From an early age we are taught that meat consumption is associated with strength and energy, and that vegetables are just there to keep you healthy. However it is in fact perfectly possible to maintain a fit and powerful body on a vegetarian diet – and there are actually many top international stars who shun meat altogether. It can require a change in thinking, but can often result in heightened performance. Of course, what you need to consume depends somewhat on the type of exercise that you do.
Cardio-orientated sports, such as running, can be simple to adapt to a vegetarian diet, and many of the top vegetarian athletes include a number of sprinters and hurdlers. A naturally low level of saturated fat keeps the body leaner and lighter, which is great for running. Many world champion runners have hailed from African countries such as Kenya where the main diet – while not strictly vegetarian – tends towards very little meat. Of course even runners need to ensure they’re getting the correct levels of protein in their diet, but so long as you try to include at least some at each meal you will probably find your needs adequately met. Other than that, eating vegetarian for cardio exercise is fairly similar to any other diet – the key is in measuring calories to meet your personal needs and covering a balance of good fats, protein and carbohydrates.
Building body mass is a slightly trickier matter. Protein is essential to building up muscle and for sports such as boxing and weightlifting (as well as those who just want to bulk up) getting a high enough level can be difficult even on a non-vegetarian diet. A number of factors come into play including your body type and the way it processes and stores energy, but there are a variety ways to boost your protein intake with a plant-based diet. Find a chart that shows exact measurements per weight – sometimes a little math is required to make sure you tick all the right boxes.
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Many athletes report a better performance after switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet. From tennis player Martina Navratilova, Olympic running champion Carl Lewis to four-time Mr Universe Bill Pearl, and numerous other examples, prove that a vegetarian diet for athletes is not just an option, but can enhance athletic performance.
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