Studies show that following plant-based diets has many health benefits due to the better nutritional content and lower amounts of saturated fats in plant-based food. Researchers have found that this has a beneficial effect on plasma lipid concentration, blood pressure, and body weight. Combining this with a healthy lifestyle can offer protection against cardiovascular issues. Also, it has been found from studies that when athletes follow a plant-based diet, it offers performance advantages due to the reasons mentioned earlier. In this article, we will investigate how plant-based diets improve cardiovascular health and endurance sports performance.
The Physiological Effect Of Plant-Based Diet
Studies have shown that eating more plant-based food offers a performance advantage in endurance sports. Remember that, the risk for atherosclerosis and myocardial damage is higher for endurance athletes. It has been found from studies that plant-based diets have positive physiological effects like reduction in cardiovascular risk factors, leaner body mass, improved blood flow, improved glycogen storage, reduced inflammation, and reduced oxidative stress.
It is obvious from several studies that following plant-based diets has a beneficial effect on heart health. As already stated, most plant-based food has lower amounts of saturated fats. Also, nuts and seeds are good sources of healthy fats like omega-3s. Studies have shown that a combination of a low-fat diet with healthy lifestyle changes can reduce arterial plaque, which contributes to atherosclerosis. Moreover, compared to meat-eaters, vegans and vegetarians are less likely to develop coronary heart diseases.
It has been found from studies that the arterial changes contributing to atherosclerosis can begin early in life. For instance, most American children between the age of 10 to 14 have fatty streaks in their left anterior descending coronary artery. Also, a survey has revealed that in developed countries, by the age of 20, approximately 10% of the population have advanced atherosclerotic lesions in the abdominal aorta. This reduces blood flow and thereby contributes to the degeneration of vertebral disc and back pain.
The Role Of Plant-Based Diet In Athletic Performance
A plant-based diet offers many health benefits because of the positive physiological effect of plant-based food. You must also remember that a plant-based diet means you prioritize plant-based food over animal-based food. Also, it is only in a vegan diet you strictly avoid consuming all types of animal-based food products and byproducts.
Leaner Body Mass
One of the biggest advantages of following a plant-based diet is that it reduces body fat. This not only reduces the risk of atherosclerosis but may also improve athletic performance. Remember that a plant-based meal has a lower fat content and higher fiber content. This combination results in lower energy density, and thereby reduced calorie intake.
Improved Glycogen Storage
Carbohydrate is the primary source of energy for the body during high-intensity and moderate aerobic exercise. A diet that focuses on high carbohydrate intake enhances endurance; this not only includes immediately before an athletic performance but over the long term. It has been found from surveys that most athletes follow an eating pattern that is deficient in this macronutrient, and this puts them at the risk of the rapid depletion of glycogen from the liver and muscles. Due to this, they experience early fatigue, which leads to reduced endurance.
In a 2016 study, endurance athletes who follow a plant-based diet or eat a plant-based meal were able to meet their required carbohydrate intake. You must also keep in mind that they were training 1 to 3 hours a day. This is because food like grains, legumes, root vegetables, or tubers are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates that are healthy for the body.
Reduced Blood Viscosity
Blood viscosity or the thickness of blood is a key factor that dictates the delivery of oxygen to muscles; this is a function of plasma viscosity and packed volume of cells. Generally, blood flow can be improved by lowering blood viscosity; this improves athletic performance. When you are performing an athletic activity, fluid passes from the bloodstream, and this increases the viscosity of blood. So, there will be a progressive drop in the oxygenation of tissues, which degrades athletic performance.
The food you include in your diet influences the viscosity of blood plasma. Plant-based food is generally low in saturated fats and does not have cholesterol. Due to this, following a plant-based diet like veganism or vegetarianism lowers the plasma lipid concentrations. This leads to reduced blood viscosity, plasma viscosity, and packed cell volume. The other advantage of this is the reduced blood pressure and lower prevalence of hypertension. Above all, this helps to improve athletic performance because of the improved oxygenation of tissues.
Reduced Oxidative Stress
Exercising and athletic training increases metabolic rate, which in turn produces more free radicals or oxygen species. They cause oxidative stress which leads to muscle fatigue and thereby reduced athletic performance. People who follow plant-based diets like vegan diet or vegetarian diet have better antioxidant defenses because of the increased intake of vitamins E, C, beta-carotene, and other antioxidants. So, endurance athletes who follow plant-based diets have a better muscle recovery rate.
These are some of the important benefits that endurance athletes can gain by following a plant-based diet.