Plant-based athletes: Are they the ultimate game changers?

UD Football vs. Del State - 8/12/19 - Louis Mason
Louis Mason/THE

Athletes such as football players need the right nutrients to help their bodies recover.

Staff Reporter

“The Game Changers,” a documentary which recently aired on Netflix, looked at the benefits of what a plant-based diet has to offer athletes and the environment as a whole. As an avid runner, I saw it as an opportunity to look at changing my own diet to enhance my performance.

However, switching to a plant-based diet still comes with many concerns and questions, one of which underlines the idea of whether or not an athlete could switch to a plant-based diet and still perform at a high level.

One of the main topics “The Game Changers” focused on was the difference between protein that comes from plants versus that which comes from animals. Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins that are what help build and repair muscle in the body. At one point, the documentary mentions that all plants contain all nine essential different amino acids in different variations. In fact, this is not the case; most plants lack at least one of the nine essential amino acids that humans need.

However, by combining different sources of plant-based protein, an athlete would be able to get the vital amino acids they need in order to keep their bodies functioning at a high level. An athlete can get protein from plant-based sources via grains, nuts and beans.

_E1R0235 Sarah Boekholder/THE REVIEW
Soccer players, cross country and track runners and other athletes need the right nutrients to keep their cardiovascular system functioning highly.

Unlike plant protein, protein that comes from meat is normally complete with all nine essential amino acids. Complete animal-based protein includes fish, eggs, red meat and dairy products. However, protein that comes from an animal source does have drawbacks.

Studies have come to find that red meat has a possible link to inflammation in arteries throughout the body. The inflammation would increase blood flow to certain areas and could cause pain in the affected region. For any athlete, the last thing they want is to have pain while trying to perform at a high level.

The documentary also gave a wide variety of athletes who are examples of athletes who have gone on plant-based diet and had success. It talked with a range of athletes such as NFL linebacker Derrick Morgan, Olympic sprinter Morgan Mitchell, UFC fighter Nate Diaz and ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek.

These athletes all had talked about accomplishing amazing things after going plant-based. For example, after going on a plant-based diet, Jurek talked about his experience about being the fastest person ever to complete the appalachian trail. Diaz reminished on beating world-class fighter Conor Mcgregor.

These accomplishments on a plant-based diet are outstanding and it shows that a plant based diet works for professionals. However, a professional athlete and an everyday athlete are two very different people. A professional athlete has all the resources in the world given to them to ensure their success. A professional athlete has access to a variety of nutritionists and dietitians who would come at little to no expense. An everyday athlete or say an athlete in high school more than likely would not have as much access to these resources. An everyday athlete must do research on their own in order to know what their body needs in order to get all of the essential nutrients they need.

Finally, the documentary also mentioned the overall benefits of going plant-based for the environment.

Switching to a plant-based diet for one thing helps conserve water. Surveys and studies have found that it takes 100 to 200 times more water to raise livestock than it does to grow plants. By reducing the amount of water consumed by livestock, it could be used to help regions around the world that lack access to drinking water.

Plant-based diets also can help save energy and is cleaner than raising livestock. A study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters found that emissions that come from livestock farms are much higher than any other type of air pollution in the United States. Over time, human beings have had a big issue with emissions of excess carbon dioxide and other air pollutants. By switching to a plant-based diet, an athlete could help reduce the emissions of these pollutants and the effects they have.

Ultimately, if an athlete wants to go plant-based is their own choice. There are many benefits that an athlete receive from going plant-based. However, for most athletes giving up a diet of mainly animal-based products may be hard because it has never given them problems that they know of.

The fact of the matter is that having an overall healthy diet is the main goal that any athlete should strive for in order to be successful. Many athletes, including myself go by the motto, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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