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While you might be tempted to think that a plant-based diet could be bad for athletes and cause food deficiencies, the opposite is true. In fact, a vegetarian or vegan diet offers many benefits, as long as it’s balanced of course.
A plant-based diet offers a much higher quantity of carbohydrates than a traditional diet. Fruits, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes are all rich in carbohydrates. These constitute the body and muscles’ principle source of energy. It’s well known that a high carbohydrate diet improves performance in endurance sports, and other types of sport, by optimizing energy levels.
A vegetarian or vegan diet is rich in antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation in the body and promote a faster recovery after long or intense training. It also helps athletes train harder and more often, which contributes to improving performance. It also helps prevent and heal injuries.
A diet rich in plant-foods is rich in dietary fiber, which helps optimize digestion. That’s because fiber facilitates intestinal transit—the course of stools from one end of the intestine to the other. It increases stool volume and weight by absorbing water. Therefore, it contributes to normalize transit time and stool consistency to limit constipation and diarrhea. A vegetarian or vegan diet makes it easy to get the recommended fiber intake, which is 21 to 38g a day depending on age, gender and particular conditions (pregnancy, breastfeeding, etc.). What’s more, these diets are high in prebiotics, which support intestinal flora. Prebiotics are ingredients that are not digested by the human digestive tube. They feed and promote the growth and activity of good bacteria in the colon. The principle sources of prebiotics are inulin, legumes and certain fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
A plant-based diet, thanks to its high soluble fiber and low saturated fat content, helps prevent cardiovascular disease by helping to reduce blood cholesterol levels. This type of diet is also good for preventing and treating type 2 diabetes, by improving insulin resistance, helping maintain a healthy weight, and providing a high intake of fiber and phytonutrients. In a recent study, a vegan diet resulted in better glycemic control and a significant reduction in glycated hemoglobin, compared to a conventional diet. Finally, a plant based diet helps maintain a healthy weight because it is rich in fiber, and generally less calorific and not as rich in fat. Fiber takes longer to chew and digest, and increases satiety, hence its effect on weight control.
To conclude, even if you don’t want to become vegetarian or vegan, it’s a good idea to add a large amount of plant-based foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, to your diet every day. Here are a few recipes to get you inspired: