IS THAT POSSIBLE?
For a long time, the myth persisted that top athletic performance cannot be achieved with a vegan diet. In the meantime, numerous athletes from a wide range of disciplines, from speed to endurance to absolute strength sports, have countered the myth with facts and even world championship titles. Here we explain what a vegan diet does to athletic performance and what you need to watch out for if you want to continue to perform at your best once you go vegan. We'll also introduce you to some successful athletes who eat exclusively or almost exclusively a plant-based diet and outshine their non-vegan competitors.
Table of contents
1. BEING VEGAN AND SPORT - WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR?
Of course, vegan nutrition does not do exactly the same to the body and athletic performance as animal nutrition. It is also clear that nutrition is very individual and that the following statements are not universally valid. If you want to change your diet as an athlete, you must first and foremost listen to your body and see how your body's performance changes.
In particular, a lack of protein intake is an argument that is often used to explain why veganism and sport do not go together. And indeed: plant protein is often less digestible than animal protein. But that's no reason not to make the switch, because there are some vegan "protein bombs" too. You should definitely integrate a few of them into your daily routine to keep your muscles optimally nourished:
- Pumpkin seeds
Basically, most vegans unintentionally consume fewer calories when eating, which can lead to a calorie deficit. Therefore, you may need to increase your overall mass to avoid a drop in performance after the transition.
If you notice that you feel weak and lack calories during or shortly before exercise, an OMNIbar in your sports bag won't hurt 😉 You may need to eat more mass in order to avoid a drop in performance after the switch.
Fat loss with a vegan diet
A vegan diet can lead to an increase in performance especially in sports where the lowest possible body fat percentage is important. This applies especially to endurance sports such as running, swimming or cycling..
Vegetables, pulses and grains, which are important in a healthy vegan diet anyway, have little fat and are therefore logically suitable for reducing body fat. The fibre contained in some pulses and grains also satiates quickly and can thus support weight loss. Oatmeal is particularly rich in fibre. In this blog you can also read about Lose weight with oatmeal and Dietary fibre.
Even the most critical voices would probably not deny that fat loss works with a vegan diet. But does vegan nutrition also work for muscle building, which plays a central role in the vast majority of sports?
Building muscle with a vegan diet
There is now enough "human proof" of successful muscle building through vegan nutrition, such as Patrik Baboumian, who was Germany's strongest man in 2011 and whose mountains of muscle speak a clear language. But do the exceptions confirm the rule?
It is clear that certain nutrients are of great importance when it comes to building muscles. Besides proteins, carbohydrates play a particularly important role. Fitness experts say: 50 % carbohydrates in the diet are optimal for muscle building, fats should only appear at 20 % in the diet¹. In theory, a vegan diet can live up to this principle, because there are plenty of plant-based foods with a high proportion of carbohydrates: rice, wheat, potatoes and pulses give you enough power to build muscle.
Vegans, on the other hand, need to target protein more specifically, as it is easier to get a protein-rich diet from animal foods. Animal products are full of protein, so non-vegans don't have to make much effort to fill their stores. However, the widespread opinion that whey proteins are "better" than plant proteins could not be confirmed by an American study. The study examined rice proteins versus whey proteins and found no verifiable differences² in athletic performance.
Vegan sportswear and accessories
What many forget about being vegan and what also plays a role in sports is sportswear and sports accessories. Especially in outdoor sports, where the muscles need to stay warm, people often turn to merino wool, down or even fur. Sports shoes or boxing gloves are also often made of leather, which is not artificial. In the meantime, however, there are vegan alternatives in every area.
2. HEALTHY EATING = SPORTY EATING?
Sport and health belong together - at least most of the time. Top performance often demands more from the body than it can bear. That's why successful athletes don't just focus on improving their performance, but also on the general health of their bodies.
When it comes to health, the argument about whether a vegan diet is superior to an animal-based diet is certainly just as or even greater than when it comes to sport. In the meantime, however, there are several studies² that attest to the positive effect of vegan nutrition on health. Since many vegans have to deal with nutrition more consciously in order to avoid deficiency symptoms, it is also very likely that they have a healthy and thus also athletic nutrient balance.
3. VEGAN ATHLETES
Valeska Schneider, Professional surfer
Valeska Schneider has had a special sporting career, as she only stood on a surfboard for the first time after graduating from high school at the age of 20. Today she is at the top of the German surfing scene - also with a vegan diet. In the OMNIpages podcast we have interview Valeska
Mario Götze, Soccer player
The 2014 World Cup hero made a comeback at the age of 30, after things had not gone so well since his historic winning goal against Argentina. Today, he is an absolute top performer for Eintracht Frankfurt. Perhaps his diet also has something to do with it, because since 2019 he has been eating almost exclusively a plant-based diet
Patrik Baboumian, Power athletes
Probably the loudest voice for vegan nutrition from the world of sport comes from the former "strongest man in Germany" (2011), who silenced meat advocates with his achievements in power sports. To this day, he is an ambassador for veganism in sport.
Lewis Hamilton, F1 race driver
Even in sporting areas where less maximum power is required, vegan nutrition can contribute to peak performance. Since his conversion, 7-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton speaks of better performance, faster regeneration, more energy and a clearer head - which is probably most important at speeds over 300 km/h.
Dirk Nowitzki, former basketball player
It's true that Dirk Nowitzki didn't start eating a vegan diet until after his career. Nevertheless, we are sure that he would have been voted the best European in NBA history even if he had been vegan. For the exceptional basketball player, the reason for the switch was factory farming.
Vegan nutrition is ultimately a matter of choice, also in relation to competitive sports. Both animal and vegan diets can work for your sport. The examples of successful vegan athletes show this. As in everyday life, vegans also have to pay more attention to certain nutrients in competitive sports in order to avoid an undersupply. If you want to improve your athletic performance level, you have to keep a closer eye on your own eating habits anyway.
So: pay attention to your body, check your performance regularly and then decide for yourself which path is right for you.
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