Is a plant-based diet better for athletes
With the popularity of documentaries like The Game Changer, I'm frequently asked about plant-based diets for athletes. While there are certainly benefits to reducing dependency on animal proteins, switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet isn't necessarily a better option for athletes... especially growing athletes.
When we're focusing on fueling adolescent and teen athletes, nutritional needs must be met not only for training but for physical growth as well.
There's no doubt, though, that "plant-based" has become the recent buzz... and a minefield of misleading marketing.
Companies generally count on consumers' attention to the front label rather than the ingredients on the back. While a bold "plant-based" label is often interpreted as "healthy food," it may mean that whole grains/seeds/nuts are simply one real ingredient mixed in with fifty nutritionally-void additives that can diminish performance and recovery,
Although it is entirely possible to be an elite athlete and follow a vegan diet, it's often misinterpreted that "vegan" simply means avoiding animal proteins and by-products (in essence, then Twinkies and Doritos are "vegan" options). In actuality, an effective vegan/vegetarian diet takes a great deal of time, dedication, and discipline to ensure all nutrients are met: especially calcium, iron, and essential amino acids since only a few plant foods are considered "complete proteins."
Regardless of declaring a vegan/vegetarian diet, plant foods are a fabulous asset for everyone- especially with grocery prices continually rising.
Plants proteins (quinoa, farro, beans, chickpeas, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, tofu, edamame) are much less expensive than animal proteins. Adding plant proteins to any meal or snack is a great way to minimize cost and maximize nutrients.
Remember, many animal proteins contain very little if any carbohydrates or healthy fats. Carbohydrates are the growing athlete's (all bodies, actually) source of energy and nutrient-dense fats support the development and function of the nervous system, hormone balance, and brain health.
Some plant foods- quinoa, chia seeds, and pumpkin seeds for example- contain carbohydrates, protein, and fats.
Additionally, plant sources provide a multitude of vitamins and minerals essential for bone and muscle strength, recovery, immunity, focus, vision health, endurance, and digestive health.
Likewise, refrigeration is less of a concern with plant foods which makes them convenient for athlete travel, between game fueling, and post workout snacks.
And though I don't believe a vegan/vegetarian diet is essential for optimal performance, I do believe we need greater awareness in how our meat/poultry/seafood is sourced... especially when we're fueling for game, growth, and future health.
While a vegan diet isn't necessary, plant foods help maximize your athlete's growth and potential, and they're convenient and cost-effective for busy families and schedules.
Concerned your athlete isn't meeting nutritional needs for performance and growth? Want quick recipe ideas incorporating more plant foods? Does your organization need a Team Talk? Contact me HERE or at firstname.lastname@example.org.