Did you know a plant based diet can actually help to improve your athletic performance? Plants are loaded with essential nutrients for muscle growth, oxygen distribution, reduced inflammation, and recovery. There’s a reason many top tier athlete’s have made the switch to a whole food plant based diet.
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It was when Dr. Igor Cetojevic, a nutritionist and compatriot of the tennis player, suggested that Djokovic might be allergic to wheat, that the tennis star decided to change his diet. Since then, he’s ditched dairy, sugar, and gluten. Now, he enjoys mainly vegetables, beans, and avoids animal protein and refined carbohydrates.
Djokovic went on to win the Wimbledon 2019 finals, after a grueling four-hour match, along with his other 16 Grand-Slam championships. Djokovic credits his plant-based diet for his boost in stamina.
Kentucky-based powerlifter, Alison Crowdus, was in the cheerleading arena for 13 years. Now she is the number one female powerlifter in the US. Her personal best lift was her squat at the 2017 Arnold XPC when she lifted 480 pounds!
It wasn’t until Crowdus began a weight loss journey that she turned to a vegan diet. She read Alicia Silverstone's book, The Kind Diet, and was turned onto the idea that eating clean would increase her strength, stamina, and smooth-out recovery time. Today, she eats tofu as her main protein, along with brown rice, sweet potatoes, and quinoa. Oh, and she loads up on veggies, big time.
In today’s animal protein obsessed world it may be surprising to hear that Armenian-German strongman, Patrik Baboumian, eats a plant-based diet. But eating plants has fueled his numerous powerlifting records in log lift, front hold, and beer keg lifting competitions.
Just how strong is this plant-based athlete? In 2013 Baboumian won the world record for the "yoke walk" by carrying 1,212.54 pounds for 10 meters. In 2015, he broke his record by walking with 1234.59 pounds for a distance of 10 meters!
Why plants? Baboumian said:
"I always had that desire of being strong and being able to protect myself, being able to protect others."
The weight-lifter was a vegetarian when he was named Germany's Strongest Man. Later he transitioned to a vegan diet -- and shares that he is stronger than ever. Not only did he enhance his recovery time, he improved his blood pressure, too!
Plant foods contain both carbohydrates which turn into glucose, and fiber. When coupled, your body slowly releases a steady stream of glucose into your bloodstream, giving you a nice slow burn of sustained energy.
Glucose without fiber will spike your blood sugar causing inflammation, weight gain, and sudden energy crashes. 97% of Americans are fiber deficient, and then only solution: plants. Plants contain fiber, while animals and animal products do not. For optimal steady energy, turn towards plants.
It’s no secret that dairy causes inflammation. That’s inflammation of the muscles, joints and organs, all of which are essential for healthy exercise. Antioxidants, which are found in prevalence in plants, reduce inflammation. The more plants you eat, especially dark berries, seeds, and leafy greens, the less inflammation you will have. Reduced inflammation means quicker muscle recovery, and disease prevention.
When you train your body, you make it easier for your muscles to get oxygen. Stronger lungs make for bigger breaths. A stronger heart increases oxygen-rich blood flow. Stronger red blood cell development means the cells can carry more oxygen. Bigger muscles can take in more oxygen. That’s all great! However, the effort it takes to get energy from that oxygen remains the same. But not when you eat foods with dietary nitrates!
Beets, for instance, have dietary nitrates in them that become nitric oxide when you eat them. Nitric oxide helps your body draw more oxygen into your muscles without working any harder.
A 2012 study “gave physically fit men and women a cup and a half of baked beets, which is equal to about a can of beets, 75 minutes before running a 5K.” At the end of the race, the beet group was running faster, but without heart rates. They reported less exertion (1). Beets don’t just make your oxygen-to-muscle pathway more efficient. They make it easier. (This is exactly why we made MamaSezz Strong Heart Beets!)
This means you can go harder, more often, for longer. Protein, potassium, calcium, and vitamin C are all essential nutrients for muscle recovery and oxidative stress prevention.
Where are these nutrients found in abundance? Plants!
On plant based diets, vegan diets and even the Standard American Diet people consume on average, 70% more protein than they need on a day-to-day basis (2).
Plant-calcium absorbs at twice the rate as calcium derived from milk, so the quality of calcium you are consuming is better. Potassium is found in abundance in plant based foods, and Vitamin C is only found in plants.
If you’re looking for a quicker recovery, introduce more plants into your diet.
In fact, it is more than safe. It is both beneficial to your athletic performance and to your body. So do like your mama says, eat your fruits and veggies, now go out and play.
By Caroline DiNicola Fawley
Caroline is a plant-based chef, recipe designer, and whole food plant-based nutrition educator, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies