Vegan Athletes Reach Peak Performance
Vegan Athletes Reach Peak Performance

Plant-based foods have proven their mettle when well-known athletes adopt a vegan diet and reach peak performance levels.

Navratilova, Ironman triathlete Dr Ruth Heidrich, climber Steph Davis and multiple marathon runner Fiona Oakes all have in common? They’ve all achieved amazing things in their individual sports but, along with a growing number of other top athletes, they have also all renounced meat and dairy in favour of a vegan diet and claim that it has been responsible for their peak performance. Could adopting a similar way of eating be the change that helps you reach your health and fitness aspirations?

The sceptics among you may think that this sounds too simple to be true. If merely giving up meat and dairy made you feel healthier and fitter and helped you achieve a strong toned body then wouldn’t everyone be doing it and reaping the benefits?

Vegan Athletes Reach Peak Performance

Replace wisely

Steph’s views are supported by leading medical and nutritional professionals such as Dr Joel Fuhrman (Eat to Live, Super Immunity etc) and Melissa Costello Culinary Nutritionist, Certified Wellness Coach and personal chef to fitness guru Tony Horton, creator of the best selling P90X workout system. Both suggest that it isn’t only the foods that you give up that make the difference but the foods you replace them with. If you forsake meat and dairy for processed foods high in salt, sugar and fats and fill up on pasta, bread and potatoes then you can’t expect to improve either your health or fitness.

Simplicity is key

If like Martina Navratilova, you adopt a simple philosophy towards your food and concentrate on eating au naturelle, then the difference could be a lifetime of health and the kinds of amazing fitness that she and other athletes such as Dr Ruth Heidrich, author of Senior Fitness, A Race or Life and The Chef Cook/Rawbook have experienced.

Ruth, who is still running at 79 and is the holder of over 900 gold medals for all distances, says that there was no question about her improved health and fitness. ‘I took 45 minutes off the next marathon run after the diet change and my energy levels are always high. Keeping a nice, fit body is a fun plus!’

Explore and rejoice

Marathon runner, Fiona Oakes, who has been vegan for 37 years and the first vegan to take part in the 7 Continents Challenge, agrees, ‘Don’t focus on the foods you can’t have, enjoy and explore the wonderful ones you can eat. Turning vegan is not about denying your body, it is indulging it in the health and well-being it deserves. One of the biggest positives is that it encourages you to give more consideration to the ingredients in the food you consume – a must when you are asking your body to train for, and compete in, any sport.’

Vital elements of a vegan diet

So what exactly are the key elements of the vegan diet that give these top athletes the edge and is veganism viable for other women wanting to exercise and get a strong toned body? Martina, Steph, Ruth and Fiona are quite clear about what makes them fitter, healthier and virtually injury-free, allowing them to keep training and competing even when others are retiring – high quality, fresh, nutrient-dense, easily digestible foods in proper quantities, organic if possible, and prepared in the simplest ways.

‘Processed foods weigh the body down, turn to fat and suck energy out of us. A plant-based diet builds energy in the body by feeding it with nutrients,’ says Melissa. ‘Planning is one of the most important keys to living this lifestyle successfully. We plan so many other things in our life we want to accomplish, so why not our eating?’

Plan your protein intake

The common assumption that you need meat or dairy to obtain enough protein may persist but many top vegan athletes have proved that this just isn’t the case. ‘I’ve discovered that I need to be mindful of protein intake,’ Steph says. ‘This is not to say that you have to eat a massive amount of protein, which I think is a common misconception that people have about nutrition. But you do want to pay attention to it when making your eating choices. Tofu, beans, lentils, nuts and quinoa have a lot of protein, and most other whole foods have small amounts that add up easily.’

What’s on Steph’s Plate?

Breakfast

  • Ginger tea – great for reducing inflammation
  • Protein smoothie made with:
  • grapefruit juice
  • rice milk
  • almond butter
  • frozen blackberries
  • a banana
  • soy yoghurt
  • hemp powder

These provide 10 essential amino acids as well as powerful immune boosters

  • Vegan B complex, iron, biotin (for skin and hair) and chia oil capsules

Steph then snacks throughout the day on fruit, vegetables, nuts, crackers with almond butter and hummus.

Dinner

A big salad or a tofu vegetable stir-fry – a great source of immune-protective micronutrients and protein.

CONCLUSION

If making the change even to reap the kind of benefits that Steph, Martina, Ruth, Fiona and others have enjoyed still seems harder than running a marathon, then, as Fiona says, ‘Try considering a day when breakfast is fruit, toast and jam and coffee or tea; lunch is a lovely fresh salad with baked potato and baked beans; and dinner is mushroom risotto with any fabulous vegetables you care to add as a side dish. Throw in some snacks of nuts, flapjack bars and fruit and there you have a day of wonderful, healthy, vegan living. Nothing radical or scary in that and I can guarantee you will feel happier, healthier and more energized both mentally and physically.’

Editor's note: You may find this article on the Top 7 supplements for Athletes helpful.

Vegan Athletes Reach Peak Performance

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