It’s commonly believed that athletes cannot eat a plant-based diet, and athletic performance is limited by incomplete or inadequate protein consumption from a plant-based diet. However, for the most part, this is indeed a large misconception. In fact, many times a plant-based diet can actually improve athletic performance, general health and well being. Indeed, many world class athletes are vegetarians or vegans.
It is true that professional or dedicated athletes do have very different nutritional requirements than non- or “everyday” athletes. Specifically, optimal athletic performance requires adequate fuel for activity, as well as recovery. In addition, higher protein requirements are typical. However, all of these needs are very adequately met through a plant-based diet regimen.
In fact, it’s is highly untrue that quality protein can only come from animal sources. Significant levels of quality protein can come from a wide variety of vegetable sources, plants, grains, nuts, legumes and seeds. Particularly, whole grains such as buckwheat, oats, and quinoa, as well as pinto beans, raw nuts and seeds provide an abundance of quality protein to aid in recovery for even the most grueling workout sessions.
Fueling athletic performance requires a fair amount of carbohydrates as well, particularly complex carbohydrates for repeated or endurance trainings sessions. Plant sources such as whole oats, quinoa, brown rice and buck wheat are optimal for meeting the complex carbohydrate requirements of all types of athletes.
Fats that are found in many plant-based sources are also optimal for athlete’s need for longer lasting fuel, as well as recovery and maintenance. Nuts, avocados, seeds, cold-pressed oils and chia are prime sources for quality fats to supplement all athletic diets.
So it is very realistic and more than possible for an athlete to thrive on a plant-based diet. In fact, eating a plant-based diet will likely improve athletic performance. Specifically, a plant-based diet typically provides an abundance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are found within plant-based sources of quality macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats). Furthermore, because a plant-based diet requires a fair amount of attention to detail to ensure specific macro-nutrient needs are met, athletes often get a far more complete spectrum of nutrition, thereby ensuring they are meeting their needs for optimum performance (vs. a primarily animal based/centered diet).
Some famous athletes who eat (or have eaten during their career) a plant-based diet are: