Conventional wisdom states that in order to be healthy people, especially athletes, need a diet rich in animal-based proteins like meat and dairy products. This has led to the misconception that a vegan diet is unsuitable for athletes who perform at elite levels of competition. However, this is not necessarily the case. Athletes on a vegan diet can and do perform very well; in fact, often their results are better than those of athletes on a meat-based diet. (Read Special Considerations for Vegetarian Athletes.) To dispel the myth even further, let’s take a look at protein and carbohydrates and how they relate to a vegan diet for athletes.
It hasn’t been proven that athletes require more protein than anyone else. Furthermore, meat is not the only source of protein. You can get high-quality protein from a variety of non-meat and non-dairy sources, including quinoa, soybeans, spinach, seeds and legumes. (See more examples in Vegetarian Sources of Protein and Vegetarian Recipes for the Carnivorous Athlete.)
While we typically view protein as the hero, athletes really need carbohydrates to fuel their muscles. So carbohydrates are equally important—actually more so. (See Caution: Low-Carb Diets Are Not for Athletes.) Since so many plant-based protein sources (like those cited above) also contain an ample amount of carbohydrates,
a vegan diet can be advantageous for athletes. When properly planned and well balanced, a vegan diet is a healthy way to achieve optimal performance.
Recently, many athletes (including myself) have turned to a vegan (or plant-based) diet to increase performance and health. (Check out Arian Foster Officially a Vegan, With Approval of Houston Texans Dietitian.) Contrary to popular opinion, eliminating meat and dairy from one’s diet need not result in a protein or nutrient deficiency. In my opinion, a plant-based or vegan diet will actually maximize your health.