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Vegan nutrition in professional sport

Meatless for top sporting performance? Unthinkable a few years ago, but soon it will be hard to imagine life without it. Whether Ironman, Formula 1, tennis or weight training - the top of the world rankings is vegan. Prominent athletes such as Lewis Hamilton, Patrik Baboumian, Carl Lewis, Novak Djokovic and Serena and Venus Williams show that success doesn't need animal products.

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In 2017 and 2018, Patrick Lange won the Ironman Hawaii and set a new record time. In the 1980s, Dave Scott proved that triathlon and a meat-free diet are not a contradiction in terms. He won the Ironman Hawaii a total of six times. Markus Kuhn may not have made it to the top of the world rankings with his record, but he has at least won the hearts of Germans. The American football player, who follows a vegan diet, was the first German to score a touchdown in the NFL in 2014. Lewis Hamilton, Formula 1 world champion, also opted for a purely plant-based diet in 2017. On his social media channels, he explained his decision with this statement: "You know how much I love animals. What we as humans are doing to the world is unbelievable. It is said that our fattened cattle produce more pollutants than all the flights and cars. Crazy!"

Table of contents:

  1. Why do athletes benefit from a plant-based diet?
  2. High performance thanks to a plant-based diet

Why do athletes benefit from a plant-based diet?

In addition to animal welfare and environmental protection, the health aspects are the main reason for many athletes to change their diet. After all, optimum fitness and physical performance are an athlete's assets. Saturated fatty acids, cholesterol, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) or heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) - meat has lost its reputation as a source of strength and is now considered a disease-causing agent. The supposedly healthy image of milk has also suffered a few scratches. Studies linking milk to diseases such as acne, osteoporosis and cancer are on the increase. In addition, milk consumption causes digestive problems for many people.

If you still believe that you can build more muscle mass or build muscle mass faster with animal proteins, you should read the information on this page.

A plant-based diet involves a higher consumption of pulses, wholegrain products, vegetables and fruit. This provides the body with a better supply of fiber, vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Studies also show that vegetarians and vegans absorb significantly more secondary plant substances than meat eaters. Many of these phytochemicals (e.g. carotenoids, polyphenols) act as antioxidants that render free radicals harmless. Free radicals are reactive oxygen species that are formed in the body or absorbed from outside. Normally, our body has defense mechanisms to render free radicals harmless. However, their release can be greatly increased during stress, illness or intensive training. It is therefore important that athletes get enough antioxidants in their diet.

High performance thanks to a plant-based diet

The reservations that many coaches and doctors unfortunately still have about a vegan diet in elite sport are no longer tenable and in keeping with the times. Many athletes report improved performance, more energy and faster regeneration after changing their diet. Unfortunately, the studies on the positive effects of a vegan diet on competitive athletes during training and competition phases are still very limited. At the beginning of 2018, the University of Applied Sciences for SMEs therefore launched a pilot study in cooperation with BKK Pro Vita. The volleyball team from ASV Dachau abstained from animal products for 12 weeks. Detailed performance diagnostics were carried out before and after the change in diet. The results showed that a plant-based diet did not lead to any drop in performance or nutritional deficiencies, but blood lipid levels improved significantly.

If you want to do the same as the volleyball players and start your own vegan challenge, you should note the following:

  • The macro and micronutrient intake must always be adapted to personal requirements. For example, endurance athletes need more carbohydrates, while strength athletes need more proteins.
  • The food selection should be balanced and varied
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  • Prefer foods with a high nutrient density (pulses, potatoes, fruit and vegetables)
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  • Rarely consume processed foods and convenience products
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  • Don't forget vitamin B12 supplements.

The Veganuary campaign is still running this month: Around Veganuary, we provide you with lots of interesting facts and practical tips on plant-based nutrition. You can also benefit from numerous offers in our shop.

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