To the uninformed, going plant-based seems counterintuitive for athletes. However, science shows that going to a plant-based diet can actually help athletic performance, as NBA players Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard found out last year. Many other athletes are finding similar results in many different sports.
Irving and Lillard are just two of several NBA players who have gone plant-based diet. The results for the two dynamic guards, have been undeniably positive, as both played some of their best basketball last year.
“Been on more of a plant-based diet, getting away from the animals and all that,” Irving once said last year. “I had to get away from that. So, my energy is up; my body feels amazing.”
Other NBA players who are vegan include Salim Stoudamire, forward John Salley, Taj McWilliams-Franklin (WNBA).
Other notable professional athletes who are vegan include NFL running back Ricky Williams, Olympic sprinter Gold-medalist Carl Lewis, MMA fighter Jake Shields, Ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek, MLB pitcher Pat Neshek, Pro soccer players Ladule Lako LoSarah, Jermain Defoe, Dean Howell and Neil Robinson, champion skateboarder Geoff Rowley, Venus Williams, Olympic medalist Snowboarder Hannah Teter, World Championship Tour surfer Tia Blanco, and many others.
How does a veggie diet help athletic performance?
Plant-based nutrition (i.e. a vegan or vegetarian diet), according to research by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, reduces fatigue and anxiety. The research, utilized before and after scores, with one group going on a plant-based diet for 18 weeks and the other continuing on their current diet. Subjects in the former showed, among other things, increased productivity and decreased risk of anxiety.
These results correlate to improved athletic performance, as athletes who don’t get fatigued can easily perform longer at a high level. Moreover, reducing anxiety helps enhance an athlete’s state of mind, thereby allowing them to focus on playing and getting better.
Going vegan helps tremendously in weight loss and maintenance as well, as was the case with Irving. The same holds true for Joey Morganelli, who detailed that going vegan helped him lose weight. Like Irving, Morganelli started feeling a lot better — both physically and mentally — after losing weight. Invariably, athletes are almost always at their best when they reach an ideal playing weight and when their minds are focused.
Furthermore, a plant-based diet boosts heart health according to researchers from the Cleveland Clinic. A reduction in heart disease and heart attacks is one thing. But because the cardiovascular system delivers oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, this is also a recipe to boost athletic performance.
There is a caveat to all of this. According to the paper ‘Vegan Diets: Practical Advice for Athletes and Exercisers’ by David Rogerson, there is a need for a “strategic management of food and appropriate supplementation” for athletes to reap the benefits of going vegan. This means there must be a conscious effort on the part of the athlete to meet the dietary requirements of his or her sport.
While a well-rounded vegetarian diet can satisfy most of these nutrient concerns, some vegan diets can lack vitamin B12 and some omega-3s. However, with a little supplementation, these issues can be easily resolved. As stated by Dr. Rogerson:
“However, via the strategic management of food and appropriate supplementation, it is the contention of this article that a nutritive vegan diet can be designed to achieve the dietary needs of most athletes satisfactorily.”
Some due diligence required
The bottom line is that going vegan can help improve athletic performance, but it will take some discipline and due diligence to reap the rewards of a plant-based diet. Nevertheless, quite a few athletes have successfully gone vegan, even as a handful more have started to make that switch.
A recent convert is Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who is already in the same stratosphere as some of the sports’ biggest names in terms of annual earnings. Luck ranked sixth in Ladbrokes’s list of highest earning sports stars, just behind Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer and Kevin Durant.
Former NFL quarterback-turned-ESPN analyst Matt Hasselbeck divulged that Luck went vegan in part due to the success and longevity of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, both of whom follow a strict, almost plant-based diet.