Article written by Annie Skidmore- BSc Sport & Exercise Science Student
A growing popularity for a plant-based diet has taken place over the last few years with more and more people adopting a meat-free lifestyle. This change in dietary intake must be carefully adjusted for the youth athlete. They need to ensure they are still getting a well-balanced diet with plenty of meat-free protein alternatives included to promote growth and recovery, as well as the essential vitamins and minerals from a varied diet for optimal performance.
WHAT IS A PLANT-BASED DIET?
A plant-based diet consists of nutrient-dense foods with minimal processed foods, added sugars, oils, and animal-based foods being consumed. It is a way to increase your vegetable and fruit intake and reduce fat intake from adopting a meat-free diet .
BENEFITS OF A PLANT-BASED DIET:
A plant-based diet has shown to have significant health benefits including treatment for obesity , diabetes , high blood pressure,  and heart disease . They also help to limit environmental damage from limited use of destructive resources, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to raising animals for consumption. Overall, research has shown in recreational athlete’s exercise performance is not impaired when adopting a plant-based diet as long as appropriate nutritional intake occurs .
6 TIPS FOR ACHIEVING A PLANT-BASED DIET:
- INCLUDE VARIETY: to ensure you are meeting all your recommendations try to include a wide range of foods and especially different sources of protein e.g., beans, legumes, and chickpeas. Maybe try to shop at different supermarkets to see a wide range of products available, some you will like more than others… so get shopping!
- GET CREATIVE: why not try to adopt your favourite meat meal for a plant-based alternative? Or try some meat-free alternatives e.g., Quorn, tofu or even jackfruit which is great in tacos and curries. Get trying different recipes and be inventive!
- KNOW YOUR OPTIONS: the increasing demand for adopting a plant-based diet have been met by many businesses, cafes, restaurants, and supermarkets. There is a wide range of options both for home cooking and eating out so make sure you know where best will suit you and your favourite food choices – this is so much easier now as most places have vegan options (obviously some are better than others!).
- START SLOW & STEADY: maybe you don’t want to go fully plant-based straight away or you just want to see if you like it. Try having ‘meat-free Mondays’ this will help you to get creative and determine if you want to reduce your meat consumption or go fully plant-based. It is a great way to slowly ease yourself into a new way of eating and not to shock your body into a new lifestyle.
- EDUCATE YOURSELF: don’t really know what the hype is about? Get researching! Watch videos or listen to podcasts and educate yourself on the benefits, tips, and easy ways to keep to a plant-based diet long-term.
- BE INSPIRED: struggling to keep things interesting? Why not follow plant-based accounts on social media, look up some popular recipes or watch some YouTube videos to get fresh ideas?
While vegan and vegetarian diets can certainly be very beneficial to health, they do require careful planning and consideration to ensure your body is getting everything it needs to perform well and stay healthy. That's why we've put together some easy to read guides on some of the key areas youth athletes need to pay attention to when it comes to plant-based diets.
Download your Guide to Vegetarian Athlete Nutrition Here.
Download your Guide to Vegan Athlete Nutrition Here.
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