From recreational to professional athletes, many are focusing more on a plant-focused diet and are seeing benefits in overall health.
The term plant-focused can be a little confusing as everyone defines it differently.
Kim Hoban, Registered Dietitian and NASM Certified Personal Trainer explains, “While dietary preferences such as vegan and vegetarian have more specific definitions and even sub-groups (like lacto-ovo vegetarian), plant-based or plant-focused diets are a little less clear cut. Whether described as plant-based or plant-forward, in general, these meal patterns emphasize including more plant foods (fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts).”
Sports dietitians are recommending this pattern of eating to athletes. Lindsey McCoy, RD, CSSD, promotes this style of eating for all her clients, but emphasizes it even more for athletes in particular as they push their bodies to the limits putting extra strain on muscles, tissues, organs, and more.
What’s so special about plants? “Plants, including, fruits, vegetables, plant-proteins, and whole grains are full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that not only help to provide energy, but they support the immune system as well,” says Hoban.
Recovery is key for athletes as they train consistently. It is often a misconception that athletes need to focus solely on protein post-workout. What Amanda Hibshman, RDN, a private practice and culinary dietitian, loves most about plant-focused diets for athletes in particular, “is that most of the calories contain an abundance of carbohydrates, which is the main energy source to fuel athletic performance. Often, athletes think they need a ton of protein to fuel their muscles, but it is actually the carbohydrates in food that they need to enhance performance.” Clark additionally notes, that the antioxidants found in plant foods help clean up free radical damage after exercise, and promote recovery. Moreover, Kelly Jones, RDN, former Division 1 Athlete and Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, adds that it has been thoroughly researched that an intake of mostly plants and fatty fish reduced inflammation in the body, which further aids in recovery and is additionally beneficial for joint health.