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 Nutrients for Sport 🏆

Nutrients for mental performance are the same nutrients you need for sports performance. Some are endurance athletes, some strength, whatever your sport and level, its important to think about nutrients – how to eat more vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds.  🥗

Historically, meat and animal proteins have been an integral component of athletes' diets, leading some to have doubts about the adequacy of plant-based diets, specifically for athletic performance, but with elite athletes such as Serena Williams, Hannah Teter, Lewis Hamilton and many more adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet, there is a growing interest in plant-based diets.  🌿

Plant based diets focus on foods primarily from plants. Not just fruits and vegetables, but nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans too. “It doesn’t mean that you are vegetarian or vegan and never eat meat or dairy. Rather, you are proportionately choosing more of your foods from plant sources” according to the Harvard Medical School. Also plant-based diets have well established environmental health benefits too.  

 

Where is the evidence?  

There are anecdotal accounts that plant-based diets can help increase energy levels, performance and even speed up recovery. But what does the science say? 

A review of the currently available literature (Lynch, 2018) noted that it was unlikely that plant-based diets provided advantages compared to omnivorous diets for strength, anaerobic, or aerobic exercise performance. 

However, the review concluded that “plant-based diets typically reduce the risk of developing numerous chronic diseases over the lifespan and require fewer natural resources for production compared to meat-containing diets. As such, plant-based diets appear to be viable options for adequately supporting athletic performance while concurrently contributing to overall physical and environmental health”  

 A study of Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports (Bernard, 2019) found that these diets were consistently shown to reduce body fat, leading to a leaner body composition.  And because plants are typically high in carbohydrate, they fostered effective glycogen storage, which means athletes can fuel themselves well. Also, by reducing blood viscosity and improving arterial flexibility they may also improve vascular flow and tissue oxygenation - All good!

The researchers noted that “because many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress. Diets emphasizing plant foods have also been shown to reduce indicators of inflammation. These features of plant-based diets may present safety and performance advantages for endurance athletes”. 

 

Why might this be? 

A plant-based diet of is rich in fibre, polyphenols and antioxidants which can reduce oxidative stress associated with prolonged exercise. This way of eating is also anti-inflammatory and it helps us to manage the inflammatory process. 

The emphasis on more wholegrains and plants can help you selectively feeds the good bacteria in your gut. These microbes break down the fibre we cannot digest ourselves and produce, among other things, short chain fatty acids that reduce oxidative stress and lower inflammation which are key factors for muscle recovery after exercise.  

On a low-fibre diet, healthy species of gut microbes starve, the intestinal wall becomes more permeable and the protective mucous layer inside the gut gets thinner, making it easier for harmful bacteria and toxins to cross from the gut into our bloodstream. This sometimes causes your immune system to go into overdrive, resulting in low-grade inflammation not only in the gut but throughout the body, which increases the risk of fatigue during endurance exercise and slows recovery. Over time this low-grade inflammation can also increase your risk of disease. 

 

What can a plant-based anti-inflammatory diet consist of? 

💚 Fresh or Frozen vegetables, fruits and herbs: choose a wide variety of veg, such as asparagus, beetroot, green and other bell peppers, broccoli, red and green cabbage, carrots, celery, avocados, cucumbers, aubergines, fennel, green beans, leafy green and tomatoes.  

💚 Dried and tinned pulses, nuts and seeds: Include lots of variety here too, including black-eyed peas, chickpeas, kidney beans, lentils, butter beans, cannellini beans, almonds, cashews, pine nuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pistachios, linseeds, poppy seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Try falafels, humus and nut butters. 

💚 Whole grains and high-fibre carbs: The higher your energy needs, the more wholegrains you can include. Try something new occasionally ; wild rice, barley, buckwheat, bulgur wheat, quinoa, 100% whole wheat flour or 100% sourdough breads or rolls. 

💚 Olives and olive oil: Use a standard rapeseed oil for cooking and extra virgin olive oil for your salad dressings. Olives and pickles are handy for snacks or enhancing your dishes. 

💚 Herbs, Garlic and Spices: Have a small selection of the dried herbs and spices on hand: basil, chilli/chilli flakes, cloves, cumin, dill, garlic, ginger, fennel seed, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pepper, saffron, sage, tarragon and thyme. 

  

Sources: 

Lynch H, Johnston C, Wharton C. Plant-Based Diets: Considerations for Environmental Impact, Protein Quality, and Exercise Performance. Nutrients. 2018;10(12):1841. Published 2018 Dec 1. doi:10.3390/nu10121841 

 Barnard ND, Goldman DM, Loomis JF, et al. Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports. Nutrients. 2019;11(1):130. Published 2019 Jan 10. doi:10.3390/nu11010130 

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