Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Claire Nielsen: Plant-Based diets work for high-performance athletes

The Netflix documentary The Game Changers, produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, has really educated me into the scientific benefits of cutting meat out of our diets, especially for peak athletic performance.
There is a growing body of evidence that high-performance athletes on plant-based diets are as good or even better than their meat-eating competitors.

I recently watched a movie on Netflix that challenged a lot of my previous beliefs about plant-based diets. Like many others, I always thought that vegetarian diets were for the ‘granola loving’ hippie types. But the Netflix documentary The Game Changers, produced by Arnold Schwarzenegger, has really educated me into the scientific benefits of cutting meat out of our diets, especially for peak athletic performance.

My in-laws introduced me to this film but I resisted watching it for months. However, after seeing the benefits in my brother-in-law, who switched to plant-based and is now in the best physical shape of his life at 55, I opened my mind enough to watch it and was startled.

The idea that we needed meat for performance came from a German chemist Justus Von Liebig in the 1800s, who hypothesized that muscular energy came from animal protein and that vegetarians lacked physical endurance. His beliefs inspired the USDA’s first daily protein recommendations.  By the time science determined his hypothesis was false, people all around the world had already bought into his ideas about meat for health.

However, the animals we eat are vegetarian (as most of us don’t eat carnivores), so the protein that these animals ate came from plants.  If protein originates in plants, then cows, chickens and pigs are just the middlemen.  This documentary goes much further into the science of this.

NFL team physician Dr. James Loomis states that meat is not needed for peak performance, and it actually hinders the athlete’s endurance and strength. Many world record holders and Olympians have chosen a plant-based diet.  Two world-record holder weightlifters, Kendrick Farris (U.S. Olympic team) and Patrik Baboumian, claim they both got stronger and bigger since switching to a plant-based diet. When people ask Patrik “How can you get as strong as an ox without eating meat?” he replies: “Have you ever seen an ox eat meat?”

As athletes need more protein than most of us, it is amazing that these plant-based athletes can perform like they do without meat protein, but studies have shown that the average vegetarian gets 70 per cen more protein than they need, where predominantly meat eaters still get half their protein from plants.  Proteins are made up of strings of amino acids, and plants contain all the essential amino acids in varying proportions.  As long as we are getting enough essential amino acids, the source is irrelevant but plant-based has proved to be so much healthier.  Another common misperception is that soy products contain estrogen. In actuality, they have a phyto-estrogen that blocks estrogen absorption by the body.  The documentary goes into more detail on the fact that animal products actually contain the estrogen linked to health issues.

Gladiators were considered the strongest people in Roman times and are still revered as some of the strongest men in world history.  When bones of the gladiators were recently analyzed, they found very high bone density which indicated intense training and a high-quality diet in order to build strong muscles and bones. The nickname for the gladiators was Hordearii which means “Beans and Barley Munchers.” Their bones showed high strontium levels, which are found in vegetarian diets, indicating that the gladiators were predominantly vegetarian.  Many plant-based athletes and Olympian medal winners have proven that meat is not necessary for peak performance.

In modern times, pre-game or pre-sports event dinners have been very protein-oriented because the belief is that meat is where muscle mass and energy come from. In actual fact, the energy for exercise and endurance comes mainly from carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. When we sacrifice carbs for protein, we end up with glycogen depletion, which leads to loss of stamina and chronic fatigue.  Heart disease and cancer are two modern illnesses that are connected to eating animal products. According to the scientists in this documentary, our bodies are not actually meant to be meat eaters.

I urge that everyone watch this film with an open mind.  Even though I haven’t completely given up meat this has given me quite a bit of food for thought and I felt it worth sharing in this article.

If you are already eating a plant-based diet, please send me your favourite recipes and I will try them myself and may share them in another article.

Claire Nielsen is a health coach, author, public speaker and founder of The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health and medical advice. Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses and/or treatment.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks