By Tammy Fry (Director of Meat Free Mondays, plant-based nutrition expert and champion athlete)
Plant-based sports nutrition is a hot topic at the moment with the October release of documentary The Game Changers on Netflix. It’s pushed many athletes and fitness fundis to ask, ‘can a plant-based diet sustain optimal sports performance?’
If I had a Rand for every time I’ve been asked as a vegan athlete ‘but where do you get your protein from?’ I might be driving a Lexus. But while there are many assumptions and myths around plant-based eating (especially in the sports nutrition space), the vegan lifestyle is becoming more and more mainstream and as a result people now have access to more information – and we are starting to see the results.
Some of the best sports people in the world are embracing a plant-based diet because they have seen and felt the benefits first hand. (This LiveKindly video series is definitely worth a watch).
US based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recently published the results of a study in the journal Nutrients. The study examined the advantages of a plant-based diet for athletes and sports people. Here is a summary of some of their findings:
- Even very fit athletes are at risk for heart disease. A plant-based diet keeps athletes’ hearts strong by reversing plaque, bringing down blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing weight.
- A plant-based diet may have an anti-inflammatory effect. Meat and high cholesterol exacerbate inflammation, which can result in pain and impair athletic performance and recovery.
- A plant-based diet, which is low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol, helps improve blood viscosity. This helps more oxygen reach the muscles, which improves athletic performance.
- Plant-based diets improve arterial flexibility and diameter, leading to better blood flow.
- Compared with meat-eaters, people eating a plant-based diet get more antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals. Free radicals lead to muscle fatigue, reduce athletic performance, and impair recovery.
- Plant-based diets, which are typically low in fat and high in fibre, can reduce body fat. Reduced body fat is associated with increased aerobic capacity—or the ability to use oxygen to fuel exercise. Studies show that athletes on a plant-based diet increase their VO2 max—the maximum amount of oxygen they can use during intense exercise—leading to better endurance.
Plant proteins are generally very low in fat, which is not true for most animal proteins. Fat in the diet of sportsmen and women is not desirable in excess. Healthy fats, like the type of fat found in nuts and seeds are great, but a high fat diet can simply add weight to the body without adding strength.
Ultimately, the basic business of an athlete is to work harder and sweat more, which means that they need to eat more and drink more. Fundamentally nothing else is different, but their food choices are considerably more meaningful if they want to perform to their best ability. A balanced diet is ideal for athletes and a plant-based lifestyle can certainly offer an adequate balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat. It is an overall energy restriction, rather than the restriction of certain foods which could compromise strength and stamina during sport.
When the protein question comes up, it is often followed by ‘I just don’t have the time to prepare plant based meals’. I completely understand how little time athletes have in the day, especially when we are trying to find time for training in an already busy schedule. But that’s why I love brands like Fry’s (The Fry Family Food Co.) who make it so easy for me to fit quality plant proteins into my daily life. Fry’s have a broad range of delicious, convenient meat alternatives and other plant-based products to help the most avid of meat-eating athletes to transition to a plant-based diet and they pack a punch in protein content. They are all naturally cholesterol free, non-GM and contain no hormones, antibiotics or pesticides.
You can find The Fry Family Food Co. products in the frozen section of major supermarkets. Or check them out online at:
About Tammy Fry:
An avid crossfitter, 5th dan karateka and many times South African national champion, self-defense coach, surfer, business woman, public speaker, and mum of two young boys, Tammy Fry embodies health and wellness. She is the 2017 Australian Open and Queensland karate champion and was recently named in the Top Eight women who are changing the world for animals through food by Female First UK.
Tammy was born in Durban, South Africa in 1981. Her father, Wally Fry, grew up as an animal farmer and meat was a staple in his everyday diet. Tammy’s mother, Debbie Fry (a lifelong vegetarian) raised Tammy as a vegetarian. Together they helped to inspire Wally to embrace a vegetarian diet and sparked the creation of The Fry Family Food Company.
After receiving her BCom (Hons) in Marketing and Economics, Tammy joined The Fry Family Food Co. as the only marketer in the business. Now with over a decade’s experience at the helm of marketing the company, Tammy is guided by nutritional expertise, a love of fitness, the environment and outdoor lifestyle.
Enabling others to live a happier and more energetic lifestyle through plant-based nutrition is the cornerstone of Tammy’s passion. She uses her blog (seed-blog.com) and her Seed Workshops to share recipes, lifestyle tips and plant-based advocacy ideas.
Tammy is also the director of Meat Free Mondays Australia and South Africa which encourages a reduction in animal product consumption as one of the major solutions to unsustainable food choices, global warming and animal cruelty.