A scientific review has found that key factors attributing to the performance and recovery of endurance athletes, such as cardiovascular and heart health, are exceptionally supported by a plant-based diet. Previous studies have shown that endurance athletes, such as runners and cyclists, have more plaque in their artery walls (atherosclerosis and atherosclerotic lesions) and more plaque in their coronary arteries compared to sedentary individuals.
Arterial plaque limits blood flow and increases the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease or coronary artery disease, especially in older adults. Researchers expect these conditions observed in endurance athletes are a result of diets having high levels of saturated fat and cholesterol foods and low levels of fiber and antioxidant-rich foods.
In contrast, a plant-based diet rich in fiber, healthy carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals have been found to increase energy (glycogen) storage, reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and overall contribute to a strong athletic foundation and a healthy body.
Conclusion “Plant-based diets play a key role in cardiovascular health, which is critical for endurance athletes. Specifically, these diets improve plasma lipid concentrations, blood pressure, body weight, and blood glucose control, and, as part of a healthful lifestyle, have been shown to reverse atherosclerosis. The possibility that such diets may also contribute to improved performance and accelerated recovery in endurance sports is raised by their effects on blood flow, body composition, antioxidant capacity, systemic inflammation, and glycogen storage. These attributes provide a scientific foundation for the increased use of plant-based diets by endurance athletes.”
Barnard ND, Goldman DM, Loomis JF, et al. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports. Nutrients. 2019;11(1):130. Published 2019 Jan 10. doi:10.3390/nu11010130
Laura Bustard is an actuary who is passionate about plants. She has conducted research on the emergency food system and prescription-produce, and recently worked for FairShare CSA Coalition in Madison, WI. She now lives in Goleta, CA, and works remotely for The Standard, holding a Masters of Science in Urban and Regional Planning and a Fellowship from the Society of Actuaries.
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