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Sports Then and Now

How the Vegan Diet Has Shaped Modern Sports

Posted on July 12, 2021 by Tyler Tafelsky

Over the last couple of decades, veganism has been a major topic of discussion in the athletic arena. While motives vary widely from anti-animal cruelty to enhanced recovery after rigorous training and exercise, there are many different athletes who tout the benefits of a vegan diet.

The trend toward a plant-based diet is more than just a fad. There’s compelling science that supports the consumption of a diet rich in plants. In fact, several of the world’s top athletes have discovered advantages in experimenting with plant-based nutrition, and they’re realizing profound recovery and performance benefits as a result.

From accelerated recovery to reduced inflammation, apply the right balance of a vegan diet can help optimize athletic performance in more ways than one. Before we dive into the world of veganism as it pertains to sports, below we share a brief bit about the background of how veganism came to be.

A Brief Background on Vegan History

Living a plant-based, cruelty-free lifestyle dates back many centuries to Ancient India cultures, particularly Buddhism and Jainism, which would go on to influence the vegan diet trends of Asia and Europe. Buddhism and Jainism, which are two religions that both emphasize non-violence, are widely considered the origin of veganism.

However, those concentrated populations of India were likely not fully vegan (that is, they still used and consumed some animal products), but they provide evidence of expansive, healthy populations being supported with starches and grains. Fast forward to more recent times in history, and the manner in which a meatless diet unfolds tells an increasingly interesting story.

Largely unknown to non-vegans, every November 1 is aptly recognized as World Vegan Day. The vegan holiday began in 1994, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vegan Society. It’s a day of celebration among people and communities who choose not to eat meat. But unlike vegetarianism, full vegans do not consume any products derived from animals, including, eggs, honey, cheese. They also do not use any textiles and clothing, include accessories or other wearable objects made from animals, such as wool, leather, pearls, and ivory.

Veganism is essentially known as an extreme form of vegetarianism. Although the term veganism was coined in 1944, the general concept of “flesh avoidance” and simply not eating meat can be traced back to ancient Indian and eastern Mediterranean societies.

Similarly, vegetarianism was first mentioned around 500 BCE by Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras of Samos. In addition to his calculations and theorem about shapes and triangles, Pythagoras promoted benevolence among all species, including humans.

Fast Forward to Veganism in Sports Today

What are the sport-specific benefits of consuming a plant-based diet over animal proteins? Putting all moral and ethical aspects aside, below we explore some of the most profound, science-supported benefits of veganism.

The predominant school of thought through most of the history of sports was in order to be strong, you need to eat meat, and lots of it. Today, countless vegan and plant-based athletes are proving this misconception wrong.

In fact, recent research from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that vegan athletes benefit from a higher intake of carbohydrates, fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and other micronutrients compared to meat-eating omnivores. And all of those benefits can contribute to optimal athletic performance, whether they’re lifting weights or running miles.

The essential building blocks that define the quality of a protein are called amino acids. Amino acids are vital for muscle repair as well as a host of other functions, like making immune cells and neurotransmitters. Protein supplements that have all essential amino acids constitute a “complete protein.”

The concentration of various types of amino acids found in a particular protein depends on its sources. Having the right combination of plant protein is critical to achieving the optimal blend of essential amino acids. Of the most common is the combination of grain and legume proteins, which are found in many vegan protein powder supplements. These two plants together make a complete protein with all essential amino acids. However, incorporating other amino acid-rich protein sources (like hemp or chia) can provide greater benefits from vegan protein powder supplements, especially for athletic recovery and performance.

Additionally, not only are most plant-based protein supplements naturally free of inflammatory ingredients but several products are developed with powerful anti-inflammatories. Some of the best sources of information worth checking out are this Garden of Life RAW Fit review and this Vega Sport protein powder review.  Both of these in-depth reviews discuss the nutritional value and health benefits of vegan protein supplements often desired in such products.

From Patrik Baboumian, a vegan strongman, to Scott Jurek, a vegan ultramarathon runner, the spectrum of plant-based athletes is vast.

Photo by Jon Chng. Article contributed by Tyler Tafelsky of

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