Vegan Diets Proving Popular With Athletes


chris smalling vegan peta

Assessing how vegan diets stack up for athletes, mostly looking at how individuals have achieved gains, plus a few drawbacks.

Athletes Gain Success with Vegan Diets

Green diets, whether vegetarian or full vegan, are increasingly popular among the general public these days, and athletes are no exception. Here’s a quick rundown on some athletes who have started eating plant-based diets, and some advantages thereof.

Leading Athletes Increasingly Adopting Vegan Diets

The burning desire to be the best of the best fuels sportsmen, and their support teams, to excel. And this drive to be the most complete athlete or most competitive teams has led to sport embracing all kinds of innovations, from crystal fluid dynamics and harvesting brake energy to create electrical power in Formula 1, to sports psychology in football.

One of the most obvious areas for athletes to consider is their diet. After all, we are what we eat. In recent years, mirroring general trends in society more broadly, an increasing number of top athletes have been reducing their meat intake and opting for more plant-based dietary regimes, whether vegetarian or full-blown vegan.

One of the most famous stars in the sporting world, Lewis Hamilton, is a vegan. Having hit the ultimate heights of becoming the most successful F1 driver of all time (most wins, most poles, and currently joint-most titles with Michael Schumacher on seven), Hamilton’s diet has clearly proved no obstacle to achieving the utmost success. There are plenty of other famous names who have embraced a plant-based diet and these athletes are mostly vegan including an increasing number of top-flight soccer stars, such as Chloe Arthur, Fabian Delph, and Hector Bellerin.

hector bellerin

Advantages of a Vegan Diet

Every diet comes with its own set of pros and cons, but a healthier food intake is replete with benefits. This is good for every individual, of course, but in competitive sport where even the smallest edge can make a significant difference eating well can be as important as training. In 2018, Manchester United’s Chris Smalling attributed his improved fitness and endurance to the vegan diet he had adopted. He specifically cited that cutting out red meat helped to reduce inflammation, and cut down on the tendonitis problems he had experienced prior to shifting to a plant-based diet.

Some soccer players only opt for a vegan approach during the sporting season (such as Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero), while others prefer to eat that way throughout the year. Fitness training is not negatively affected by going for a plant-based diet. In addition, strength is not reduced compared to omnivorous diets, as the key factor here is protein consumption rather than eating meat or plants.

chris smalling man united

Potential Dietary Drawbacks of Veganism

One downside to veganism is that complex amino acids are less easy to acquire. This is because meat necessarily comes from organisms more similar to humans than plants are, and so it’s easier to quickly get all the complex amino acids necessary. The full range can be consumed via plants but will take a variety of different sources. This lack of similarity does have an upside, however. If you’re roasting parsnips and undercook them the consequences will be far less serious than undercooking chicken.

Just as with other diets, over-processed food should be shunned. People should be aware that just because something is vegan doesn’t imbue it with magical properties of inherently being good.

There are certain vitamins and other dietary requirements that are trickier to satisfy with a vegan diet, but calcium can be found through leafy vegetables and nuts, iron from beans and cereals, and zinc through various seeds and beans.

How Vegan Diets can Help Athletes

One of the most obvious upsides for athletes seeking a competitive edge is that vegan diets come with fiber in abundance from both fruit and vegetables, in stark contrast to meat

Following diagnosis of an autoimmune disorder (Sjogren’s Syndrome), tennis star Venus Williams switched to a vegan diet to help combat the muscle pain and severe tiredness associated with the disorder. Even for non-athletes, more energy is perhaps one of the best known benefits of eating a greener diet.

Think of boxing and you’ll probably think of tons of eggs and steak all day, but British boxing champion David Haye turned to a plant-based diet after he looked into the most effective ways to recover following injuries.

Eating more greens is also associated with lower levels of cholesterol and less body fat, both of which are good things for athletes and other people too. (This is not least because there’s also a correspondingly lower chance of suffering a heart attack).

Many of the most successful athletes competing today have adopted a full or partial vegan diet and reaped the rewards of less fat, more energy, and less muscle inflammation.


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