Understanding plant-based diets for athletes – Part one

Posted on October 31, 2019 by

A high-performance diet isn’t just about what’s on your plate. Therefore, no one super food or super diet is the answer for your health and performance.

The key to having a high-performance diet is the application of the types of foods, amounts, meals, timing and habits to suit your training demands, meet physical goals and suit your lifestyle and tastes.

When all these factors align then you can achieve huge successes to benefit health and performance.

Occasionally people are so impressed at the power of a good diet that they want to really shout about it! The problem with promoting a diet through rose-coloured glasses is that they focus only on what to eat and what not to eat because it worked for them. Rarely do they take into consideration personal circumstances and the challenges and practicalities of applying that diet.

In the past this has taken the form of keto and paleo and more recently plant-based diets. It’s not simply the removal of meat and animal-based products that needs to be considered to achieve the outcomes and benefits. In fact, a lot of considerations need to be made outside of the kitchen.


Some considerations

  1. In limiting a food group, you are significantly restricting the variety and accessibility of foods and more diligence needs to be given to food prep and planning so that suitable options are available when you need them
  2. When taking food out of the diet you need to replace it with something to avoid unwanted weight loss, so finding suitable alternatives to match nutritional needs to stock your panty and fridge need to be made
  3. You might be creating a flow on effect with an increase in a certain type of food to replace what you have taken out
  4. While this increase in fibre is great for gut health, it is also very filling and may impact appetite and lead to athletes not meeting total energy demands for training. The increase in fibre may also lead to gut discomfort during training sessions.


The positives

A positive aspect to plant-based eating is that generally-speaking, cutting out animal-based foods results in greater intake of a diverse range of vitamins and minerals from from a higher intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.


What to take away

Rather than just following what someone else did, use different ways of eating to inspire, learn and challenge what you are doing to fuel your training – but discuss these changes with a dietitian to individualise and balance your nutrition needs and create a diet which is right for you.


In the case of shifting to a plant-based diet there are certain nutrients found in animal-based foods that are more difficult to attain from plants. Read part two on the impact of plant-based diet on specific nutrients in your diet.

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