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Does a plant based diet improve athletic performance?

Last night I watched the Netflix documentary: 'The Game Changers'. It discussed how a plant-based diet has improved the athletic performance of many elite athletes. I wanted to research more into this topic and to find a conclusion.

Many claim that a vegan or vegetarian diet helps to improve blood viscosity, or thickness. This is believed to deliver more oxygen and nutrients to the muscles, which ultimately improves athletic performance. It is also claimed that these diets improve arterial flexibility and diameter, leading to an efficient blood flow- so the athlete won't fatigue as quickly.

As many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, therefore reducing inflammation. These features of plant-based diets improve the athletic performance especially for endurance athletes.

There are countless vegan elite athletes who swear by their diet for their athletic performance. Fiona Oakes is a British distance runner who holds four world records for marathon running. In 2013, she won both the Antarctic Ice Marathon and the North Pole Marathon. She has been a vegan since she was six and swears by her diet for her athletic performance.

We have seen that many endurance athletes benefit from a plant-based diet, but what about strength athletes, that we all know need a high amount of protein in their diet.

Nigel Morton is a vegan powerlifter. There is a stereotype that vegan or vegetarian athletes are not strong as they are not receiving their protein from meat. However, Nigel Morton states '“If there is one thing I can accomplish outside of lifting, I would like to show that being vegan does not have to be a limiting factor for your aspirations in strength sports or any sport, especially since I have never eaten meat as a part of my diet. I have always been vegetarian or vegan".

It can also be argued that a plant based diet is a far more effective provider of protein. All animal protein which we consume is derived from cattle. These animals are fed a plant rich diet which in turn produces the large amount of 'meat' protein that we eat. Therefore by eating the primary source of 'plant protein' we to will have the nutrients and proteins to create 'muscle' mass. One could argue this is a much more efficient use of our food resource in addition reducing the huge carbon footprint created by livestock farming.

However, some may argue that there is a concern that a plant-based diet is low in calories- therefore, it is important athletes are still consuming enough calories in their diet to be able to cope with the intensity and duration of exercise. Also, there is a concern that vegans and vegetarians are not consuming enough iron, zinc, vitamin D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, vegans are also at a high risk of developing a Vitamin-B12 that could lead to neurological issues. Therefore, it is important to take supplements to ensure you are consuming these vitamins and minerals.However, from these studies we can clearly see that no matter the nature of sport a plant-based diet is proven to show benefits and improvements for athletic performance.

Perhaps try and go vegan for a week or even a day to see the effects on your athletic performance.

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