It’s a common misconception that athletes cannot eat a plant-based diet, because it does not provide the protein they need. As I said, it is a misconception. In fact, many world class athletes are vegetarians or vegans.
I’ve introduced the Glowing Green Smoothie™ to Dave Bolland of the Stanley-Cup Champions the Chicago Blackhawks, and he has subsequently spread it through the Blackhawks. He credits it with providing increased energy for hockey games, which are non-stop action.
World Class Vegetarians
For example, bodybuilder Bill Pearl won Mr. Universe four times. While he wasn’t a vegetarian for his entire reign as Mr. Universe, when he won his final title he had been eating vegan for two years and still managed to pack on muscle, showing the incorrectness of the belief that bodybuilders need animal protein to build muscle.
Football players are renowned for their consumption of meat; however, quarterback Joe Namath was a vegetarian while he played football, as was Rams defensive end, Fred Dryer. Pro-bowl tight-end Tony Gonzales is a strict vegan, as is Heisman Trophy Winner and NFL athlete Ricky Williams. Other famous athletes who eat a plant-based diet are:
- Gold medalist Carl Lewis
- Tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King
- Boston Celtic Robert Parish
- MLB first baseman Prince Fielder
- Iron Man world champion Dave Scott
- Mixed martial arts fighter Mac Danzig
Does Athletic Performance Suffer?
While it’s true that serious athletes do have different nutrition requirements than casual and non-athletes, that does not mean performance suffers with a plant-based diet. In fact, what athletes most need is sufficient fuel for their activities. They may also have slightly higher protein requirements; however, all of these needs can be met with a plant-based diet.
Three macronutrients supply humans with all of their energy. The most readily accessible of these is carbohydrates. According to Colorado State University, athletes make the most significant performance gains from stored carbohydrates. This macronutrient provides nearly 50 percent of the energy an athlete uses during the early stages of exercise. When carbohydrates, which come from plants, legumes, and whole grains, are consumed, the body breaks it down and stores it in the muscles as glycogen. When exercise begins, the body uses oxygen to convert that glycogen back into glucose, which supplies energy. Stored carbohydrates last approximately 90 minutes before the body needs replenishment, which is why many athletes consume carbohydrates during events of longer duration.
Fats provide longer lasting fuel. In fact, fat metabolism accounts for around 50 percent of energy in the early stages of athletic performance, and as much as 75 percent during sustained activity extending beyond 90 minutes. This can come from both dietary fat sources, as well as stored body fat. Because of this, athletes need to consume at least 15 percent of their calories from fat.
Protein is one of the most misunderstood macronutrients in athletic performance. Athletes probably only need about 10 to 12 percent of their calories from protein to support muscle. The body stores extra protein as fat, which is then converted to fuel during athletic performance. Unfortunately, when many athletes hear they need “high-quality protein,” they translate this as meaning protein from animal sources. In fact, protein from animal sources is not of high quality in the human body. Animal protein creates acidity, which actually hampers bodily processes and can lead to joint issues, stiffness and many health issues for the long-term. Plant-based protein, on the other hand, is non-acidic, allowing the body to function better and generate oxygen within the cells.
Plant Protein Sources
It is untrue that the only sources of quality protein come from animal products. In Plants, grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds all contain significant levels of quality proteins. If you are concerned about getting adequate protein for athletic performance from a plant-based diet, then eat the following foods, which are excellent plant-based protein sources.
- Sprouted grains such as buckwheat, oats, quinoa, and millet
- Vegetables including dark greens, mushrooms, peppers, and yams
- Legumes like pinto beans and lentils
- Raw nuts and seeds, including hemp, almonds, and pumpkin seeds
- Chia Seeds and my Power Protein Smoothies
Athletes may wish to eat foods that stick with them longer on the day of athletic performance. Complex carbohydrates are stored in the body as glycogen. Some good sources of complex carbohydrates include:
- Oat groats
- Brown rice
Because athletic performance does require more energy, eating calorically dense foods can help meet those energy needs. Fats that can help increase energy stores for athletic performance include:
- Coconut oil
How to Eat a Plant-Based Diet as an Athlete
So how do you put it all together? Eat about an hour per 200 calories before a serious workout or event in order to allow your body to fully digest and absorb the foods you eat. For example, if you eat an 600 calorie breakfast, do so about three hours before exercising. I recommend a Glowing Green Smoothie, which will give you tremendous energy, followed by some soaked oat groats. This high-carbohydrate, low-fat breakfast will help power you up to exercise. Drink plenty of water before and during exercise to stay hydrated, as well, although you should not drink for about 60 minutes before or after eating in order to enhance digestion.
During the event, take in plenty of fluids to replace those lost through sweat and respiration. You may also need to fuel up on carbohydrates in events lasting longer than 90 minutes. Bananas or other easily digestible fruits are perfect for this purpose, because they resupply carbohydrates but won’t weigh you down.
After your event or workout, you need to refuel. Eat a meal high in complex carbohydrates with adequate protein, such as quinoa and vegetables. This will replenish glycogen supplies and repair muscles. My Power Protein Smoothie is also perfect for replenishing amino acids in the body.
Depending on when you work out, plan an additional meal that is high in vegetables and the more calorically dense foods plant foods listed above.
On non-exercise days, eat similarly. Following The Beauty Detox Solution provides adequate nutrients for athletes.
It is more than possible for an athlete to thrive on a plant-based diet. In fact, I believe that eating in such a manner will improve athletic performance, taking you to new levels.
thx for this info, i have been mostly plant based lately but do have animal before my 13-20 mile hikes on Saturdays (i’m not an athlete by any means, more like a weekend warrior)
Hi Monica, I love being a weekend warrior too 🙂 For super long workouts/ hikes I would eat only plant -based foods and no animal. Meat and dairy products will actually make your body feel sluggish and are not a source of fuel. Stick with your complex carbs, chia seeds, greens, fruits and veggies for energy!
Thanks for writing on this subject! I lift weights and do some kick boxing at the gym and am constantly bombarded with the protein question! I appreciate that I have more to quote now and top athletes to name as examples of fellow vegetarians!
Do you have a brand or anything specific we need to look for in hemp protein?
I’m reading your book and learning LOTS and feeling much better! Thanks also for your weekly e-mails….GREAT info!
I was wondering if you can give suggestions for a “healthy” way to GAIN
weight? My husband is 6’2″ and weighs 150-155 pounds. He’s 57 years old,
active, and for the most part healthy, although he’s dealt with rheumatoid
arthritis for about 13 years now (mostly in his hands, but also feet). Maybe your book might address this issue of inability to keep weight on, and I haven’t gotten there yet. Would the info in this “Plant-Based Diets for Athletes” be the way to go?
THANK YOU in advance for any suggestions, recipes, meal planning, area of
your book to go to, etc., etc. that would address how to GAIN weight…..in a
Great question, as I too am always struggling to maintain my weight, let alone gain it in a healthy manner. When I consume a mostly plant-based diet, my weight drops almost instantly. I become discouraged at the way I look, and resort back to my old eating habits. If you do happen to find an answer to this question, please share. Thanks in advance. 🙂
I found your article regarding plant based diet for athletes interesting, although I was surprised that you mentioned not drinking water 60 minutes before or after a meal for better digestion. If you eat three meals a day that would be 6 hours of your day without water, which is a major portion of the day. I would never be able to consume the 8 recommended glasses. Is this just for the meal that takes place before exercising? Thanks for clarifying.
I myself can approve that it’s better not to drink during or 60 minutes after a meal but I think that 20 minutes before a meal would be alright as water leaves the stomach after 20 minutes.
However when I wake up, I try to drink as much as possible throughout the morning and have my breakfast 2-4 hours later. Mostly I drink one liter of warm water with a lemon which covers already 4 of the 8 glasses so that there’s not need to stress about it that much at daytime 🙂
Amazing article especially since I have just decided to start working out again starting next week. I am yet to buy your book, but have been following your articles and I love it! I am so glad to have run across your website and now I can get my body truly healthy, thank you for this great article, will definately follow.
Hi Kimberly! There’s also Brendan Brazier. He’s a professional ironman triathlete and a two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon champion. If you haven’t already heard of him, his book the “Thrive Diet” is all about having a plant based diet to optimize sports performance. It’s really very interesting. Have a great day! 🙂
Yes! I was just going to mention him! I like the vegan line especially the protein bars with savi seeds and the vega one nutritional shake. It’s great for getting your protein and nutrients in a vegan way
Thanks for this awesome article! I am a marathon runner, and really appreciated reading these tips. I have two questions: Is there anything I can substitute for bananas in your green smoothy? I can’t stand the taste of them. Also, I have a real intolerance to nuts- do you think I can still get the protein I need in my diet without nut-based products?
Can I add organic ground flaxseed to the glowing green shake? Also, can I use the green tops of organic veggies such as beets and carrot tops in the shake since I hate wasting the tops of these awesome veggies? Thanks, laura
I love your Glowing Green Smoothie and drink it every morning! It has given me so much energy that my friends have been asking and wondering where I get all of my energy from. I wake-up every morning and literally crave the smoothie! Recently, I have been adding a handful of blueberries and strawberries into my smoothie–is this okay, or combining this with the apple, pear, and banana adding too much sugary fruits in the morning. Your input is greatly appreciated.
Brandon Brazier is also another famous vegan athlete 😀
I have been lurking in the background reading your blogs and books. I LOVE your nutritional advice, but I have a question on an issue I hope you will address. I totally agree with your information, however, I attempted to follow it and started experiencing some serious health problems. Can you successfully eat vegan/vegetarian if there is an adrenal exhaustion and candida problem? I was told repeatedly by an iridologist I was not getting enough protein eating this way and I hate to admit it does seem to be the case. Are there some exception to the rule because my body does not seem to flourish but health problems increase on a vegan diet? Please help.
I have the same health issues you mention here, and eventually was encouraged by a nutritionist to have my copper levels tested. My blood results showed very high copper & low zinc – this imbalance is directly linked to the health issues you are experiencing. I’m no expert, but maybe see about getting some blood tests done for this? Maybe also check liver function & hormones. Just some suggestions I thought might help, or atleast set you on the right path for solving these issues. You will need to try and see a doctor that knows about biochemical research. I don’t live in the US- I’m assuming you do, so I’m sure there are many doctors that could help you. Hope this helps. Also, I follow Kim’s book- it’s wonderful. I am taking specific supplements to help balance my body though & I still keep a little animal protein in my diet for now, but I’m hoping that as my body rebalances, a vegetarian/vegan diet will be doable. Good luck 🙂
Thanks for responding–I do appreciate your input. I did have liver functions tested by my medical doctor which came back normal. Definitely dealing with adrenal and hormonal issue on top of candida.(that’s just the short version of the problem.) So disappointed the veg diet wasn’t working for me because I prefer to eat that way. All the research I’ve done supports putting animal protein back in until the adrenals function properly. Just was wondering if Kimberly had any information specifically on this problem. Thanks again.
Thank you so much Kimberly for writing this article. It’s like you read my mind. I was just talking to someone at work today that knows I’m reading your book and eating from the book. I just said I wish Kimberly would right some article for people that workout really hard or are training for a 1/2 marathon or full marathon like I am. And woolaa there your article was in my email. Can some of us marathon runners/workouthaulics convince you to add a chapter for us in your new book to teach us what to eat for our sports?? Pretty pretty please with an avocado on top. Thank you for all you do and all your teaching it is life changing.
I enjoy reading this awesome information:-D Question: I excercise daily at 5:30am on an empty stomach. Is that ok? Also, afterwards im starving! can i just follow with the protein smoothie? Im always in a rush in the morning, come home too tired from work all day to prep up the following day. Your input is much appreciated! thank you!
In your book you said quinoa was a starch? Im very confused because I like to pair it with avocados…
And since spirilina is also a protein does that mean I shouldn’t use it in my glowing green smoothie? Im almost vegan 🙂 and been trying to keep on track, slowly working my way up to premium health and you book has really helped me!
Thank you thank you thank you for this!
I’ve been doing intense cardio and exercise classes and have been wanting to eat well and gain weight as I was under weight with a high body fat content. I’m now toned but am slowly losing weight again from strenuous exercise – and I’m hoping to start endurance running!
This is going to be so helpful 🙂
p.s What are the best “Survival” foods? Like things to store in the emergency kit?
I just want to let you know that I really appreciate what you do, and enjoy your knowledge. I own your beauty detox book, and it has changed my life
Hi Kim, what are your thoughts on Maca and oat milk? I cannot find almond milk nearby, also, when I go home my mum cooks for me – and she does things like salmon with brown rice, ie. mixes proteins and starchy carbohydrates which you say is a big no-go, however I don’t notice feeling any different when I eat this way? Is it really that bad?
I was expecting to see a list of endurance athletes, but was surprised to see football players mentioned!
I used to poke around on 30bananasaday.com (strictly for giggles) and it seemed like quite a few of the fruitarians are really into endurance sports, but I don’t think all that cardio is such a great idea.
Some great questions above Kimberly. I also add ground flaxseed and spirulina along with blueberries and strawberries to my glowing green smoothie. Since there are others who had questions about some of these added ingredients, it would be great if you could share your insight.
A huge thank-you to you for all of the amazing blog entries and all of the info. I read the book and am following the program as best as I can. I got into it when I was getting ready for my wedding and since then everyone has been saying how healthy and trim I’ve become. I even followed it while on my honeymoon in Mexico and it was so nice enjoying all the veggies and amazing fruits instead of our usual resort choices, carbs, sauces and meats 🙂 Taking the chlorella tablets helped!
I was wondering what you think about The Vega products?
I love making the green smoothies but sometimes if Im running short on time I will use the Vega smoothie mix and blend it with organic fresh or frozen berries,banana, apples, kiwi, almond milk and ice/water.
Is this ok?
I have your book, and love to read your articles! I was wondering if you work out first thing in the morning, what is the best approach. I wake up at 4:15 am and working out by 5:00 am., before work. So, I think it would be really hard to do the GGS before my workout.I do get hungry sometimes during or right after. I would normally take a shaker bottle with me to the gym, and make the vegan, Vega Sport Protien shake, that has amino acids and glutamine added. I will drink that right after or during if I get hungry. Then a little later at work I eat the steel cut oatmeal with gogi berries. I do not want to lose weight, but stay toned and maybe even gain a little muscle. I am not sure if the shake is the best thing to have according to the Detox order…it should be greens or fruit first. 🙂 Would love any thoughts or comments that you have.
You know this is an interesting topic and you definitely know what your talking about. I remember there is a passage in the bible that goes somewhat like this. It talks about 2 different teams, the Kings team and the Servants team, the Kings team wanted to compete against the Servants team to see who was the most athletic and the most physically fit of them. The Kings team would always feast on lots of red meats and breads and some vegetables and the Servants team mostly had plant based diets. The Servants team then accepted the challenge and wanted to prove to the Kings team that you can be more physically fit and stronger with a plant based diet than the Kings team diet. So for the training periods the Kings team of course ate lots more red meats and the Servants team bulked up on there Veggies and Fruits and when competition time came the Servants team proved to be much more fit and strong than the Kings team…
of course this doesnt mean that only people who eat a plant based diet are the healthiest but you should definitely increase the fiber and eat the meats or carbs in moderation and only if that is what works for you.
As you stated everyone’s nutritional requirements are not the same 🙂
great article. is drinking tap water really bad for you and do you suggest a water purification system or other source for h2o? thanks
Hi Kimberly, I was wondering if you have a protein smoothie everyday? I’m not an athlete, but I exercise quite intensely for 1 hour, 6 days a week, and have low protein. I drink your GGS every morning and follow your book closely. I have your chia seed pudding (with 1.5-2 tbs of chia seeds) with lunch or dinner or as an afternoon snack before my workout. I cannot buy hemp in Oz, so just wondering if you think I’m having enough protein, without the added hemp? I do still consume a little animal protein about x3/week, eggs & chicken. Thanku very much xx
Hello Kimberly. For years I have been battling with eating disorders from bulimia to anorexia. The one thing that has really messed up my body was the abuse I took on stimulant laxatives. My body has unfortunately become dependent on them. Is there any suggestion you could make to help my body get back into it’s natural rhythm?
Why you don’t mention WHEAT GRASS? You don’t like wheat grass?
Hello Kimberly I just want to know why you never mention juicing or wheat grass.
I’ve read the book, I drink the GGS, I eat light to heavy, I take Mag07 & a probiotic pill….however the 1 thing I’m missing is the digestive enzyme!!!!
PLEASE HELP!!! Which digestive enzyme do you recommend?
Garden of Life has really great raw, vegetarian enzymes that have an added probiotic boost to them. They’re awesome. That’s what I take.
I’m really hoping to get a reply on this… I’m a 16 year old junior in high school. A few months ago I discovered your book and made the switch from eating a bodybuilder diet (5 meals a day, protein in each meal) to a nearly vegan diet (no dairy, I eat animal proteins 3 times a week). I used magnesium oxide tablets and got good results. I drink your smoothie every morning, and I run 3 miles+ every morning. I lost a lot of weight and I don’t feel any weaker muscle-wise. However, I noticed that I was taking in an alarmingly low amount of calories (around 1198). I started logging what I ate to make sure I would get enough, but I always end up with around 1500, which is still 100 less than the amount of calories recommended for me in a weight loss stage. I felt perfectly fine for the first few months but lately I’ve been exhausted… I’m getting more sleep than ever (8 hours and 20 minutes, give or take a few) and I never skip meals. My mother is worried that I’m not eating enough for someone my age who is still growing (hopefully) and that I’m too skinny ( My height is 5′ 2.5” and I weighed 98.5 pounds last I checked.) I am afraid to eat lots of higher calorie foods/stuff myself because I want to maintain the weight I am at and gain a pound or two of muscle. (but that requires more calories, right?) I am perfectly confused at the moment. Is this lifestyle safe for a still-growing teen? Thank you so much for your time, I know you are very busy and I really appreciate this.
Hey There, good thoughts, I appreciate your blog, I should come back regarding future articles together with releases, Take good care
I’ve been on Kimberly ‘s beauty detox for about 6 months now. I find I’m always hungry and have no energy. I am very active and run long distance. I’ve also noticed my muscle mass has decreased significantly.
Do I need to increase my portion sizes? I already eat more than recommended.
I’m thinking you’re not eating enough calories and not enough protein. Go to an actual doctor ( not someone on the internet) and have your iron, b12 and zinc levels tested. Also check vitamin D level please.this way of eating is not to be done long term- it’s low in calories and minerals as well as protein.
Martina said this in an interview:
Q. Yep, your preferences. Are you a vegetarian?
MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: No, I eat fish. I was a vegetarian for seven years, then I needed to get some protein in my system. But I look forward to doing that again, being a total vegetarian. Even would like to try to go raw one day, but that’s way down the road. It’s really just everything in modesty. I have dessert most nights, but only take two bites. I leave the rest on the table. The waiters always worry, “Wasn’t that good?” “No, it’s delicious. That’s all I want for now.” So it’s everything in moderation. Even too much water is not good for you, you know? So it’s just doing the sensible thing. I think we all know what we need to be drinking, eating, not drinking and not eating. You wouldn’t put junk in your car, it’s amazing what people put in their bodies. But you get out of it what you put into it, it’s that simple.
Everything in moderation, be sensible
Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really understand what you’re talking about!
Bookmarked. Kindly also visit my site =). We may have a hyperlink change contract among us
Thanks so much DermClear Cream…lots of love and support to you! 😉
I like this web site because so much utile material on here :D.
Thanks so much…sending you lots of love and continued support! 😉