize that you often feel sluggish after taking a fatty meal? Such diets are not the best for providing energy to the muscles. A diet that has the right amount of protein and carbohydrates will digest easily and supply energy to the body faster.

Nieman revealed the importance of dietary patterns on metabolic recovery. Metabolic recovery describes the rate of regaining strength after a race or workout session. He said that studies have proved that your diet plays a vital role in your return to homeostasis. The simplest snacks that enhance homeostasis are fruits. Many studies have found that common fruits such as bananas, pear, and blueberries, improve the rate of recovery after an exercise session.

Vegan diet enthusiasts claim that eating plant-based meals improves recovery between workout sessions because plant proteins do not cause inflammation. However, Nieman disagrees with this notion.  He believes that its silly to think plant protein will expedite recovery after an exercise.

However, leading nutritionist sees a connection between a plant-based diet and recovery after an exercise. Given the fact that intense exercise produces free radicals and other products that cause inflammation, the antioxidants in vegan-based diets could help reduce inflammation.

In spite of the different stand on the role of plant protein on recovery after exercise, these professionals agree on one thing. Consuming animal products before a sporting event cannot lead to increased performance.

No matter the type of game you are engaged in, you are better off taking a plant-based diet that gives you energy fast. The appropriate meals to take before a race should be one that is high in carbohydrates and contain moderate protein.

Such diets should be low in fat and fiber because they take a longer time to digest.

Some excellent diet before exercise are:

  • Banana and water are a simple and effective choice.
  • A smoothie made from banana, barriers, almond, or another nut milk.
  • Toast bread with almond or cashew yogurt.

So, what is the primary lesson from “The Game Changer” documentary?

One can conclude that consuming animal products is not necessary to improve professional sporting performance. Also, plant-based diets are beneficial for good health in the long-term.



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