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Athletes Are Going Vegan

Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, and Tom Brady are a sampling of professional athletes who have switched over to veganism—or a 100-percent plant diet—due to hopes of improving their performance, losing weight, reducing inflammation, or to simply feeling better.

So, are plants the golden ticket to athletic success?

What’s in a Vegan Diet?

When we hear an athlete has gone vegan, we automatically think that the culprit for any previous performance or body issue is animal products—because that’s the night-and-day difference between a vegan and non-vegan diet.

For starters, let’s take a look at what a 3,500-calorie vegan menu looks like:

Breakfast – Peanut butter, banana, chia, and honey overnight oats

Morning Snack – Avocado, banana, raspberry, and spinach protein smoothie

Lunch – Roasted veggies with tofu “steaks” and a quinoa berry salad

Afternoon Snack – Hummus and tomato toast with a glass of soy milk

Dinner – Black bean and sweet potato salad

Bedtime Snack – Apple and Perfect Bar

Total: 3,500 kcal, 50% carbohydrates, 34% fat, and 16% protein

Calculated by the app Lose It!

Half of the calories in the above menu come from carbohydrates. Endurance athletes typically depend on high carbohydrate foods to fuel their performance, and plants are where we gain dietary carbs (e.g., whole grains, beans, legumes, fruit).

So a vegan diet is actually a high-carbohydrate diet. If athletes turn to carbs for fuel and then perform better, their carby, plant-based choices make sense.

But what else may be going on?

What’s Not on Your Plate?

When athletes tell me they’ve revolutionized their diet by going FODMAPs, Paleo, Whole 30, etc., one of my early responses is, "Tell me what you were eating before.”

Typically, athletes may have cut out alcohol, high-sugar and -calorie coffee drinks, chips, mindlessly consuming unhealthful options consumed late at night while streaming Netflix, etc.

The point is that athletes tend to feel better when they cut out items that made their bodies feel like garbage when consumed too frequently and in large amounts.

So is it the vegan diet? What the athlete is no longer eating? Or a combination of both?

Take-home Message: Do What’s Best for You and Your Sport

For some athletes, they may genuinely feel better going vegan. And that’s totally fine. A well-designed vegan diet can provide most of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals an athlete requires.

But rather than jumping on the bandwagon of veganism (look, we all aren't quarterbacks), figure out:

  • What your goals as an athlete are.

  • What energy system(s) your position mainly relies on.

  • What foods you cannot live without.

Or, if a happy medium simply means increasing your plant intake, eating more vegetarian-based meals, or being vegan-ish.

If you’re planning on going vegan, I would highly recommend working with a registered dietitian to ensure you aren’t missing out on any vital nutrients that a vegan diet is traditionally low in.


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