What does science say about a plant-based diet for athletes?
The most recent scientific literature demonstrates unequivocally how the adoption of a vegan or vegetarian food style is associated with decreased cardiovascular risks, LDL cholesterol levels, lower incidence of diabetes, overweight and hypertension, all conditions in which oxidative stress and inflammation play a key role.
The same research shows that these benefits are not so much associated with the exclusion of animal food from the diet, but with an increase in the consumption of plant-based foods (vegetables, seeds, legumes, whole grains), rich in vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, minerals, nutrients of which animal and processed foods are often poor.
Intense loads and training volumes subject the body to an oxidative stress, and always cause a certain level of inflammation, with consequent weakening of the immune function and the increased probability of contracting minor illnesses, as well as banal colds or small injuries, which may force-stop the workouts.
A diet based on plant-based foods, typical of those who follow a vegan diet, provides a greater quantity of vitamins and minerals with an antioxidant action, better supporting the immune function and counteracting the effects of oxidative stress. A vegan diet also supplies less saturated and polyunsaturated fats of the Omega 6 type, involved in the production of pro-inflammatory molecules.
Plant-Based Diet: What Science Reveals
Scientific studies are clear:
A vegan diet can be beneficial, giving us a greater resistance to infections and a general state of health and well-being, essential for achieving good sports performance. However, our nutrition should be balanced not only at an energetic / quantitative level, but also From a qualitative point of view.
The ADA (American Dietetic Association) has identified calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D and vitamin B12 as key nutrients, which should be never neglected by those people following a vegan diet. Vitamin B12 is the only vitamin for which mandatory supplementation is required, through supplements or fortified foods, while the other nutrients will be integrated only in case of
deficiency, but let’s never keep them under control.
Vegan Athletes’ Performances
What about performance? Does a plant-based diet manage to promote better athletic performances?
Available data are interesting! Vegan athletes’ sports performances are not only comparable to those of omnivorous ones, but, in some cases, their ability to recover has proved to be better, as well as some parameters such as tissue oxygenation.
In my opinion, claiming that a vegan nutrition is superior compared to an omnivorous diet is premature. Nevertheless, available data underlines once again the importance of a varied diet. Indeed, even if a person is omnivorous, he or she should always follow a nutrition rich in fresh vegetables, legumes, seeds and vegetable oils, providing the essential nutrients to counteract the negative effects of intense physical activity.