FUELING WITH PLANTS
Choosing a plant-based diet can enhance your performance as it gives you clean fuel, increases your blood flow and reduce recovery times by allowing more blood flow to the muscles and reduce inflammation. We want to empower athletes to take advantage and educate themselves on how to optimize their performance in their athletic endeavors but also in many other areas of their lives and general well being.
PLANTS ARE THE IDEAL FUEL
During athletic activity, our muscles are most reliant on glycogen for their fuel source. Glycogen is a carbohydrate that our bodies store over time. Carbohydrates come exclusively from plants. Animal products do not include any carbohydrates. Our bodies break down carbohydrates into glucose which is used by our body as an energy source (1).
The typical animal-based diet which includes meat, dairy and cheese provides more fat in our diet instead of carbohydrates (2,3).
Carbohydrates have the ability to transform into energy for our bodies very quickly. Fats from animal foods are not converted into energy as quickly and therefore is not as optimal of a fuel source for high-intensity athletic activity (1). Low carb diets such as the paleo diet and the Keto Diet have been shown to generate an enormous amount of fatigue during athletic activity that it even hurts our mental motivation to complete and maximize a workout (4-6).
INCREASED BLOOD FLOW
During exercise nitric oxide is released into your bloodstream, which relaxes and widens your blood vessels allowing more blood to flow through. This increase in blood flow is crucial to performance during exercise and recovery.
Blood carries oxygen to your muscles to repair the damaged cells. Plants have high amounts of nitrates in them, which your body turns into nitric oxide (6). In order to maximize your performance, you want as much blood flowing to your muscles as possible to allow them to perform at a higher output for longer, to delay the onset of fatigue and reduce the time to repair the muscles after exercise.
BETTER MUSCLE PERFORMANCE
As athletes, we aim to push our bodies to the limit during a workout, on game day or during a big race. While our minds are ready to go to the limit our muscles have limited stores of energy that can be used before they burn out. The key to successful performance and to continually push our limits is to be able to sustain effort longer without burning out our muscles.
In addition to increasing blood flow to the muscles, nitrates also allow our muscles to function more efficiently. The more efficient our muscles can operate, the better our overall performance will be (7). This allows us to have a leg up on the competition as we can do more with the same amount of effort on a plant-based diet (8).
DECREASED RECOVERY TIMES
During and post-exercise our bodies naturally begin the healing process. When we are enduring exercise our bodies begin to build up free radicals and oxidative in response to the bodies natural immune response to the stress put on the body. Inflammation naturally occurs to health the stressed areas of the body. The less inflammation needed in the body the better. We want to reduce the amount of inflammation needed to heal the body.
The goal of recovery is to clear out the free radicals, oxidative stress and inflammation from the body as quickly as possible. What we eat is essential to our recovery and reducing inflammation and stress on our bodies (6).
Animal-based diets have been shown in recent research to have or create a variety of pro-inflammatory compounds and molecules, including bacterial endotoxins, trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines (HCAs), N-Glycolylneuraminic acid (Neu5Gc), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (9-13). Animal-based food does not contain any antioxidants. Antioxidants can only be found in plant-based foods (6).
Unlike animal-based foods, plant-based foods have plenty of antioxidants that promote the reduction of free radicals, inflammation and oxidative stress. The contrast between animal-based foods and plant-based foods is quite dramatic, with plants having on average 64 times the antioxidant content of animal foods (14). This helps us understand and explain why adopting a plant-based diet can help reduce inflammation by around 29 percent in as little as just 3 weeks (15).
For any athlete, recovery is very important. Your next workout is always just around the corner and the fresher you are for that workout the more you will be able to get out of it. The most successful athletes are the ones who can recover the fastest and be the freshest for the next workout (6). Any athlete can do a hard workout, it is the ones that can recover the fastest and absorb the gains that improve the most. Plant-based athletes naturally have this advantage over athletes on an animal-based diet.
- Thomas DT, Erdman KA, Burke LM. American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Mar;48(3):543-68.
- Kanter M. High-quality carbohydrates and physical performance: Expert panel report. Nutr Today. 2018 Oct;53(1):35-9.
- Masson G, Lamarche B. Many non-elite multisport endurance athletes do not meet sports nutrition recommendations for carbohydrates. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2016 Jul;41(7):728-34.
- Butki BD, Baumstark J, Driver S. Effects of a carbohydrate-restricted diet on affective responses to acute exercise among physically active participants. Percept Mot Skills. 2003 Apr;96(2):607-15.
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- Alksnis, C. The Power of Plants - Fuelling and Recovering on a Plant-Based Diet. Impact Magazine. 2018 Jan; 106-07
- Mosher SL, Sparks SA, Williams EL, Bentley DJ, Mc Naughton LR. Ingestion of a nitric oxide enhancing supplement improves resistance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2016 Dec;30(12):3520-4.
- Domínguez R, Maté-Muñoz JL, Cuenca E, et al. Effects of beetroot juice supplementation on intermittent high-intensity exercise efforts. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Jan;15:2.
- Erridge C, Attina T, Spickett CM, Webb DJ. A high-fat meal induces low-grade endotoxemia: evidence of a novel mechanism of postprandial inflammation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Nov;86(5):1286-92.
- Harte AL, Varma MC, Tripathi G, McGee KC, Al-Daghri NM, Al-Attas OS, Sabico S, O'Hare JP, Ceriello A, Saravanan P, Kumar S, McTernan PG. High fat intake leads to acute postprandial exposure to circulating endotoxin in type 2 diabetic subjects. Diabetes Care. 2012 Feb;35(2):375-82.
- Hever J. Plant-based diets: A physician's guide. Perm J. 2016 Jul;20(3):15–082.
- De la Monte SM, Tong M. Mechanisms of nitrosamine-mediated neurodegeneration: potential relevance to sporadic Alzheimer's disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2009 Aug17(4):817-25.
- Ricker MA, Haas WC. Anti-inflammatory diet in clinical practice: A review. Nutr Clin Pract. 2017 Jun;32(3):318-25.
- Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, Bøhn SK, Dragland S, Sampson L, Willey C, Senoo H, Umezono Y, Sanada C, Barikmo I, Berhe N, Willett WC, Phillips KM, Jacobs DR Jr, Blomhoff R. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J. 2010 Jan;9:3.
- Sutliffe JT, Wilson LD, de Heer HD, Foster RL, Carnot MJ. C-reactive protein response to a vegan lifestyle intervention. Complement Ther Med. 2015 Feb;23(1):32-7.