Vegans and Sports: Myths and Facts

Vegans And Sports: Myths And Facts

From tennis champions to marathon runners, many athletic figures have been shifting from meat and animal products to proper, strict vegan diets.

The major reason for this transition has been said to be the power and strength-boosting properties of plant-based diets.

Veganism has lately been associated with high-performance levels and cardiovascular safety in numerous endurance sports, which is also why you are likely to find many athletes shifting to being vegan from meat-eaters.

However, the whole idea of ‘vegan and sports’ has been met quite a great deal of confusion, conflict, and debate.

The argument has mainly stemmed from the contrary belief system that veganism isn’t right for athletes because it doesn’t fully meet their dietary needs and also doesn’t comply well with their athletic requirements.

Even though there are world-famous, elite athletes that have also made the switch to vegan diets and have been quite successful in that, the conflicting views and opinions are still surfacing, which raises a very important question:

Can veganism and sports go hand in hand?

Can Athletes be Vegan?

Can Athletes Be Vegan?

The on-going “vegans and sports” debate has been put to quite a rest as some studies, albeit limited, have been done that claim that that the type of food you eat, be it omnivorous or plant-based, doesn’t offer any kind of athletic advantage.

There is limited research that shows the relationship between athletic performance and vegan diets.

However, the studies that do exist – that have been conducted to assess the two elements – clearly show that those who follow proper vegan diets do not display any decrease in their performance levels.

Additionally, it has also been shown that athletes who adopt plant-based vegan diets are less prone to diseases and illnesses because vegan foods possess great immune-boosting properties.

Most athletes engage in high levels of physical performance that often increase the risk of oxidative stress for them, further promoting the formation of free radicals in the body.

However, the high amounts of antioxidants present in fruits and vegetables have been greatly associated with a reduction in oxidative stress that helps athletes overcome the damage caused by free radicals.

A recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition was conducted on 76 recreational runners. The study aimed to track the participants’ maximum exercise capacity for a period of about 6 months.

They mainly comprised of 18 to 35-year-olds and were divided into three groups: 26 followed a vegetarian diet, 24 did a vegan diet, and the remaining 26 were made to follow a diet that contained both plants and meat.

The results that were found after a period of 6 months showed that there were no major differences in the exercise capacity of the three groups, further establishing the fact that all kinds of diets, whether plant or animal-based, are fully compatible with physical performance.

So, to answer the question, yes, athletes can be vegan, and this has further been proven by several elite, top-class athletes from all over the world that have switched to a plant-based diet and doing just fine in terms of their athletic performance.

What Famous Athletes are Vegan?

From weightlifters to footballers to boxers, there are many examples of famous athletes who have adopted a vegan diet.

Some of them made the switch for ethical reasons, while others solely did it for the number of benefits associated with plant-based diets.

Interestingly, the group also consists of martial artists and world champions that are fully following a vegan lifestyle and are also at the top of their game, despite the concerns attached with vegans and sports.

Here are the top 4 athletes that didn’t just switch to a vegan diet, but have also successfully followed it for many years and haven’t faltered even once.

1. Venus Williams – Tennis Player

Venus Williams – Tennis Player

Often described as a ‘powerhouse of an athlete,’ Venus Williams is an American tennis player who was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome in 2011.

This is an autoimmune disease that causes your immune system to accidentally attack various parts of your body.

This disease almost put an end to her tennis career; however, ever since the diagnosis, this tennis star started following a raw vegan diet, which, according to her doctors, would greatly help prevent and relieve numerous symptoms such as joint pain, body aches, and extreme fatigue.

Her diet includes raw, vegan food without any animal product, making her one of the most successful vegan athletes of all time.

2. David Haye – Boxer

This is a British boxer who has been vegan for nearly four years now. During one of his bouts, David went through a serious shoulder that called for an elaborate surgery.

Ever since the injury, he started researching the benefits of plant-based diets and how they can help with fast healing and recovery time.

His thorough research made him switch to a strict vegan diet, making him yet another super famous vegan athlete of his time.

Following the switch, David also went on to hire a nutritionist as well as a full-time chef that helps him get his daily dose of essential nutrients and minerals by preparing well-balanced vegan foods for him every day.

During an interview, the boxer was once asked about the relationship between plant-based diets and physical strength.

He ascertained that the need to eat meat for strength is just a myth, and he further backed his statement by saying that apes are almost twenty times stronger than humans even though they consume plants all day long, and their diets are completely void of meat.

3. Kendrick Yahcob Farris – Weightlifter

Kendrick Yahcob Farris – Weightlifter

When this American Olympic weightlifter switched to a vegan diet, his decision was met with a lot of surprise and curiosity, mainly because plant-based diets are highly unusual, particularly among weightlifters.

The main reason for that is this group of athletes needs a really large amount of protein on a daily basis to build lean muscle as well as to provide them with strength and vigor.

However, Kendrick still went ahead with a vegan diet where he doesn’t have very strict limitations, but simply follows a few straightforward rules that include eating a variety of vegan-friendly foods.

He has also said during one of the interviews that a vegan diet has made him feel lighter and stronger than ever before. He further stated that his body recovers a lot faster after an athletic performance ever since he made the switch.

4. Scott Jurek – Long-Distance Runner

This is an American ultramarathon runner who shifted from potatoes and meat to a proper, fully vegan diet.

The transition occurred during his college life, particularly after he learned about the numerous illnesses and health defects at a physical therapy school.

In addition to that, Scott’s mother was a patient of multiple sclerosis, and he noticed quite adverse and serious health problems.

So, to avoid the history of chronic disease that runs in his family, this athlete chose veganism as the ultimate solution, which was also a ‘long-term decision.’

He has also said that following a plant-based diet has really helped him achieve great success as a long-distance runner. Not only that, but being vegan has allowed him to recover at faster rates and helped him to display better endurance on the trail.

Why Is Veganism Bad for Athletes?

Why Is Veganism Bad For Athletes?

There is no denying the fact that veganism has proved to be exceptionally beneficial for a large number of different world-famous athletes; however, there’s still a definite lack of adequate and extensive scientific evidence on the relation between veganism and sports.

Many people still wonder if veganism is bad for athletes, especially in the long run.

While it isn’t particularly bad, per se, but athletes have to exercise great caution when following a strict vegan diet to ensure that they don’t compromise on their physical performance.

A great number of debates have also surfaced about how veganism might only be beneficial for some types of athletes, depending on their sport and type of training.

For instance, going vegan might prove to be really tough for athletes that compete in power sports since they’re required to build a certain amount of muscle mass; however, athletes like cyclists may not experience the same level of difficulty.

Whether omnivorous or otherwise, a well-constructed diet is one of the primary requirements for most athletes because they need sufficient energy to achieve a high energy balance during and after their athletic performances.

However, research has it that many athletes end up acquiring a negative energy balance, especially those partaking in endurance training as well as sports such as gymnastics and combat sports.

This commonly happens during high-volume training sessions that require a lot of strength and vigor.

These factors can lead to serious weight loss problems, reduced strength, decreased appetite, and loss of muscle mass, all of which are believed to be further fueled by a vegan diet.

So, the main reason why veganism can be bad for athletes is that those following a vegan diet tend to consume less energy as compared to those on omnivorous diets.

Additionally, the former is also believed to provide lower amounts of protein, vitamins, fats, and vitamins, all of which are super crucial elements for athletes.  

Difficulties of a Vegan Diet for Active Athletes

Difficulties Of A Vegan Diet For Active Athletes

As beneficial and favorable as a vegan diet has proven to be for athletes, one simply can’t ignore the vast number of challenges and difficulties that come with it.

Take a look at some of the most common struggles and challenges that active athletes might face when following a strict vegan diet.

Less Proportion of Calories

A vegan diet contains a lower amount of calories because foods like fruits, leafy greens, and whole grains consist of fewer calories, as compared to animal and dairy food products like eggs, meat, and cheese.

This poses a serious challenge for athletes because they are constantly burning energy and calories due to their intense physical activity sessions.

This greatly increases their calorie needs, and a vegan diet sometimes doesn’t exactly meet their high-calorie requirements.

Limited Protein Sources

LIMITED PROTEIN SOURCES

One of the major dietary needs of all athletes includes a high amount of proteins that are readily provided by animal food sources like meat and eggs.

However, a vegan diet has quite a few restrictions in that regard because veganism not only excludes animal products, but also animal by-products like eggs.

This is a big problem for active athletes because they need high protein content for muscle and tissue repair, for instance, after an intense athletic session.

Since exercise leads to massive muscle breakdown, athletes need some sort of muscle replenishment for muscle synthesis and rebuilding.

 When it comes to proteins, a vegan diet offers very few and limited food options that provide athletes with complete proteins, such as soy and quinoa, to name a few.

This makes it hard for active athletes to depend on such limited options to fulfill their protein needs.

Can Lead Iron Deficiency

Like protein, proper iron intake is also of critical importance for active athletes.

Iron helps provide their muscles with a constant oxygen supply, without which, they won’t be able to partake in any athletic or physical activity.

However, vegan diets aren’t rich in iron, and because of this, athletes need to binge on foods that are high in iron, such as leafy green vegetables and beans.

Another problem that arises here is that bioavailability in vegan diets is extremely poor. What this means is that the rate of iron absorption hits a major low, often only 5 percent for those following a vegan diet.

Compared to this, the iron that comes from animal products has a better absorption rate, which as almost three times more than that of plant-based foods.

Interference with Medical Conditions

If you are an athlete with an existing medical condition, going vegan is likely to be quite a challenge for you.

This is because when you completely switch to a plant-based diet, some components of the vegan diet might interfere with your medical condition.

For instance, some people are allergic to soy, and if they accidentally consume soy-based plant products, it is likely to cause a serious reaction, given that they also have some underlying medical problem.

In such cases, it is essential to consult your doctor before making the switch because you never know if you’ll be well-suited to a vegan diet or not.

Are Vegans Weaker than Meat Eaters?

Are Vegans Weaker Than Meat Eaters?

If two different athletes go through the exact same physical and athletic training, but one of them follows an animal-based diet while the other adopts a strict vegan diet, will they be equally strong?

The main issue with vegans and sports is the question of physical fitness and overall strength. This leads to another important question: Are vegans weaker than meat-eaters? 

This question is often pondered upon not only by numerous health professionals but also by vegans and omnivores themselves.

Assuming that both types of athletes follow a well-planned diet, they will eventually display the same levels of strength.

That’s also because it doesn’t matter if you are consuming chicken or leafy greens; as long as you’re getting an adequate amount of all the vital nutrients, you are good to go.

Considering that theory, a vegan shouldn’t feel stronger or weaker than any meat eater.

What’s really interesting here is that many famous athletes have switched to veganism and have actually claimed that they feel much stronger after this major change.

However, some vegans may complain about feeling weaker or low on energy levels after following a plant-based diet for some time.

There can be many reasons for this, but these reasons don’t necessarily have to do with you following a vegan diet. Rather, the weakness could be because you aren’t doing something right.

Here are a few reasons why some vegans might feel weaker than meat-eaters.

Less Calorie Intake

Since plant-based foods don’t particularly offer a high amount of calories, vegans often end up consuming fewer calories.

This is also because leafy greens are very rich in fiber, which is one of those elements that isn’t digested by the body,

So, when you consume a fiber-rich diet, it is likely for you to feel full without even consuming that many calories. As a result of this, you can end up feeling a little weak.

Nutrient-Deficiency

As mentioned earlier, a vegan diet is highly associated with different kinds of nutrient-deficiencies.

When you are on a vegan diet, it might be hard for you to get an adequate supply of essential vitamins, minerals, and iron. This leads to deficiencies in the body, causing you to feel low on energy.

So, saying that vegans are weaker than meat-eaters isn’t exactly true, especially considering how veganism promotes good health and how people who have made the shift have been talking about the positive effects of a vegan diet on their overall health, mind, and body.

All in all, there is insufficient scientific evidence that proves that veganism is a better choice for athletes; however, personal opinions, stories, and experiences have been growing on a daily basis, according to which, vegan, plant-based diets are better and healthier for athletes overall!

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