THE PLANT-BASED ATHLETE SERIES: INTRODUCTION
Updated: Feb 2
- By Annie Bothma, November 2022
Recently, I have worked with a few plant-based athletes in my practice, which sparked my interest to delve a bit deeper into the research regarding plant-based diets for athletes and what athletes need to know or consider before they make this diet change.
Plant-Based diets has certainly grown in popularity in the general population in the last few years with more and more athletes now also following suit. Some do it for environmental reasons, while others aim to improve their health. There are definitely some health and environmental benefits to consuming a plant based diet, however, regardless the reason behind the change it is always good to do a bit of research before you make any diet changes. You want to make sure the new diet will still provide you with enough energy and the right nutrients to support your health and performance goals.
Athletes ask a lot of their bodies and have a high energy demand. Thus, regardless if they are following a plant-based diet or not, they still have to pay close attention to their nutrition to be able to recover well and perform at their best.
The main goal with this series is to help athletes who are currently following a plant based diet or are maybe considering following a plant based diet make educated food choices that will support their health and sporting goals.
However, a plant-based diet can mean many things. Some plant-based diets, like a vegetarian diet still includes some animal-based products, while others like a vegan diet exclude all animal-based products. I don’t eat a vegetarian or vegan diet myself, but my diet certainly contains as lot of plant foods and colorful fruits and vegetables.
PLANT-BASED DIETS: DEFINITIONS
Flexitarian: Occasionally consumes animal flesh (meat, poultry) and fish, eggs, dairy
Pesco-vegetarian: Excludes animal flesh but does include fish
Lacto-ovo vegetarian: Excludes all flesh; includes diary and eggs only
Lacto-vegetarian: Excludes all flesh and eggs; includes dairy only
Ovo-vegetarian: Excludes all flesh and dairy; includes eggs only
Vegan: Excludes all animal products
Macrobiotic vegetarian: Variable dietary restrictions; includes wild meat/game and fish in some variations of the diet
Fruitarian: Includes fruit, nuts, seeds and some vegetables
You can see that it is not that straight-forward when referring to plant-based athletes, since there are so many different versions of a plant-based diet. In this series, I will primarily be focusing on Vegan athletes in my series, who exclude all animal-based products, since these athletes have a few extra dietary needs that needs to be considered when it comes to optimizing their nutritional intake.
I will discuss a few things athletes need to know before adopting a plant-based diet, including:
The potential benefits on a plant-based diet
Meeting your energy requirements as a plant-based athlete
Blood testing and supplements.
Balancing fiber intake as a an athlete.
Thriving as a plant-based athlete.
Each post in this series will also include a recipe from Leozette Roode's new cook book: THE SOUTH AFRICAN VEGAN COOKBOOK to inspire you to bring more color into your plate.
FEATURED RECIPE: Mediterranean Pasta Primavera
By Leozette Roode
Serves: 8 Prep Time: 1 hour
Photo credit: Human & Rousseau/Myburgh du Plessis
1 box Happy Earth People Red Lentil Pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 punnet button mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon mixed herbs
½ cup white wine (optional)
1 bunch spinach, cored and shredded into strips
1 packet Woolworth’s sun-dried tomatoes or 15 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Juice of ½ lemon (about 1 TBSP)
Salt and pepper to taste
15 Kalamata black olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
½ avocado and fresh rocket for garnish
Cook the pasta according to instructions, drain and set aside.
Add the olive oil (or water if you prefer) to a big wok. When hot, add the chopped onions and minced garlic. Add the paprika and cayenne pepper and coat the onion mixture.
When onions are soft, add the mushrooms, white wine and mixed herbs.
When mushrooms turn brown, add chopped spinach, cherry tomatoes, squeeze of lemon juice and salt and pepper. Cook until spinach turns bright green.
Add Kalamata olives and nutritional yeast and stir through.
Add the pasta and basil pesto to the wok and stir through.
Serve with fresh rocket and avocado on top.
Remember, you do not have to be a plant-based athlete to enjoy these recipes. You swap ingredients for animal-based ones or add animal-based products to complement the meals to suit your specific nutritional needs.
Regardless, if you follow a plant based diet or not I am sure you will find this series insightful and interesting. Maybe you can help a friend who is following a plant-based diet make better nutritional choices to fuel their athletic pursuits! Plus, it may inspire you to also add a bit more color to your own meals!