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Can A Meat-Free Diet Benefit Your Performance At The Gym?

One-third of the British population say that they’ve cut meat from their diet altogether or have reduced the amount of meat that they eat, according to The Guardian. As a result, The Vegan Society reports that demand for meat-free food increased by almost 1000% in 2017. However, as protein is regularly cited as a necessity for good athletic performance, those looking to shape up are actively encouraged to eat protein from meat sources. But can you perform just as well, or even better, on a no-meat diet? 

Can veganism boost athletic performance? 

Veganism has experienced huge growth in the UK in recent years and research from Finder predicts that over the next year it will increase by 327%. Research shows that a vegan diet can produce good fitness results and aid your recovery time, which is great news if you develop an injury or even just get achy muscles following your stint at the gym. As vegans typically consume a high amount of antioxidants, they reduce inflammation in the body quicker than those who consume fewer antioxidants, such as meat eaters.  

The vegan diet also shuns one of the country’s other biggest diet trends - low carb. In fact, vegans are actively encouraged to consume plant-based foods which are high in complex carbohydrates, such as legumes, vegetables, and grains. This is beneficial when you’re pushing yourself at your local gym or taking part in a Body Blast class as you’ll have more energy to rely on and to reach your goal. And if you’re planning on running a long-distance or taking part in a gruelling fitness event, you’ll reap the benefits even more. James Loomis, M.D. states that carbohydrates are required to keep your body’s glycogen stores full. Glycogen stores are responsible for long-term energy, so be sure to stock up on carbs before a big event.

Following a vegetarian diet for better fitness 

Both a vegetarian diet which eliminates meat and fish consumption and a pesco-vegetarian diet where fish and seafood are still consumed, can be just as beneficial for your health and ultimately your results at the gym. A 2017 study highlighted how a vegetarian diet that’s low in fat can reverse any plaque that has built up in the arteries in your body. This plaque ultimately leads to heart disease and will affect your ability to participate in high-impact group classes, such as BodyPump. However, by consuming a vegetarian diet that’s rich in fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, and dairy, your body will receive all the nutrients that it requires to withstand group classes and personal training sessions at the gym. 

A vegetarian diet may even make you perform better at the gym, especially if you’re a woman, according to a study conducted by Arizona State University. They found that vegetarian female participants had 13% greater maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) when using a treadmill compared to the females that were meat eaters. As a result, it was concluded that cardiorespiratory fitness in females can benefit from a vegetarian diet. 

Sporting stars who have boosted their performance by going veggie 

There are plenty of successful sportspeople who have adopted either a vegan or vegetarian diet in recent years, which demonstrates the positive impact it can have on your athletic performance. The Mirror, MNN, UFC, and ABC News report that the following sportspeople are either non-meat eaters or were during their sporting days: 

 • Martina Navratilova 
 • Mike Tyson 
 • Mac Danzig 
 • Lewis Hamilton 
 • David Haye 
 • Jermain Defoe, and; 
 • Serena and Venus Williams 

Many of these sportspeople have spoken openly about the benefits that ditching animal-based food products have had on their performance. Boxer David Haye told The Telegraph that his vegan diet made him stronger than ever. Meanwhile, the Irish Examiner states that footballer Jermain Defoe says that going vegan has helped him to take his career up a notch and has reduced the number of injuries he gets on the pitch. And, tennis champion Venus Williams adopted a raw vegan diet to improve her health and to reduce the number of times she had to withdraw from the tennis court after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, according to Health  

A healthy diet 

One of the biggest problems you may encounter on a no-meat diet is a deficiency in vitamin B12. Larsson and Johansson’s study found that vegans are more likely to be lacking in the crucial vitamin than individuals who consume meat. This is due to vitamin B12 being found most commonly in meat and fish, as well as some dairy products. B12 is crucial when you’re working hard to boost your fitness. If your levels dip you can experience weakness, fatigue, and light-headedness, all of which will lead to poor performance.

Thankfully, you can still live a healthy lifestyle and perform well at the gym on a no-meat diet. Both men and women typically require 2.4 micrograms of vitamin B12 per day. As such, when you’re preparing meat-free meals for yourself, you should utilise vegetarian and vegan-friendly ingredients which will up your vitamin B12 intake. These ingredients include: 

 • Fortified cereals and grains 
 • Fortified non-dairy milk 
 • Fortified yeast extract 
 • Soy-based foods 

Factors to consider 

While there is research highlighting how adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet can enhance your sporting performance, other studies have found no noticeable differences. A 1986 study reported that individuals benefited from similar performance including aerobic and anaerobic capacity and back strength during workouts. Meanwhile, Nieman’s 1999 study concluded that “a vegetarian diet per se is not associated with improved aerobic endurance performance”. 

One of the biggest limitations is that there is very little research into whether a vegan or vegetarian diet will alter the way you work out. On the plus side, the research that has been carried out to date hasn’t found any correlation between ditching meat and animal-based products and poorer performance. However, you should always ensure that you’re consuming enough of each food group, including ample amounts of protein, in addition to the following nutrients: 

 • Omega 3 
 • Iron 
 • Zinc 
 • Vitamin B12 
 • Vitamin D 
 • Calcium, and; 
 • Iodine 

Meat-free diets are on the rise among the British public due to the nation’s growing concern over their health, as well as animal welfare. The good news is that if you opt to adopt a diet that’s void of meat, you’re just as likely to perform as well at the gym as meat-eaters do. However, it’s important that you eat a varied diet which includes plenty of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.