What’s the deal with elite athletes turning vegan?

Published on Oct 23, 2018 11:12 AM IST

From improved stamina and increased lung capacity to speedy recovery from injuries, experts say that there are several reasons why athletes, such as Virat Kohli, are turning to veganism in their daily lives.

Kohli, who turned vegan a few months back, stated that turning vegan had made him stronger as it increased his digestive power.(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)
Kohli, who turned vegan a few months back, stated that turning vegan had made him stronger as it increased his digestive power.(Mohd Zakir/HT PHOTO)
Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi

What’s the one thing that binds together world class athletes, including cricketer Virat Kohli, tennis players Serena and Venus Williams, Novak Djokovic, boxer David Haye, and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton? They are all vegans.

Not long ago, most athletes swore by the notion that in order to achieve optimum fitness, you ought to swear by dairy and meat. However, these dominating athletes are changing the narrative.

Kohli, who turned vegan a few months back, stated that turning vegan had made him stronger as it increased his digestive power. He also claimed that veganism has made him calmer. American basketball player Jahlil Okafor claimed that switching to veganism helped him deal with an inflated knee.

Top vegan athletes from across the world claim that being vegan has made them fitter. Here’s what the experts have to say:

Increases digestive capacity

When you are consuming fruits, whole grains and a ton of vegetables, your stomach gets cleaned; you can think that it gets a good workout. The fibre in the fruit increases the power of the digestive system and minimises bloating, which is a hindrance while training. “And, since you are not consuming animal products, you don’t have to worry about your cholesterol levels rising or your arteries getting choked. Your internal system is clean and functions optimally. And this provides explosive strength to athletes, making them agile”, says fitness expert Sapna Khanna.

American tennis playes, sisters Serena and Venus Williams.
American tennis playes, sisters Serena and Venus Williams.

Improves cardiovascular health

A plant-based diet is low in saturated fats and cholesterol, which is good for heart. “This ensures that an athlete can run longer, jump higher, and train harder with quick recovery times between workouts,” says nutritionist Kavita Devgan.

British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.
British Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton.

Boosts immunity

Very often, intense athletic activity can lead to mildly suppressed immune function, “which may increase the susceptibility of the athletes to infections. Vegan diet can help boost their immune system substantially,” says Devgan.

Reduces inflammation

A vegan diet is high in antioxidants, which helps to neutralise free radical formation and reduce oxidative stress. “This offsets the damage and inflammation caused by intense physical exercise. It also helps to improve blood flow and aids in recuperation from torn muscles and tendons”, says Khanna.

Ease of maintenance

A vegan diet is not loaded with saturated fats, making it easier to maintain your physique. “Once, you have managed to achieve a certain level of physique, you can sustain it for a lengthy period, as lack of saturated fats means that weight gain is not easy” says Khanna.

Who can follow it?

According to experts, sustaining a vegan diet for a regular fitness enthusiast is not so easy. “The first thing you need to understand is that one can’t just wake up one morning and decide to turn vegan. It takes work, effort and understanding. Being a vegan needs easy access to good quality produce. So my advice is, before taking the leap make sure it fits in with your circumstance and situation. Those who go vegan need to pay more attention to the nutritional adequacy of their diet than the average person. They need to look out for the nutrients such as omega-3s, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12,” suggests Devgan.

Experts also state that athletes on vegan diet need to constantly be monitored and micromanaged. “As a vegan athlete, one requires to ensure that they get adequate protein through quinoa, hemp, vegan protein shakes etc. And for athletes such as Virat Kohli, it’s easier, because they have the means to employ chefs to micromanage their lifestyle. However, for many people, it’s just not sustainable,” says Khanna.

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