It can seem almost paradoxical for athletes to go vegan. After all, going vegan, as pointed out previously at Never Fear Failure, necessitates a well-balanced diet of legumes, wholegrain, nuts, seeds, berries, fruits, and vegetables. The inability to follow such a diet will lead to a dietary deficiency (though supplements can help). And it can seem as if athletes, who require so much fuel for their training and performance, might have a hard time avoiding such a deficiency with just those types of foods.
That said, athletes can and often do “go vegan.” Doing so, in fact, can actually help with athletic performance — something that NBA star Kyrie Irving, for one, can attest to. Irving is one of a handful of major athletes who have turned to plant-based diets, and the results have been positive. “Been on more of a plant-based diet, getting away from the animals and all that,” explained Irving on his choice to go vegan. “I had to get away from that. So my energy is up; my body feels amazing.”
The results don’t appear to be only in Irving’s head, as he’s looked amazing as well. He appears svelte, is lightning fast, and quick as a cat, and at times this season has played as effectively as at any other point in his career. In other words, he looks primed to lead his Boston Celtics to a deep playoff run, as has been forecasted by the basketball punditry despite some on-and-off struggles for the team throughout the season. This postseason will be Irving’s chance to prove he can carry a team, and he looks ready for that challenge, thanks in no small part to his sustained level of fitness.
But why specifically is veganism proving effective for Irving and some of his fellow athletes?
For one thing, a vegan diet has been shown to reduce fatigue and anxiety. This benefit, in turn, correlates to improved athletic performance in that athletes can maintain peak fitness for a longer period of time. A reduction in anxiety is crucial as well, given that it translates to a clear state of mind, which in turn allows for a focus solely on the competition at hand. Irving embodies these benefits; tennis superstar Serena Williams, herself a vegan, is perhaps an even better example. The legendary champion remains at the height of her powers despite being 37 years old (advanced age in tennis), and she has credited her plant-based diet as having helped her stay sharp.
Another thing is that going vegan helps with weight loss and maintenance. Such is the case with Joey Morganelli, an “average Joe” who lost weight after turning vegan. Morganelli detailed to Men’s Health his weight loss journey and noted how he started feeling so much better after losing the weight. Naturally, weight maintenance is key to athletic excellence. Athletes generally perform at their best when they reach their ideal weight, and the vegan diet has proven to be beneficial to that end.
When considering all of these benefits and examples, it’s still important to go back to one point made earlier: that vegan athletes need a well-balanced diet. David Rogerson of the Academy of Sport and Physical Activity published the paper “Vegan Diets: Practical Advice for Athletes and Exercisers,” and in it, he emphasized the need for strategic management of food and appropriate supplementation” so that athletes can fully reap the benefits of a plant-based diet. In other words, athletes must endeavor to have a well-balanced diet to get all the nutrients they need to perform at a high level – not simply cut out animal products and hope for the best. Otherwise, they risk nutrient deficiencies, which can result not only in poor athletic performance but also poor health in general. Again, supplements can help in this case; however, it is best that athletes — or any vegans for that matter — strive for strategic balance.
The ultimate point though is that going vegan doesn’t necessarily translate to poor athletic performance. This is a popular misconception, but in fact, it can be quite the opposite. Athletes like Irving and Williams, as well as numerous others (Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton, ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek, etc.), prove the point. So long as the diet is approached in a strategic and balanced way, it can work wonders.