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More and more athletes are choosing plant based meat over animal meat. Here is why.

Professional athletes are required to be on top of their game. They are expected to outperform their opponents every single time. To excel under such tremendous pressure they must be at their best, physically and mentally. Nutrition plays the most important role in helping athletes achieve that peak performance. Conventional belief is that as an athlete you must consume animal meat to be at your best. But as we already know that no matter how “carefully” animal products are made they cannot be without their flaws; namely antibiotics, added artificial hormones, cholesterol, saturated fat, lack of fiber, etc. So how does plant-based meat fare against animal products when it comes to athletics? Let us look into what the science has to say.

Plant-Based Meat Vs Animal Meat

In the studies conducted so far- and this is not an exaggeration- the overwhelming majority of them agree that plant-based meat is healthier and sustainable for our planet. It also happens to be healthier for us. Similar to plant-based whole foods, plant-based meat also does not contain any cholesterol, it isn’t injected with artificial hormones, and neither does it contain any antibiotics or probable carcinogens. The saturated fat content in plant-based meat is way lower than in animal meat. (1)This study examined the “effect of a single high-fat meal on endothelial function in healthy subjects” and found that it cripples artery function. Doesn’t sound very good for athletes or even sedentary office-going individuals. (2)The largest study to date on the nutritional value of plant-based meat compared the saturated fat levels of plant-based meat with that of animal meat and found that plant-based meats contain far lower amounts of it than that of animal products. Do check the nutritional information of the plant-based meat you consume, you may be surprised to find the saturated fat in some plant-based meats is almost nonexistent compared to other plant-based meats. Last but not the least, Plant-based meat comes with fiber which is an essential nutrient for all human beings whereas animal meat or other animal products do not contain any fiber. Sodium is found in more quantities in plant-based meat and it is somewhat of an issue but it can be easily countered by consuming an overall balanced plant-based diet.

If you compare Plant-based meat with animal products, plant-based meat will be much better for you hands down. What if you compared it with grass or grain-fed organic meat? Plant-based meat will still come out on top. Grass or grain fed, labelled organic or not it doesn’t make much of a difference when plant-based meat outperforms both its opponents.

Plant Protein Vs Animal Protein

Athletes require more protein than an average individual. The most common recommendation you will hear of is 2.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. However, (3)recently a meta-analysis of randomised control trials concluded that “concurrent use of resistance training is essential for protein supplementation to improve muscle strength.” The effect becomes higher with the more protein you eat but only up to 1.5g/kg/day. No benefits were observed after that amount. This is in support of the findings of a (6)2018 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine which also concluded protein consumption exceeding 1.6g/kg/day did not have a statistically significant effect on resistance exercise training-induced gains. Why is all of this relevant to the topic at hand? The popular notion that Animal protein is good for you and the more you eat the better it is, goes against the available scientific evidence. Plant protein and Animal protein aren’t the same, in the sense that their composition is different and the net effect they have on you is different.

(4)In 2016, Harvard published a study spanning over a decade and involving more than 1,00,000 people, found that replacing animal protein with plant protein was associated with fewer overall chances of dying prematurely. The reason for this is that plant protein is generally lower in branched-chain amino acids and aromatic amino acids. Which is how our bodies differentiate between plant protein and animal protein and decreased consumption of lower branched-chain amino acids improves metabolic health which in turn improves our longevity. The study concluded replacing just 3% of animal protein from your diet -processed meat, dairy, meat, fish, etc.- with plant protein was associated with a significantly lower risk of dying. The researchers took care to adjust for the saturated fat intake to make sure it was the protein that was responsible for the findings and not any other factor.

High-protein diets are often recommended for better overall health. However, there hasn't been an in-depth investigation into just how much plant protein and animal protein affects our health. (5)The largest diet cohort study in history was published in September 2020. The study included 237 036 men (57%) and 179 068 women (43%). This study’s aim was precisely that and the conclusion didn’t come as a surprise. Higher plant protein intake was associated with a 10% reduction in risk of overall and cardiovascular disease mortality and if you skip eggs completely that you get double the benefit.

Plant Protein Vs Animal Protein: The Verdict

Conventional beliefs may be in favour of animal protein but the science isn’t. Time and again peer-reviewed medical literature has shown us that animal protein is detrimental to our health, now and in the long term. There is a growing scientific consensus on the benefits of reducing animal meat and dairy intake and increasing plant-based foods on our health, our society’s health, and the planet.

Many well-known professional athletes have made the switch to a plant-based diet and are swearing for its effectiveness. Lewis Hamilton is a Formula one racing champion who has won a record seven World Drivers' Championship titles. He went plant-based in 2017 and has his own chain of vegan fast-food restaurants called Neat Burger. Ultrarunner Scott Jurek ran the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in a record-setting 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes. He’s won the world’s toughest foot race Badwater Ultramarathon twice, on a plant-based diet. Alex Morgan, FIFA Women’s World Cup champion and an Olympic gold medalist says she is performing at her best on a plant-based diet and the benefits are undeniable. Morgan Mitchell, a sprinter, and Patrick Bouboumian, a strongman, both of them appeared in the documentary The Game Changers which goes into detail about how plant protein helps you in a much better way to excel at athletics. Virat Kohli, our own cricket sensation is also featured in that documentary. He has switched to a plant-based diet which helped him get even better in the field. And who doesn’t know The Williams sisters, Serna Williams and Venus Williams hold many world records in their arsenal and they are both fierce proponents of being plant-based.

Judging by the evidence at hand, I think It is high time that we start making incremental changes in the way we consume food.

All opinions expressed by our guest blogger are their own.

Ankur Gedam






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