Veganism is on the rise and with documentaries such as the ‘The Game Changers’ you can see why. But importantly what are some of the things to consider and what is the practicality of a vegan diet for endurance athletes?
A vegan diet – eliminating all animal products from your diet – is growing in popularity due to many factors, however, one of these reasons are the health benefits associated with the diet. These include a reduced risk in heart disease, lower Low-Density-Lipoprotein (the bad cholesterol) and type II diabetes to name a few. Furthermore, a vegan diet may even result in a 15% reduction in cancer.
The cholesterol from high fat foods such as meat products causes damage to the inner lining of the artery walls (the endothelium), in turn, causing an inflammatory response (similar to damaged muscle fibres after exercise). This triggers monocytes to travel to the area of damage. However, the monocytes overtime turn into macrophages (due to stimulation of oxidised cholesterol) which converts to plaque.
As a result of the plaque, atrial walls thicken causing turbulent blood and eventually serious health issues such as blood clots. On top of this meat is considered by the World Health Organisation (WHO) a carcinogen, cause of cancer, therefore avoiding meat may be necessity.
But how does this apply to the athletic population?
When training you are reliant on blood flow for oxygen transport. Therefore, supporting good vascular health is of critical importance. Unfortunately, literature regarding the effects of a vegan diet on athletic performance is limited, which makes it harder to draw meaningful conclusions. However, below are some of practical elements to going vegan while being an athlete.
What about protein?
Typically, endurance athletes need between 1.2-1.6 grams/kilogram of body weight worth of protein per day. However, the quality of the protein must also be considered. What is meant by this is the amino acid profile of the protein. Plant proteins do indeed have a significant reduction in amino acids when compared to animal products. Resulting in less protein synthesis – meaning animal protein is better for repairing damaged muscles.
However, by combining two plant-based proteins in one meal can result in a full amino acid profile (soya beans and cashews for example). Therefore, the lack of essential proteins gained from meat can be made up for with plants.
Do I need to supplement?
Yes. But, you may need to even if your not vegan. This is referring to Vitamin B12, and it is believed that up to 15% of people are deficient of it, including meat eaters and vegans. However, particularly if you are vegan, supplementation is crucial as plans do not provide any VB12.
VB12 is important for keeping nerve and blood cells healthy. In addition, VB12 prevents cancer through cell replication. Furthermore, generally, it is recommended we need 2.4 micrograms per day (2.6mcg if you are pregnant). In case you feel you may suffer from a deficiency, symptoms include fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
A vegan diet may be of great benefit to you and certainly worth a try (although always consult a doctor), assuming you don’t just eat Oreos. Especially when considering some of the negative health aspects to meat consumption it may be the difference you need to have a great season.
If you have tried/currently on a vegan diet send in your experience as we are interested to hear how your performance changed as a result.
Health Benefits and Risks of Plant Proteins – Krajcovicova-Kudlackova, M.