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Plant-based eating – Does it improve athletic performance?

Ok. So I am a sample of 1, but if my experiences are anything to go by, the answer is yes.

Yes – My athletic performance and recovery are both massively improved on a plant- based diet.

Ok – So I am not known for my athletic prowess, BUT….I have found that I do not ache after Personal Training Sessions.  My muscles recover quickly so I can train the next day.  Not bad for a (still) flabby 50 something.  My performance at my training sessions is stellar compared to what it was years ago.  Today i did 3 sets of 32kg bicep curls, I’d never have done that years ago.  I can work out so much better that before, training for longer and lifting heavier weights.

So, a sample of 1 – and not the most shining example of health and fitness yet, as I am still on my journey to improve my health.  So I asked others.  Here are a sample of what I had back as replies:

  • “Personally, I recover much faster. Most of our community will tell you the same. Plants are nurturing foods. :)” @VegRunChat
  • “for me that was the first benefit I noticed after becoming plant based, first of many” and “not a scientist but I think that a lot of plants are anti inflammatory as well as vitamin e aids in muscle recovery” @Bry_nFlynn 
  • “I find I recover faster which allows me to go longer & faster.. & lift heavier!” and “digesting massive amounts of animal protein takes days while the body quickly breaks down plants & absorbs their nutrients” @MeaganDunnCole

So then I started digging and found lots and lots of articles on how plant-based eating improves athletic performance.  One of the best, I have re-produced below.

This was written by @VegRunChat and the original article can be found here: http://vegrunchat.com/blog/5-benefits-of-running-plant-based/

Its a great site with lots of great info – check it out – http://vegrunchat.com/ but not before you read the article….

I went meat free about 3 weeks ago. I already notice that I have more energy, stamina, and I recover faster.” @Futurisa

I can run longer and faster with less fatigue since switching to a plant based diet.” @IRanWithRobert

These are a just a couple of the tweets making their way onto Twitter from plant-based runners who claim that a meat-free diet has remarkably improved their athletic performance.  It’s no surprise that, with books like Eat & Run, Finding Ultra, and the newly released No Meat Athleterunners have jumped on board a plant-based diet.  But what are the real benefits?  Is it all a bunch of hype?  Here are five ways that a plant-based diet can help boost your running career:

Less weight to carry – Eating a diet that excludes meat, eggs, cheese, and dairy will not only shed pounds, but keep the weight off.  Add running to the equation and you’ll have a body that’s perfectly sculpted, ready for any athletic challenge.  Many vegan runners (including Scott Jurek) claim that a plant-based diet has allowed them to become faster and use far less energy due to their decreased weight.  This is especially beneficial to those who run marathon (or greater) distances, as they can make better use of their energy stores.

Perfect Proteins – A plant-based diet provides runners with all of the nutrients that the body requires. Yes, even protein.  In fact, plants contain some of the most complete proteins around.  A complete protein contains each of the nine essential amino acids which we cannot live without (Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine).  Take hemp hearts and flax seeds for example; they contain all of the essential amino acid chains and contain 20 and 31 grams of protein per serving, respectively.  Furthermore, plant-based foods don’t contain artery-clogging saturated fats or cholesterol like animal-based sources of protein.

Increased bone density – Although the meat and dairy industry would love for us to believe that the secret to strong bones is milk, this couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes, milk contains up to 300mg of calcium per cup.  But what the nutrition label doesn’t tell you is that our bodies hardly absorb this calcium, or make good use of it.  Milk (like all animal proteins) acidifies our bodies PH level which triggers a natural counter-reaction.  In an attempt to correct matters, our bodies pull calcium (which is a natural acid neutralizing element) from our bones.  The excreted calcium then leaves the body through urine, leaving us with a calcium deficiency.  On the other hand, plant foods with high levels of calcium (collards, kale and sweet potatoes) will boost bone health without affecting the body’s PH.

Energy Surge – Many runners claim that after switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet, their energy levels are restored to a level they haven’t experienced since childhood.  But why is this?  Simply put, plant-based foods contain all of the essential vitamins and nutrients we need to perform at our best.  Moreover, plant-based eaters appear to be more consciousness about other ingredients in their food.  Animal-free eaters typically omit foods that contain preservatives, additives, sweeteners, and other artificial ingredients.  Removing these ingredients from your diet enables your body to make the best use of your food.  Without these foreign ingredients, your body can process and digest foods easier, allowing for more energy to be used for better things – like running!

Faster Recovery – Plants are often referred to as nourishing foods.  This is because they do just that; nourish our bodies, replenishing lost vitamins and nutrients.  Most running pains which occur in the hips and joints are due to inflammation – the body’s normal protective response to an injury or infection.  But many plant foods contain anti-inflammatory properties that alleviate this pain and reduce inflammation.  So put that Aleve and Tylenol aside.  Use walnuts, garlic, turmeric, or fresh olives the next time you experience joint discomfort.  You will be back to running before you know it!

Are you still concerned about making the switch to a plant-based diet?  Worried it could impede your running?  You don’t have to make a full commitment to eating plants and go all-in at first.  Start out by making a few changes, and see how you feel.  You may be surprised to find that removing just meat and milk from your meals will promote faster recover and energy.  If you would like more information, I invite you to join us for#VegRunChat on Twitter Sunday nights at 9pm EST.  During the hour-long chat we discuss plant-based foods and how they relate to running performance.  You will find that it is extremely educational and fun.  We even give away prizes!

Have you ever considered going plant-based or vegetarian?  What has kept you from giving it a try?

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