Anyone who has wanted to bring their athletic performance to the next level or has been dealing with persistent injuries should consider switching to a plant-based diet, according to sports doctors, who extoll the virtues of plant-based foods to lower inflammation and boost performance.

"Plants contain a high level of antioxidants that can be taken in and can help alleviate chronic inflammation," explains Dr. John Ivy, a leading sports nutrition expert and chairman of HumanN's science advisory board. He adds that even if you don't want to jettison all animal products from your plate, adding more red and yellow vegetables will provide a dose of anti-inflammatory agents that will help you by reducing inflammation, which helps your body get over injuries and recover from a hard workout faster. Dr. Ivy explains why eating more plant-based benefits anyone who wants to get stronger, leaner, and increase performance.

Here are 5 ways a plant-based diet can help you reach new heights

1. Plant-based diets are healthier for your cardio capacity

Plant-based diets are usually healthier than carnivorous diets. A plant-based diet has been shown to provide reduce the risk of cardiovascular, lower blood pressure, and reverse atherogenic lesions and overall be cardio-protection. When taking in a high quantity of vegetables, you usually have better body composition; you tend to be leaner, as it reduces fat, and body weight is more maintained. Plant-based diets are high in carbohydrates and can help to store glycogen in the muscles and liver, thus benefiting energy production when you are doing higher intensity exercise.

2. Plant foods lower oxidative stress, inflammation, and allow muscles to recover faster

Athletes are putting their bodies under a lot of physical and emotional stress. They require more calories than an average person. They are also reducing fuel storage due to the amount of training an athlete goes through and increasing oxidative stress. Needless to say, putting stress on their joints will take a toll physically, including causing inflammation. By increasing the number of veggies in their diet, athletes can replenish the glycogen stores as well as antioxidants to help reduce inflammation.

Betalains, which are natural pigments present in most veggies with red or yellow color such as beets, turnips, and radishes are anti-inflammatory and contain antioxidants, anti-lipidemic and antimicrobial properties that can be beneficial to your health. Dark cherries are also a good source as well as spinach & kale. Taking in a variety of fruits and veggies is important. Tart cherry juice before exercise or training can prevent muscle damage and soreness.

3. Don't worry about protein. You will get enough protein on a plant-based diet

Sufficient dietary protein is of even greater importance for the athlete because of the amount of training and stress they put on their bodies. A normally active person needs a minimum of 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight per day of protein but if you’re weight training, and looking to gain muscle you need 1.8 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day of protein. To assess how much protein you need, check out this easy protein calculator. (A diet rich in legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds fruit, and vegetables provides all the protein you need. See the 20 top plant-based foods with the most protein.) 

4. You'll improve your nitric oxide levels, by eating more nitrates in plant foods

It’s also important for athletes to increase their nitrate intake, which can help increase nitric oxide levels and endurance performance. Anyone can benefit from increased nitrate consumption, as it can help with cardiovascular health, control of blood glucose, maintenance of muscle, cognitive function and memory, and a host of other physiological and metabolic reactions. 

Foods that are the highest Nitric Oxide converters include kale, Swiss chard, arugula, spinach, spirulina, bok choy, beets, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, carrots, and broccoli

Athletes don't need to supplement, other than the fact that in winter months, endurance athletes may get run down and can benefit from an increase in vitamin D3 and Zinc to avoid upper respiratory infections or viral infections. If they sense they're not getting enough vitamins, an athlete can also benefit from taking a multivitamin to make sure they’re getting an appropriate level of vitamins and minerals throughout their training.

 5. You'll feel more efficient when you workout

Nitric Oxide is key to blood flow and when blood flow is better for both endurance and strength building. Appropriate blood flow to working muscles during exercise is essential for the delivery of oxygen and nutrients in support of energy production. However, it’s not always distributed properly. Just because a sufficient amount of blood is reaching the active muscles, doesn’t mean it’s being distributed appropriately throughout the muscles. Producing more Nitric Oxide will help to improve the blood flow distribution. It is also important that a portion of the blood leaving the muscles is directed to the skin to dissipate the heat generated by the exercise and then back to the heart and lungs.

The body functions better with increased levels of Nitric oxide. During exercise, it improves muscle blood flow. It also allows the muscles to utilize oxygen more efficiently for energy production, and more energy produced per unit of oxygen consumed. Work efficiency is also increased.  That is, more work (by the muscles) can be accomplished with less energy (ATP) utilized.  The improvements in blood flow and muscle metabolism significantly improve cardiovascular and muscle endurance.

How Nitric Oxide can impact your performance and overall health, and you can get it eating plant-based foods. Dietary nitrate is converted to nitric oxide in the body. When we eat high amounts of green leafy veggies (spinach, kale, celery, etc.), which are high in nitrate content, this helps your body to generate more Nitric Oxide.

Bottom Line: The more plant-based foods the better, for athletes and everyone

Why plant-based nutrition is so important for athletes? It’s important for everyone. One cannot have an adequate diet without an appropriate quantity of vegetables.  Everyone should get a sufficient quantity of veggies. However, the physical and emotional stresses that athletes are under increase their requirements for vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients above that of sedentary individuals. A plant-based diet can help to naturally provide these important nutrients. The suggested daily intake of veggies is about 5-6 servings (100 g per serving) a day.

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