Vegan diets are turning heads in the boxing world…. But do they actually work?
Are they beneficial or detrimental to boxing performance?
Boxing Science Nutritionist Lee Rickards explains the science behind vegan diets for boxing.
What are vegan diets?
A vegan diet consists of plant-based foods which avoids the consumption of meat, fish, dairy and eggs.
Many people consume a vegan diet due to nutritional choices centre around taking better care of the earths resources and ethical issues about animal care as well as perceived health advantages of a plant-based diet.
What are the benefits?
Vegan diets are usually higher in dietary fibre, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin c and e and phytochemicals whilst tending to be lower in calories and saturated fat.
This means that a vegan diet has high nutrients and low calories, helping create a negative energy balance to lose weight.
Vegan diets can also have beneficial effect on cardiovascular disease and cancers due to having a higher consumption of fruit and vegetables compared to a “typical” normal diet (note: this diet included processed meats and limited fruit). However, these studies have only compared the diets on health markers not performance.
What are the disadvantages?
Vegan diets are typically deficient in…
Saturated fat: Important for hormone production. Omega 3: Improves joint health. Vitamin D and Zinc: Improves the function of the immune system. Calcium: Improves bone health.
Vegans are at risk of being deficient in vitamin B12, an important vitamin that is only available from animal products. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause chronic fatigue and neurologic disorders.
In addition, Vegan diets are low in calcium. Without calcium-fortified foods, Vegans can be at a high risk of suffering bone fractures, especially if you couple it with a low energy intake.
Can I still get enough protein?
Yes you can… but it’s very difficult. Vegan diet studies on weight management have only investigated weight loss not fat mass and fat-free mass
A Vegan diet is likely to reduce muscle mass due to the low consumption of protein, typically 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass (g/kg).
A highly active boxer will demand a higher protein intake (1.6-2g/kg) to increase recovery and aid training adaptation as well as aid fat mass loss.
Below is a chart of protein bioavailability which shows that animal protein sources are more easily absorbed compared to non animal sources due to containing the essential amino acids needed for normal function.
Plant based products have a lower leucine content compared to animal products which helps increase protein synthesis to a greater extent than the other amino acids.
Supplements are also needed to ensure boxers have enough protein intake, this can become very expensive as well as potentially dangerous if the products are not drug tested.
So how will a vegan diet affect my performance?
Boxing requires high levels of different types of physical fitness including aerobic and anaerobic endurance, strength and speed.
A vegan diet will be able to fuel performance in aerobic and anaerobic endurance due to the high carbohydrate content of the diet, however the protein intake will be too low to help repair and build muscle tissue, meaning reduced strength adaptations and muscle mass. Unless you are eating an extremely high amount of food and calories which is likely to break the bank balance.
Boxing requires accumulated amounts of training typically one two and even three times per day. A low protein intake can impair recovery from each session and increase muscle soreness.
This is likely to have a negative effect on your physical performance.
Will it help me make weight?
A vegan diet is not optimal when making a low weight due to the low satiety effects – making you feel hungry and wanting to snack more.
Also, a vegan diet may not have a high impact on your metabolic rate. When we digest food we will typically use around 3-4% of the calories when digesting fat, 8-9 % carbohydrate and 25-30% of protein.
Losing 30% of the calorie content by just digesting protein will help you consume a larger quantity of food whilst dieting to make weight.
David Haye has used it…. so how has he gained muscle mass?
As we don’t know David’s nutritional or training strategies we can only make assumptions.
With the information we have access to, the increased muscle mass and body mass (8.2 kg) may be down to his training and nutrition over the 3 years between fight camps. His social media images shows him eating meat and fish sources at various times throughout his lay off, meaning he would be able to refuel appropriately.
A vegan diet does encourage you to consume a large amount of fruit and vegetables which do have excellent health advantages.
However, Boxing Science promotes eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables 5-9 per day alongside clean unprocessed lean meats, fish, dairy and starches.
This is more likely to improve your boxing performance compared to the vegan diet aiding your recovery in between training sessions as well helping you increase lean muscle mass.