Plant based Diet For Athletes: The Best Guideline Ever

plant-based diet

plant-based diet

Updated on 7/17/2024
Martin AlvarezBy Martin Alvarez
Nutritionist/Dietitian Professional Guide
Learn More about Martin Alvarez

Now is the time to end the misconception that being a strong, fit athlete and adhering to a vegetarian, vegan, or plant based diet are incompatible lifestyle choices.

I moved to a vegetarian diet immediately and saw a significant improvement in my running ability shortly after that. I feel even better now that I've been vegan for a few years.

Yet there is no other guarantee for it; plenty of world-class athletes don't eat meat (and it's not just endurance runners).

Veganism is the lifestyle choice of one of the most successful ultramarathoners of all time, Scott Jurek. And so is Alex Morgan, who serves as a co-captain for the United States women's national soccer team.

Cam Newton, the star quarterback for the New England Patriots, and most of the Tennessee Titans' linebackers follow a plant-based diet. (Is Tom Brady, a plant-based eater? Not strictly, but we can confidently refer to his diet as "plant-centered" because it consists of 80 percent veggies.

Then there are the strength and bodybuilding competitors like Rich Roll, Natalie Matthews, and strongman Patrik Baboumian. They not only thrive on a plant-based diet but have also been tremendously successful in competition. Rich Roll, Natalie Matthews, and Patrik Baboumian are some examples. And then there's Robert Cheeke, who is not only the co-author of my latest book, The Plant-Based Athlete but also widely regarded as the person who first introduced the concept of vegan bodybuilding.

Athletes are not only able to make a diet that excludes meat work for their training, but they are also prospering as a result of adopting this choice.

The Successful Plant-Based Diet For Athletes

plant-based diet

plant-based diet

With the apparent omission of meat and other goods derived from animals, an endurance athlete's plant-based meal plan is not all that, unlike a regular healthy diet. If you've been coming to McDonald's every day for the past several years, then yes, it's going to take some time to adjust to the new food. If, on the other hand, you already consume a large quantity of healthy, whole foods, you won't need to make nearly as many dietary modifications in order to become a vegetarian and, from there, become a plant-based eater.

You may go as far as you want with it, and some vegetarian and vegan athletes like raw food and gluten-free diets since they claim to get even more energy with such eating styles.

But obviously, you don't have to go to that extreme to reap the benefits of what you're doing. Plant-based diets have varying degrees of healthiness. While mine is relatively healthy, it consists of many tasty prepared dishes similar to those people who follow more traditional diets enjoy.

The Muscle Gain and Strength-Boosting Effects Of A Plant-Based Diet

plant-based diet

plant-based diet

When your objective is to put on weight, grow muscle, or become a bodybuilder, or when you want to become swol, the same may be said about switching to a plant-based diet (as the kids like to say).

However, if this is your objective, there are a few dietary considerations to make (just the same as there would be if you were attempting to grow muscle while following a diet that did not include animal products):

Ratios of macronutrients that are tailored to your unique body and objectives.

Recognize the number of calories you require.

And you are complimenting your dietary strategy with a well-thought-out plan for your physical activity.

Having said that, when it comes to one's health throughout the course of their lifetime, I've discovered for myself and the numerous other people I've encountered along the way that keeping things as simple as possible is preferable.

The Guiding Principle: Nutritious Food Is Easily Accessible

plant-based diet

plant-based diet

Numerous excellent publications are available to advocate for what I believe to be the "perfect" diet when seen from the perspective of how well it affects athletic performance. Plant-based, high-raw, and alkaline diet. (For an example, look at Brendan Brazier's book Thrive.)

Consuming food in this manner is lovely. However, it is not easy. For those of us who adore pasta, there are a lot of unusual components, the cooking is done at a low temperature, and there is very little starchy goodness. The gap between this kind of diet and the one that meat eaters typically follow and the one that they would need to follow in order to have their family accept the shift is substantial.

A plant-based (or vegetarian, if that's as far as you want to take it) diet that is substantial enough to support endurance training, can be altered for strength training, and is delicious and accessible to new vegans is something I'd want to offer as an alternative.

I'll be the first to say that nutritional improvements can be made, but I think that the essential thing is to come up with a diet you can maintain before anything else. After you have become accustomed to eating vegetarian or vegan (and training on that diet), you should think about progressing to more advanced methods, such as increasing the micronutrient density of your diet, attempting intermittent fasting, or even trying a vegetarian or vegan paleo diet. This should be done once you have become accustomed to eating vegetarian or vegan (and training on that diet).

But Where Do You Get Your Protein?

plant-based diet

plant-based diet

Oh sure, the perennial favorite of all vegan athletes that compete.

The truth is that protein can be found in all diets derived from plants but in typically more minor levels. However, if you consume a balanced plant-based diet that includes a variety of beans, nuts, and seeds, you shouldn't have any difficulty getting more than enough protein from vegan foods. This is especially true if you choose to avoid processed foods.

At first, it may require some deliberate effort to ensure that you receive a decent quantity of protein in each meal, but once you get the hang of it, it's not that difficult to do so.

There is always the option of plant-based protein powders, which you may consume if you are actively attempting to gain muscle or are merely worried about the quantities of protein in your body. Still, the vast majority of individuals do not require these powders.

I took a chance on it after learning that many endurance athletes thrive on diets that contain less protein than is typically suggested, and I can honestly say that I've never felt better than I do right now. I'm never returning to those ridiculous standards of having one gram of protein for every pound of body weight gain.

If you live off of pizza and potato chips, you probably aren't getting enough protein in your diet. However, if you consume a broad range of foods, make intelligent decisions to include some protein in each meal, and make sure that you are receiving a balanced amino acid profile, there is a good possibility that you will feel better than you have in a very long time.

Essential Foods

plant-based diet

plant-based diet

The food on this list is more common that can assist in meeting the requirements of most endurance athletes. There are, without a doubt, a significant number of other meals that might be included; however, the purpose of this article is to provide a list of foods that are easily accessible and have flavors that are not very unusual.

  • Raw and prepared varieties of a wide variety of veggies
  • Vegetable sprouts
  • All types of fruits are typically uncooked.
  • Beans and various legumes include chickpeas, lentils, adzuki beans, black beans, and pinto beans.
  • Vegetables high in starch, like potatoes and sweet potatoes,
  • Rice with a brown crust
  • Pasta
  • Bagels, pitas, and bread made with whole wheat
  • Other grains and seeds include bulgur wheat, buckwheat, farro, millet, quinoa, flaxseeds, hempseeds, and chia seeds.
  • Hummus
  • Almonds, cashews, walnuts, almond milk, hazelnut milk, peanut butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter are some of the nuts, nut milk, and nut butter available.
  • Agave nectar (as workout fuel, not an all-purpose sweetener)
  • Protein powder
  • Tofu and tempeh are examples of soy products.
  • Both coffee and tea (limited)

To make things even easier to understand, I structure my meals around the seven plant-based items that, in my opinion, merit being consumed on a daily basis.

Regulate Your Calories

plant-based diet

plant-based diet

When I eat, I don't bother about calories or even the ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that my food has. Unless your objective is to either increase muscle mass or decrease body fat, I do not feel this should be a priority for you (in which case calorie density is the key).

But in general, and especially for athletes who compete for long periods of time, such ratios may be met by consuming a wide variety of foods. To put it another way, take the macronutrient percentages from your go-to endurance diet and adjust them, so they brain function without meat. Because endurance diets are often heavy in carbohydrates, a vegetarian or vegan strategy is particularly well-suited for the purpose.

Although I don't track calories very carefully, I do make an effort to estimate my caloric breakdown and attempt to adhere, as nearly as possible, to the proportions that Chris Carmichael, who coached Lance Armstrong in the past, outlines in his book Food for Fitness. The following are Carmichael's suggestions, with some variations depending on the length of the training:

  • 65% carbohydrate
  • 13% protein
  • 22% fat

If you follow a plant-based diet to reach these figures, you should be in good shape. You won't discover it's challenging to accomplish, either.

How Much Food Ought To You Consume?

Roughly equal to the amount required to make one feel full without becoming too stuffed. We have the privilege of consuming more calories than others who lead a more sedentary lifestyle because we are athletes. Indeed, we require a greater quantity of calories.

Your requirements will be different from mine if you want to reduce your body fat percentage or if you exercise more or less frequently than I do. Determine the portion sizes of meals that work best for you.

Eating Before And After Exercise

plant-based diet

plant-based diet

On any diet, how you consume the food before, during, and after your exercises is of utmost significance. Workout Nutrition 101 for a tonne of advice and recipes for unprocessed, plant-based meals to eat during workouts.

Supplements For Athletes Who Follow A Plant-Based Diet

Are supplements necessary for vegan athletes? Fair question.

Vitamin B12, which doesn't occur naturally in plant foods, should be taken as a supplement by nearly everyone who consumes a diet consisting entirely of plant foods and a significant number of people who do not consume such a diet. (It is possible to find it in soil, although the earth is frequently depleted in modern times.)

In addition to vitamin D, several medical professionals suggest taking omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA and EPA. Both can be obtained from their natural environments (the sun and algae, respectively), but many individuals may benefit by adding more of one or the other to their diet.

Caution: Do not assume that you do not require DHA and EPA because you consume a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in walnuts, flaxseeds, and other sources). What they supply, as do the vast majority of plant-based sources of omega-3, is ALA, which some people can convert into DHA and EPA but not everyone. Because DHA and EPA are vital to maintaining healthy brain function, my family and I take nutritional supplements containing them.

Last but not least, I also take supplements of iodine, zinc, vitamin K2, and selenium. These are nutrients in various plant foods; however, they are not present in abundant amounts, and there are occasionally concerns over their bioavailability.

Sample Vegan Recipes

plant-based diet

plant-based diet

I've included a few recipes that are always a hit in my home below, but if you're just starting in the kitchen, it's best to start with something even less complicated.

You may consult a virtual plant-based dietitian here, or I've put up an easy-to-follow vegan meal plan based on how my family eats while we're at home. I hope this will be helpful!

The Secret To Making The Ideal Smoothie

  • Veggie Burger Formula
  • A Meal of Rice and Beans The Five Methods

The conclusion is that a plant-based diet for athletes who train for endurance and strength. It seems very easy to get in touch with them, doesn't it?