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  • Writer's pictureTristan

Can you achieve great sports performances whilst following a plant-based diet?


There are many misconceptions about meat consumption and its essential role in repairing muscles, enhancing performance, and increasing muscle mass. However, proteins can be found in other food items than meat, poultry, or fish. There are many alternatives that we will mention later.

To begin with, it is important to remind ourselves what is needed in an athlete’s diet to support his training. A sufficient amount of carbohydrates (from multiple sources) is needed to allow the athlete to reach high intensities during training and competition. Carbohydrates can be found in cereals (pasta, rice, oat, bread, …), fruits and vegetables mainly. As a result of their high availability in plant-based products, it is not hard for vegetarian or vegan athletes to meet carbohydrate needs.

For protein intake, it is not as easy as carbohydrates. Mainly consumed through meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or dairy products by most people, other alternatives are less known. Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, or baked beans are rich in proteins and play a key role in protein intake in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Other products such as soya can be ingested to meet daily protein requirements and can be prepared in different ways: soya milk, cheese, yogurt, or tofu.

Nuts (cashew, almond, hazelnut, peanut, …) and seeds (pumpkin, chia, sesame seeds) are good sources of protein as well. They also hold “good fats” (mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats). However, if the athlete’s goal is to lose weight, it would be advised to limit the amount eaten as nuts and seeds are high in fat which increases the overall calorie intake. Finally, proteins can be found in cereals but in smaller amounts. For example, oats, spelt and barley hold more than 10g of protein per 100g of dry product, which makes them a good side option for vegan and vegetarian meals.

Now that we went through the different sources of plant-based proteins, it is important to associate them correctly in the diet. Compared to animal proteins, plant-based proteins do not necessarily hold all the essential amino acids needed in our diet as they cannot be produced by our bodies. They are essential for maintaining and developing muscle mass. Therefore, it is indispensable to mix multiple plant-based products to obtain all 9 essential amino acids. The association between cereals and legumes is complementary. For example, it is possible to mix rice and soja, kidney beans and sweetcorn, wheat and chickpeas, baked beans and potatoes, or rice and lentils to obtain all essential amino acids. Many different mixes exist which allow us to easily change flavours from day to day.

The last macronutrient group is lipids. It is often demonised, but it is important for the good functioning of the body, the constitution of our tissues, as well as for keeping our immune system working. Lipids are also important for absorbing certain vitamins (fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K). As a result of the low-fat content in cereals and legumes compared to animal products, people following a vegetarian and especially a vegan diet should add some fat to their meals. It is advised to go for mono-unsaturated fats (olive oil or oleaginous fruits) and poly-unsaturated fats (rapeseed oil, flaxseed oil).

To conclude, it is possible to successfully perform regular, intense physical activity whilst following a plant-based diet. However, it is important to pay attention to protein intake (mixing the right foods to get all essential amino acids), keep a good carbohydrate intake, and finally include “good fats” to support muscle adaptation, recovery, and the immune system.


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