The past years have seen a drastic change in dietary patterns. Ketogenic diets, heck, even some Atkins-style diets like paleo have come back into play. Yet, above all the other diets one has stood the test of time – a plant-based diet. Trouble is, most people simply do not understand what a plant-based diet is and why they would bother to make the switch. In under a 10-minute read, I will try to provide you with the good and bad of a plant-based diet. Here it is, all the information you need to know – plant-based diets 101.
Plant-Based Diet 101
The idea of a plant-based diet is not a new idea. Back in Roman gladiator times, the strongest and fiercest warriors were known as “barley men” because they lived on a very basic diet of barley and wine.
Some of the healthiest populations on earth – such as those living in rural China live on a strict plant-based diet – populations of people who have nearly no onsets of heart disease of specific forms of cancer. As highlighted in the CHINA STUDY, many populations thrive on a diet that is rich in plant foods such as grains, vegetables, starches and legumes.
Around the world, Dr. Valter Longo and Dan Buettner have defined the happiest and longest-living populations (The Blue Zones) as adhering to a diet that is predominantly plant-based.
Now, in 2019, the documentary called THE GAME CHANGERS has driven people to understand that athletes are seeing the positive impacts of a whole-food plant based diet on their performance and recovery.
But how could this be?
For generations, we, in the sport and performance world have been taught that meat products like beef, chicken and dairy are essential to muscle development and recovery. Many people start to wonder – “If I am not eating these foods, where will I get my protein?”
The simple reality is that all plant foods provide an abundant supply of all macronutrients.
Plant-based diets help to provide complex carbohydrates, a complete source of amino acids and protein content and healthy fats – virtually free of cholesterol unhealthy fats.
In order to understand plant-based diets, one must understand that it is not about restricting foods, but rather allowing yourself to try new foods in plentiful variety.
What is a Plant-Based Diet?
To best understand plant-based diets 101 you must consider these three main statements:
1. Emphasize Whole, Minimally Processed Plant Foods
By this, we mean eating foods that are as close to their natural growing state as possible. Yes, you can be vegan and eat Oreos, but you would be better off eating fresh-picked blueberries and oatmeal.
2. Exclude Refined Foods – Especially Oil
Please understand – We are not saying do not eat fat.
Excluding refined foods like cookies, dessert pastries and refined cereals will help to limit excess sugar in your diet. Excluding refined oils will also help to limit the unnecessary calories that likely will not be used for performance.
3. LIMIT Animal Products
Notice we are not saying completely avoid. For some rare cases, such as a woman who has severe anemia, it may be prescribed by a naturopath to consume iron-rich foods like liver. For most people, 1 cup of kidney beans will provide an adequate amount of iron in their diet.
These three key aspects make-up the basis for a plant-based diet.
Understanding that this diet is flexible may help people to put more fresh produce into their shopping cart.
Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet
Everyone knows that eating more fruit and vegetables is good for you. Since the early days in school, your teacher would have been showing you pictures of apples and broccoli and reinforcing the idea to eat more plant-based foods.
Without knowing it, you have been taught to eat the right foods.
The problem is popular media – which influences you to eat highly-processed foods for the immediate satisfaction they provide.
Eating a plant-based diet isn’t all about fruits and vegetables. A plant-based diet includes a wealth of legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains – all foods that have healing properties and will improve your athletic performance.
Plant-Based Diet 101 – Key Benefits
This is a big one for the gentlemen reading this article. There is very conclusive research that shows a whole foods plant-based diet has significant improvements in blood flow and overall dilation of blood vessels. This means better pumps at the gym, harder erections and faster recovery after a workout.
To reinforce the point, research has now concluded that a plant-based diet is one of the most effective ways to TREAT pre-existing heart failure. Check out this research.
The pump is a glorious feeling of strength and performance, but after a workout, it is essential that you reduce that inflammation and start healing the muscle and surrounding soft tissue.
The most effective food sources for reducing inflammation – antioxidant-rich foods like berries and even some nuts/seeds (high in minerals that can reduce inflammation).
It seems that a plant-based diet alleviates the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Why not consume the foods that protect your body now – enabling you to perform at a higher level without becoming injured. Take a quick read through this paper on fighting osteoarthritis with a plant-based diet.
People underestimate the power of regularity and digestion. You consume the foods that you think will help you to put on muscle, but what about your body’s ability to actually use that energy and create stronger tissue?
Plant-based food sources are full of fibre – which has not only been known to help keep you regular but also reduce inflammation and help starve off some cancer-causing agents for colon cancer.
The worst feeling in the world is showing up to the gym, warming up, chugging down a pre-workout while you yawn on because your body hasn’t fully recovered from yesterday’s session.
A plant-based diet will provide you with more energy, vitality and overall performance in the weight room.
It seems that many plant foods are rich in B vitamins and Nitrates – both essential elements to energy production in the body. It also goes without saying that the higher intake of complex carbohydrates from grains and fruit will allow your body to have a surplus of muscle glycogen which can be used for exercise and recycled faster for the next training session.
Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets to a plant-based diet is its overall effects on metabolism. A 2015 Study showed that vegetarians who consumed all vegetables fast had higher metabolic rates – demonstrating that even at rest, those who consume vegetable fats burn more calories and have higher metabolic potential.
Plant-Based 101 – Downsides of a Plant-Based Diet
Unfortunately, it is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are some downsides to a plant-based diet.
1. Ordering at Popular Restaurants
Going to McDonald’s can be a troublesome ordeal – but realistically, if you’re serious athlete, should you really be eating at a fast-food joint anyway?
Most popular American fast-food restaurants now have one or two plant-based options but I would recommend you stay clear anyways. The entire purpose of a plant-based diet is to eat whole foods – foods that are virtually unprocessed.
Save money by staying home and cooking your own beautiful and nutritious meal.
2. Constantly Answering the “Where do you get your Protein” Question
Honestly, this gets a tad redundant. Truth is before you learned about protein intake on a plant-based diet you were probably concerned as well. Our response to this question should be to help people to understand that plant food are rich in protein and dietary requirements, for most people, are much lower than they think.
Conclusions – Standard American Diet vs. Plant-Based
Here’s the sad truth – the standard American diet is terrible for you. There is a lack of complex carbohydrates, way to much sugar, highly processed fats, almost no fibre and just a lack of nutrients on every plate.
The big thing to understand is that you do not NEED to go plant-based, but it is important that you understand that if you did you would see improvements in nearly every aspect of your strength and overall wellness.
Making the switch and committing to a diet with a variety of plant foods – and being consistent on a day to day basis will provide you with the best possible results in your long-term health.
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Great article! I just started a plant-based diet and am feeling better and getting way leaner. Do you think you can release an article talking about plant based protein?
Phil, we definitely can. In the meantime, be sure to check out our article on THE BEST PROTEIN AFTER A WORKOUT.
Do you think that the higher intake of carbs will be good for or bad for weight loss?
Great question! This depends on the type of carbohydrates. If you are consuming complex carbs like whole grains, vegetables, starchy tubers and some fruit you will probably find benefits in strength, minimal fat loss, weight loss and an increase in overall energy.