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Veganism + Athleticism? Things to Consider Before Making a Change.
Believe it or not, it has already been five years since the documentary that opened the world’s eyes to plant-based elite athletes, The Game Changers, came out. Before the flick, there were already a lot of vegan athletes, and there will likely be more moving forward, considering veganism has been growing steadily. Here at DRYWORLD, we put a huge focus on the things we put in our bodies. Making dietary changes — especially one as drastic as veganism — can take a massive overhaul and a lot of research. However, a lot of high-level athletes have made it happen successfully. Whether for the environment, your health, or any other reason, you CAN be a successful athlete on a plant-based diet.
“Being vegan doesn’t make you a stronger, better athlete. But it allows you to make yourself a stronger, better athlete.” — Brendan Brazier
Want to find out how veganism and athleticism go together for you? Here are the things you need to consider before changing your diet.
Hitting All Your Nutrients
Your top priority should be hitting all your nutrients — whether you’re an omnivore, vegetarian, or vegan. This can be one of the more time-consuming aspects of changing your diet. Sure, Oreos are vegan. Make sure they’re not the only thing you’re eating. Understand the macronutrient ratios you’re after for your goals and body type, and then map out your new base foods to gain those nutrients. If you already eat fairly clean and follow the Law of Eating Whole Foods, you’re well on your way and will have an easier time making the transition. Plenty of resources also walk you through exactly what you need and how to get it.
Iron + Iron Absorption
Something that may concern an athlete (especially a female athlete) switching to a plant-based or vegan diet is absorbing enough iron daily. Low iron can mean sluggish performance, headaches, and shortness of breath. Iron from meat is called heme iron, which our bodies absorb and use much easier than the non-heme iron found in plants. That doesn’t mean you have to throw veganism out the window. Plants DO contain a ton of iron; you just need to eat enough of them! Be conscious that your body absorbs and uses less than you would from a meat source. The rule of thumb is to consume about double the amount recommended. Find out everything you need to know about eating enough iron on a plant-based diet here. Oh, and to enhance absorption, make sure you’re taking your vitamin C.
The holy grail question. How will I get my gains with plant protein? By being conscious of your intake. Plenty of plant-based sources are loaded with protein — Hitting your intake can be easy. Add some extra legumes to your daily diet and check out which (maybe new to you) foods are protein-rich. Athletes looking to make gains and significantly up their protein intake can always supplement with a vegan protein powder. Speaking of supplements, many vegans will need to look at a B12 supplement as well, as plants don’t generate this vitamin naturally, and neither do we!
Talk to Professionals
There are three kinds of professionals we mean here. First, talk to your doctor if you have any health issues that a sudden and drastic change in diet may impact. Second, talk to a nutritionist with any questions you may have. They can help you get started and put more vegan foods and meals on your radar. Finally, talk to professional athletes who are vegans! Sometimes, the best expert will be the one doing what you want to do (and seeing the results).
Monitor How You Feel
There is no one-size-fits-all type of diet. The most important thing is how your body responds to — and feels — with what you consume. It may take a while to figure out how to get all of the nutrients you need for a well-balanced diet, so give it some time if you want to make a switch. However, your body will tell you in many different ways whether or not the switch is working. Don’t force something that doesn’t work for you.
Will I Be a Better Athlete?
This is another powerhouse question — Why make a massive change if you aren’t going to see any benefits? While becoming a better athlete involves a multitude of factors (YOU being the biggest one), being mindful about what you eat to ensure you’re hitting all your required nutrients is a cornerstone of high performance. Studies also show that a plant-based or vegan diet can reduce inflammation (partly due to the antioxidants found in plants — and you can find some superfoods with heaps of those in this blog post). Reduced inflammation can be crucial for quicker recovery after a grueling training day. If done right, the fibrous nature of a plant-based diet can help shred body fat and reduce your risk of diabetes, too. In short, the general health benefits of a plant-based diet will all benefit your athletic performance in one way or another. Less body fat can help you boost your VO2 max, less cholesterol can improve blood flow to muscles for better performance and recovery, and the type of carbohydrates provided by fruits and veggies offer a consistent energy level throughout the day, meaning your performance won’t lag.
We’re not saying every person needs to drop the meat to become the best athlete they can be. Again, we highly suggest you listen to your body and find what works best for you. Nutrition goals can be completed through a variety of different dietary preferences. You just need to pay attention and consume with care. What we ARE saying is that studies (and life) have shown it is possible to be a high-performance athlete without consuming a single steak or plain, baked chicken breast. Do your research, be diligent, go about it mindfully, and listen to your body. The ball is in your court.
“I feel stronger than I’ve ever been, mentally, physically, and emotionally. My plant-based diet has opened up more doors to being an athlete. It’s a whole other level that I’m elevating to.” — Hannah Teter
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