The Effect of Veganism on Athletes

Among the latest diet trends, a vegan or plant-based diet has become increasingly popular. Some have found that ditching meat products for plants has significant health benefits. Studies have shown that plant based diets aid in weight loss and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. However debate surrounding the benefits of vegan diets for athletes is more controversial. Many people believe that eating animal products is the only way for athletes to consume enough protein to meet their specialized nutritional needs. More recently, though, a larger number of athletes have switched to plant based diets while maintaining their competitive edge.

Opponents of a vegan diet often say that not consuming meat products leads to a lack of essential nutrients such as protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc and omega-3 fats. Athletes have an increased need for calories and all of the nutrients. These nutrients aid with muscle synthesis and recovery, bone density, and oxygen support. Opponents of veganism for athletes also claim that meat and dairy help rebuild and relieve muscles.

Although there are many substitutes for these nutrients, one of the most difficult to supplement is vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is found in meat products, and it is vital for endurance athletes as it is linked to the production of red blood cells. There are many cereals and soy milks that one can consume to replace their vitamin B12 intake, but meat is the best source of this vitamin. David Nieman, a professor of health and exercise at Appalachian State University claims that vegans are also low on creatine, a nutrient that is solely found in meat. Even though creatine is not necessary, it helps with intense activities such as sprinting and weight-lifting, which are important for virtually all sports.

Venus Williams is a vegan tennis player. She originally adopted the vegan diet for health issues but found that she loved the way it fueled her body on and off the court. Tennessee Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan went vegan in 2017 and ESPN reported that as many as 15 of his teammates joined him. NFL player Marcus Mariota also went vegan, basing some of his meal plans off of quarterback Tom Brady, who eats an 80 percent plant-based diet. Even Team USA’s strongest olympic weightlifter, Kendrick Farris, maintains a vegan diet and states that he feels nourished by this lifestyle. These athletes have shown that it is possible to maintain a vegan lifestyle even in physical sports.

The main argument against plant based diets for athletes is that they won’t get enough protein eating only plants. This misconception stems from a lack of understanding about how much protein humans actually need and how much protein certain foods contain. Plant based foods such as legumes, beans, grains and vegetables all contain significant amounts of protein. Additionally, a plant-based diet gives the body many antioxidants allowing the body recover quickly.

Some experts have pointed towards athletes getting injured after going vegan. One common target is Panthers’s quarterback Cam Newton. Newton went vegan in 2013. He won MVP in 2015, then the injuries started. Shoulder injuries in 2016 have affected Cam Newton greatly. He has had multiple shoulder surgeries, and most recently an ankle surgery due to an injury sustained in the pre-season. While many have blamed this on his vegan lifestyle, it is important to note that Newton is a physical quarterback, and has the most rushing attempts by a quarterback since he entered the league in 2011. His vegan lifestyle may have an affect on his durability, however, it is very possible that his injuries are a direct result of his playing style.

Overall, whether an athlete should transition from a traditional diet to a plant-based diet, it is a personal choice. While there are benefits to both sides, it is known that having a balanced, healthy diet, and an effective training program is vital for all athletes, despite being vegan or not.

Grace Gluckow
staff writer

Graphic: Sofia Lee

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