Fitness Health Nutrition

Plant-Fueled Athletics

Veganism, whole foods and other plant-based diets have become increasingly popular as people more thoroughly consider the health, environmental and ethical impacts of their diets. Avoiding meat, eggs and dairy, the perceived lack of protein supplied by plants alone inhibits many from making the switch. Aside from the challenges these dietary restrictions create for the average person, athletes and bodybuilders who adopt plant-based diets face a problem more severe: maintaining a sufficient amount of protein to sustain their athletic performance.

Professional athletes from Olympic power lifter Kendrick Farris, to boxer Mike Tyson and Olympic track star Carl Lewis have all committed to veganism, proving plants alone can provide adequate amounts of protein. The bodybuilding community in particular has been especially receptive to veganism. One bodybuilder, Jordan David, uses Instagram to advocate veganism, using himself and others as examples of the positive impacts of the plant-fueled diet. David, using the Instagram handle conscious_muscle, has been vegan for almost two years, attributing much of his bodybuilding success to veganism.

“In terms of blood work, everything improved and I am essentially, for lack of a better phrase, in perfect health. Given my previous diet, rich in animal products, that was not the case in the past,” said David.

Medical research has can attest to the health benefits and increased longevity that result from diets free of animal products. President of The American College of Cardiology Dr. Kim Allan Williams, who has been vegan since 2003, strongly recommends veganism to all of his patients. In 2009, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition performed a meta analysis demonstrating fewer cases of chronic health diseases in vegans. Since then, validating research on the health and environmental benefits of veganism has increased.  

Whole foods, or non-processed, additive-free foods, specifically whole plant-based foods, are abundant in micronutrients, antioxidants, fiber and several other health-optimizing supplements. Plant foods are low in saturated fat, which promotes heart health. Add all of these benefits together and plant-based eating is an anti-inflammatory diet that helps avoid many of the chronic diseases people face today.

“Since becoming vegan I have noticed increases in strength and musculature, and my recovery time is dramatically better. I find myself with more energy before and after training,” said David.

High stamina and endurance are essential to those who train daily, such as athletes. For vegans, this energy comes from complex carbohydrates in beans, whole grains and vegetables, which supply the body with glucose to support bodily functions and physical activity.

Athletes like David could also see faster recovery rates because diets low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol result in increased vascularity and circulation. Theoretically, this can increase musculature and strength as more blood and oxygen flow through the muscle.  

“There are really no downsides [to veganism] in my opinion, other than the ignorance of those who are less educated on the subject, which is the majority of our society,” said David.

According to The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “humans have no inherent biological or nutritional need for for animal products.” In fact, plant-based diets are considered healthy and nutritionally adequate, even for athletes and pregnant or nursing women.

Jordan David strongly believes that changing to a plant-based diet was the best decision he has ever made. His health and environmentally-conscious eating habits have had a better effect on his health and his conscience, as his diet is cruelty-free and has a small carbon footprint.

“Nothing tastes as good as veganism feels,” said David.