CrossFit and the Plant-Based Diet: Two Peas in a Pod?

Vegans, or individuals who eat a plant-based diet, often catch a lot of flak because they don’t eat meat. A common misconception about these individuals is that they are very lean with little muscle. This common stereotype often leads athletes to avoid this method of eating because they are concerned that they won’t be able to build muscle. However, there are several high-level athletes in a variety of disciplines who swear by a plant-based diet, such as weightlifter Kendrick Farris who was the only American male weightlifter to make it to the 2016 Rio Olympics, IFBB pro bodybuilder Nimai Delgado, elite CrossFitters Dani Sidell and Jeremy Reijinders, and numerous other top professional athletes. If these top athletes can be successful on a plant-based diet, why isn’t it more commonly practiced in the fitness community? To help answer this question, it is important to understand what a plant-based diet actually is and some of the common misconceptions about it. 

A plant-based diet is exactly what it sounds like: a diet that is based on food that comes from plants and does not include any food products from animals, such as eggs, meat, dairy products, or honey. It is important to understand that just because something is plant-based, or vegan, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for you. Take Oreos, for example: these cookies do not contain any animal-made products; however, if you read the nutrition label on the package, you will see that they contain a long list of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce, as well as being high in fat and sugar. Therefore, it is important to note that in order to be healthy, it is important to take a whole foods approach to your vegan diet, which means eating natural foods that include whole, unrefined, or minimally processed ingredients. 

There are several common myths about the plant-based diet that tend to make the fitness community turn their noses up in the air. Probably the most common misconception about the plant-based diet is that it is difficult to get an adequate amount of protein. It is common knowledge that meat is a significant source of protein so when you take this category of food out of one’s diet, then the question arises as to how that individual will get enough protein. However, protein is not only found in meat, but also in plant foods such as tofu, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. If you eat these plant-based foods throughout the day and are getting enough of a caloric intake, then you should be able to get enough protein to meet your needs. 

Another common misconception of the plant-based diet is that it is difficult to build and maintain muscle. This myth is closely related to the one discussed in the paragraph above. Research shows that increases in muscle mass and strength can be achieved with protein intake, regardless of the source. Basically, the intake of protein-rich plant food can just as effectively build muscle as animal-based foods. 

Finally, there are several health benefits associated with a plant-based diet as well, such as:

  1. Eating a plant-based diet may lower your blood pressure. 
  2. A plant-based diet can help keep your heart healthy and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. 
  3. Eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet can make it easier to lose weight and keep it off.