4 Myths of Plant Based Eating for Athletes
Plant-based diets are gaining popularity among athletes. Eating more vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds means a higher intake of fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants, which can improve blood flow, decrease inflammation, aid in weight control, and potentially lead to improved athletic performance and recovery. But despite these and other possible benefits, many are concerned about whether plant-based diets are appropriate for strength and endurance athletes. Here are 4 common myths of plant-based eating for athletes that don’t stand up to scrutiny:
MYTH #1: Athletes can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet
But what about protein quality? Animal products contain “complete” proteins; that is, they supply all 9 essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body so must be obtained from the diet, but they also contain lots of saturated fat and cholesterol that can be unhealthy for athletes (and non-athletes). While some plant foods, such as soy, quinoa, hemp, chia, and buckwheat do contain complete proteins, the best way to ensure you are getting all 9 essential amino acids is to eat a wide variety of plant-based protein sources including edamame, tofu, quinoa, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and mushrooms.
MYTH #2: Plant-based diets are high in carbs
Fact: All carbs are not created equal. Carbohydrates in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and intact grains, provide the complex carbohydrates that athletes need to perform at high intensity, plus the high fiber content of these foods prevents the rapid spike in blood sugar followed by the crash that occurs with eating simple, refined carbohydrates. Research has shown that skimping on carbs before a workout can lead to decreased exercise performance.
MYTH # 3: Plant-based diets mean feeling hungry all the time
Fact: Salad for every meal may not cut it, but legumes, tubers, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are a great way to quell hunger and stave off cravings. Unlike animal foods which contain no fiber, plant foods are rich in fiber and water which increases feelings of fullness that last. And nutrient dense, high fiber plant foods allow athletes to eat a large volume of food and feel satisfied without negatively impacting lean body mass.
In contrast, diets containing lots of calorie-dense meat, dairy, processed foods, or sweetened foods and beverages, make it easy to take in more calories than needed before actually feeling satisfied.
MYTH #4: Plant-based diets don’t taste good
Eating more plants is beneficial for athletes and non-athletes alike. With a healthy whole food plant-based diet, athletes can enjoy satisfying and delicious foods that fuel their energy needs and support optimal athletic performance.