Discover how a plant-based diet benefits the environment, the advantages of a vegan diet for athletes, and the purported health benefits of veganism.
Plant-based or vegan diets benefit the environment, have specific advantages for competitive athletes, and are under the microscope for their health benefits.
Veganism is a lifestyle committed to reducing one's harm to animals in every way possible and extends beyond dietary habits.
Plant-based specifically refers to a diet that seeks to exclude animal products as strictly as is possible, but not necessarily altogether nor necessarily for ethical reasons.
However, the far superior diet under examination for touted health benefits is whole-food plant-based.
The whole-food plant-based diet seeks to increase whole plant foods (i.e. fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses, etc.) and gradually increase insoluble fibre intake.
Whole-food plant-based also seeks to reduce processed, fatty and sugary food products.
Plant-based diets are capable of significantly reducing an individual's environmental impact, providing relief from inflammation and improved blood flow for athletes, and sparing the lives of animals.
Whole Food Plant-Based Diet Health Benefits
Everyone knows fruit and vegetables are beneficial for their health.
It is no surprise that a plant-based diet can also have significant positive health effects on the mind and body.
When we follow a plant-based diet, we typically consume more fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds etc., compared with those following the standard Western diet.
Ensuring balanced nutrition from a diverse selection of foods will maximise the benefits.
Nutrients from plant foods can impact inflammation, immunity, assist with weight management, improve energy release, and help lower obesity and diabetes risk.
All while avoiding artery-clogging dense fats and inflammatory haem-iron found in various animal products like meat.
Plant-based typically delivers higher amounts of fibre than the Standard Western Diet and can benefit health in numerous ways.
Firstly, a balanced and diverse vegan diet (especially the whole food plant-based diet) benefits the diversity of our gut bacterial microbiome.
The microbiome can, in turn, reduce inflammation, encourage better sleep, help us digest and extract more from our food, and fight off infections.
In addition, plant-based diets have no cholesterol, and increased fibre intake (primarily soluble fibre) can help to reduce internal LDL cholesterol.
Where Do You Get Your Protein?
Those who are already plant-based will have faced at some point the question: where do you get your protein?
The answer to that is simple - plants.
I typically consume the higher end of recommendations for daily protein intake with no protein shakes or supplements, just with a diverse whole-food plant-based diet.
Just like the beef cow, growing to full size using only proteins found in plants, vegans don't rely on animals' lives for their protein.
The only reason meat contains proteins is thanks to plants.
Beans, peas, tofu, seitan, hummus, peanut butter, cashew nuts, fruit, vegetables, greens, seaweed, seeds, and nuts are all protein sources.
Essential proteins (needed by us, but not made within us), alongside fibre, are broken down by bacteria in the gut into health-promoting compounds.
All nine essential proteins originate in plants, including tryptophan which encourages a long nights sleep (found in tofu).
Protein is incredibly beneficial for health, the healing and recovery process, and helping to grow new cells.
Scientists hypothesise that this is how muscle is grown - after micro-tearing muscle tissue in an exercise session, protein repairs the damage with new muscle cells.
Talking of muscles, what implications can a plant-based diet have for athletes looking to improve performance?
Whole Food Plant-Based Diet for Athletes
Let's start with a simple motivation for athletes: energy.
Each of us requires energy to get through the day.
For those pushing themselves to the limit of their achievement, those few degrees of improvement to energy levels can be the difference between achieving your goals and not.
Carbohydrates, found in plants, are the human body's primary energy source for movement and cognition.
Human beings derive their energy from a mixture of simple and complex carbohydrates.
The complexity crudely describes the amount of time it can last in the body before being broken down or absorbed.
The complexity only describes the amount of time it can last in the body before being broken down or absorbed.
Meat is not a great source of carbohydrates, and the few carbs present in milk (chiefly lactose) are fast-releasing and not intended for human or adult consumption.
Meat cannot provide the "macho" energy-levels advertisers have promoted falsely for so long.
Meat is void of fibre.
Fibre is utilised in a healthy gut by microbes.
Microbes break down fibre over a long period, essential for long-term energy release - helping athletes improve endurance.
Meat-free diets, like active lifestyles, tend to result in dilated blood vessels and more efficient blood flow.
One of the most significant benefits of veganism for athletes is greater energy output with a balanced whole-food diet.
The added fibre, and increase in complex carbs, will help you last for longer in any session at the gym or in everyday life.
If you transition, always seek to replace, not remove.
Meat and dairy are very high in calories, so removing these without replacing them with something substantial can cause massive slumps in your calorie intake.
Avoid replacing with substitutes/faux meats. Instead, opt for high calorie, high fibre, high protein whole foods - like tofu, seitan, beans etc.
No animal products mean no cholesterol intake.
No cholesterol intake should mean less-clogged arteries and blood vessels.
Greater blood flow efficiency can reduce heart rate and blood pressure as it requires less effort for the same output.
The above, in itself, preserves caloric energy.
In addition, clearer vessels and improved blood flow can deliver oxygen to muscles for more efficient energy release and recovery.
Recovery is another vital factor within the scope of athleticism.
Meat contains inflammatory proteins, which can, in turn, reduce efficiency in recovery by creating further damage.
Cows are milked repeatedly throughout their life which leads to infections.
Often, milk contains pus. Sometimes a glass of milk is so infected it contains more pus than milk.
Despite inflammation helping our body during active recovery, excessive inflammation can impede the process.
Plant-based encourages the consumption of plant foods, rich in antioxidants, while also reducing dairy consumption to none ideally.
How a Plant-Based Diet Benefits the Environment
Veganism, and plant-based diets, are regarded for their potential benefits for our environment.
When humans can consume over 250,000 edible plant species, with no reliance on meat for survival, feeding animals for human consumption is drastically inefficient.
There are no nutrients essential for our survival exclusive to meat, dairy, or other animal-based product.
The amount of land space required to grow feed for animal agriculture far exceeds the amount we need to feed ourselves.
Our environment will always benefit from positive climate action, whether you believe it is changing or not.
There are no longer means to sustain our abuse of Earth - which provides enough food for everyone and every species.
America consumes resources at such a rate that five Earth's would meet their demand.
The global average demand for resource consumption requires three planet Earths.
Our primary goal should be a global focus on reducing consumption - it is destroying water quality, land health and resources unsustainably.
According to researchers at Oxford University, transitioning to plant-based is the single most impactful way an individual can reduce their environmental impact.
The University of Oxford finds 'plant-based diets reduce food emissions by up to 73%' and, secondly, that if plant-based diets were mandatory, we would require up to 76% less farmland.
Animal agriculture accounts for more significant emissions than the world's entire transport sector added together.
Eating animals at the rate we do is killing our home.
So slow down now, or best - stop! One meal less makes a difference.
We are causal to a global environmental breakdown, yet the detrimental industrial farming of livestock continues.
According to the Vegan Society, producing 1kg of beef consumes 15,500 litres of water, compared with just 250 for 1kg of potatoes.
While we keep buying, it is unlikely to be stopped.
A plant-based diet may be the single most impactful move you can make in ensuring a protected future for our planet.
The vast majority of scientists accept the idea that we are facing unprecedented changes to our planet's environment.
Adapting our diet in small ways towards plant-based can significantly improve an individual's carbon footprint.
The Ethical Benefits of Going Vegan
Finally, vegan diets spare animal lives.
Animal cruelty may seem self-explanatory, and many dismiss this very valid point as preachy.
Animal rights are a common discussion within ethics and for many vegans this reason alone is why they do it.
Animals feel emotions, they fear, and they hurt.
We do not need meat to survive, nor is it justifiably natural to the human diet.
We have flat molars, long intestinal tracts and get poisoned eating many types of meat raw, which is not true of other carnivores.
If we stopped feeding animals for humans to eat and instead just fed humans, we could grow more than enough food to offset the alleged food crisis.
The majority of the world's soy is for feeding animals, not people.
Organic or not, animals are killed or harmed for food products. Dairy cows are forced pregnant, their young taken off them and often killed at one day old.
Forty-million one-day-old chicks are killed in the UK each year.
They often make their way into the food chain.
The scale of brutality against other species is monumental and catastrophic to sentient beings worldwide.
We do not own animals, and they are not for our consumption. We must recognise that alternative food sources can satisfy and nourish us - and reduce the harm we place on other lives.
So that is where this preach ends, and I sincerely hope you learned something and urge you to continue reading into veganism yourself to appreciate its many benefits.
Conclusion: Plant-Based Diet Benefits
Plant-based/vegan diets can benefit the environment, athletic performance, and general wellbeing.
When it comes to the benefits of vegan for health, whole-food plant-based far extends these benefits by removing processed foods entirely.
Animal cruelty may not be everyone's motivation for this diet, but each soul entrapped in the agricultural system suffers.
Vegan diets exclude, as far as practical, harm to these animals.
Finally, experts suggest a carbon footprint reduction is achievable with small dietary changes.
Sources & Further Reading
The following articles, resources and studies have either been used for research purposes in the writing of this article or as suggested furthering reading.
1 - National Geographic: 'Global Warming Overview'
2 - Independent: 'veganism is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce our environmental impact, study finds'
3 - The Vegan Society: 'Water Requirements'
4 - The University of Oxford: 'Plant-based foods are good for both health and the environment'