Is the Vegan diet game-changing when it comes to achieving our health and fitness goals? Can plant-based nutrition fuel professional athletes, sportspeople, and those of us attempting to power up our performance in sporting events?
Here, one of our plant-based clients Sophie, and mental health blogger, vlogger, and journalist shares her findings:
- Vegan Olympic athletes: Let’s turn to some of our sporting heroes first… Vegan athletes are at the forefront of many minds, with 32% saying they switched to a vegan diet because they were influenced by figureheads such as Lewis Hamilton and Venus Williams. But how did athletes on a plant-based diet fare at the recent games in Tokyo?
The 2020 event, which was delayed by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, featured a huge number of vegan athletes from around the world, including Team GB’s own rugby ace Dan Bibby and boxer Cheavon Clarke. In fact, more than two-thirds of Team GB recently stated they’ve actively reduced their meat consumption.
However, it appears the links around veganism and fitness extend far beyond the Olympic stadium, according to a new survey* for The Vegan Society’s Vegan and Thriving campaign. A panel of 500 people, who have gone vegan since the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, were quizzed about their fitness activities, changes to health and influences for making the switch.
A huge number (98%) said they take part in physical activity at least once a week. Walking took the top spot, with 69% saying they enjoy walking activities such as long-distance, hiking or just taking the dog out while jogging and running also proved popular, with 62 percent saying they do this at least once a week. Fifty-three percent said they go swimming, whilst a similar number (52%) enjoyed regular cycling and almost three-quarters (43%) enjoying HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) or other cardio. Other sports included yoga or Pilates (42%), basketball and football (41%), weightlifting (33%), combat sport (30%), and dancing (30%).
Those respondents who said they’ve gone vegan in the last five years were also asked whether they’d noticed any improvements to their health and the results are highly encouraging. While 56% said they’d seen an improvement to their digestion, 55% feel their sleep has improved and 53% feel like they have more energy. Fitness levels have also improved with more than half (52%) stating they are able to walk and/or run better and/or further. Interestingly, 34% said they had a shorter recovery time between their chosen exercise sessions, and 31% said they were able to lift heavier weights.
Someone who knows exactly what it’s like to represent Team GB is vegan duathlon athlete Lisa Gawthorne. Lisa said: “It was absolutely fantastic to see so many vegans competing at the Tokyo Olympics – they’re such an inspiration and there’s no better platform to show the entire world exactly what is possible on a vegan diet.”
- Why Veganism?
Veganism can boost your mood and immunity whilst improving your skin and helping some to achieve a healthy weight.
After being a life-long vegetarian, I now adopt a plant-based lifestyle and consume Vegan nutrition, as do my Dads. Whilst we may not notice the biggest transformation as meat-eaters would, for us it is about being ethical and conscious free. Plus personally we have all reported having more energy, enjoying whole foods and a reduction in inflammation. My Dad, who’s recently retired, says he has more energy for the gym, long-walks, cooking better and overall he feels better inside out.
GB Athlete Lisa added : “I know that going vegan helped me run further, cycle faster and recover quicker too. I want people to realise how good it can make you feel – how you feel getting the right nutrients, but also knowing you haven’t caused animal pain and slaughter. It’s the best thing ever for your mind, body and soul. If the Olympic Games have inspired you to give veganism a go check out The Vegan Society’s Vegan and Thriving page for lots of recipe ideas.”
- What plant-based food and drink should you consume?
Veganism has become more accessible than ever which is great for choice but not always for health. E.g. the rise of Vegan ‘Junk Food’ which looks and tastes amazing but like with any sugary, high fat and salty processed food, it is nice as a treat as part of a balanced diet but not all the time.
So fresh, colourful and earth-grown nutrients are important with regard to vitamin B12 which all vegans should be mindful of, there are a number of fortified foods to consider. When it comes to sources of protein, certain vegetable are better than others such as broccoli, Spinach and Edamame. Pulses like lentils and chickpeas are great as well, nuts too e.g. almonds.
- How to turn Vegan
Rather than go from Vegetarian to Vegan overnight, I did it in stages (plan, preparation, action, adjust and so I could get used to my diet change and feel prepared. Get stocked up: You need to be prepared to maintain your health and diet, so get stocked up on Vegan Food and replacements, Start with one plant-based meal a week: Try and transform a meal from something meaty or cheesy into something Vegan (there’s loads of swaps you can make). Try to replace rather than cut out. Nutritional Yeast flakes have a nutty cheesy flavour for example.
“Anything is better than nothing”: Is my life motto. So if you make a “mistake” or eat something try not to feel bad and just rejig. It’s the same when it comes to exercise too.
To maintain motivation, keep a progress diary, jot down reminders of why you went vegan and adopt positive self-talk no matter what.