One in eight British people are now vegetarian or vegan, according to a Guardian report and with the rapid explosion of the Veganuary campaign this figure is set to rise, many people actively making the switch to a plant-based diet. But how does this affect our performance? Is ditching meat and dairy really the right choice for our health?
Well, many elite athletes across a range of disciplines are vegan, from the likes of tennis star Serena Williams to professional footballer Jermain Defoe, who claims that veganism has allowed him to remain at his peak fitness into his 30s.
Naturally a diet high in plant-based foods can offer a range of health benefits, and several studies have shown that when following a balanced vegan diet, you are more likely to consume a higher amount of antioxidants and vitamins, which could be the key to an increase in your fitness. Plant based diets are typically higher in fibre and lower in fat and this can help reduce overall body fat, which is associated with an increased aerobic capacity. This will allow athletes to maximize the amount of oxygen they can use when exercising, which can help better endurance.
But what about protein? We are often told that protein is key for recovery and helping to build and maintain muscle mass, vegan diets are therefore often seen as a concern for those who feel they may fall short of protein consumption. However, with a well-planned out diet vegans can maintain a healthy level of protein just as much as meat-based diets. Popular sources of plant protein include Tofu, plant-based milks (soya, almond, oat etc) and legumes such as Kidney beans and chickpeas to name a few.
Kent Sport fitness instructor Gavin has been vegan for 3.5 years and maintains that this diet has allowed him to greatly enhance his athletic performance. Gavin says that his vegan diet can account for his improved strength, stamina and recovery time, helping him in a 100 Km walk that he took part in. As well as the physical benefits he states that being vegan has made him more aware of what he is putting in his body and as part of his diet he tries to stay away from processed foods, often eating home grown vegetables from his allotment. Some of Gavin’s favourite vegan meals are Chickpea curry with roti and vegan lasagne.
While there are studies that demonstrate a vegan diet can enhance performance there has still been very little research carried out and to date there has been no correlation between ditching meat and animal-based products and a poorer performance. Whether you choose to eat meat or not the most important thing is to always ensure that you are consuming enough of all food groups including Protein, Carbohydrates, fats as well as nutrients such as Omega 3, Iron, zinc etc.
So, if you are looking to improve your athletic performance through nutrition or exercise, make sure to take advantage of the Kent Sport facilities and services. Our experienced staff can help you through exercise programs, fitness consultations and nutritional advice relevant to any dietary preference, helping you reach your specific goals.
To find out more about Kent Sport membership visit www.kent.ac.uk/sports/membership. To stay up to date with Kent Sport news, activities and offers follow @UniKentSports on social media.