When Lisa Gawthorne took up running, she was dealing with major life stress, as a 22-year-old recent college grad who wasn't sure what the future would bring. Just out of school, she had never been much of an athlete but running helped her and she began a daily habit that she has kept up for 17 years. At the same time, Lisa went vegan, and her plant-based diet has helped her stay on the road, and even get faster as the years went on. She joined a running club, started traveling for cross-country style trail races, and just recently, finished first in her age group at the 10K European Championships.

"I am a huge advocate of a plant-based diet in athletics as I really have seen some fantastic benefits of it over the years," she says. "Mainly, increased energy, better recovery, increased performance (my personal best for 5k is 18.39 and my 10k is 38.40) and those times have been coming down year by year! I sleep better than ever before, my head is clear and focused on the task in hand and I am stronger than ever in my weekly strength and conditioning sessions. My sleep and my digestive system have also seen improvements."

Lisa is just one example of how a plant-based diet can help athletes stay uninjured, enjoying your sport well into your 30s, 40s and 50s, and get stronger and fitter as you age.

"A plant-based diet is what keeps me both mentally and physically strong," says the 39-year-old athlete. She wants to use her own experience to help others understand the benefits of going plant-based, and for some, it's a major shift off of dairy and animal products but Lisa doesn't remember a time when she ever ate meat. Unlike many athletes who turn to a vegan diet as a way to recover faster or get past injuries and reduce inflammation, Lisa has always eaten predominantly vegetarian or plant-based. As a youngster growing up in the UK she was always passionate about animals and at the age of six she told her parents she wanted to be vegetarian.

Once she graduated from college she went fully vegan, cutting out eggs. Around that same time, to cope with stress, she turned to running, and fell in love with the feeling of the wind on her skin.  The more she ran, the more she realized she was pretty good at it. She joined a running club and began to travel with them to compete in cross country trail races. That led to a recent win, coming in first in her age group at the 10K European Championships. All the while, as other runners got injured or felt worse after hard training sessions, Lisa was able to sustain a level of training of athletes half her age and she believes that the secret to her success is her plant-based diet.

“I am a huge advocate of a plant-based diet in athletics, as I really have seen some fantastic benefits of it over the years–mainly, increased energy, better recovery, increased performance and my times have been coming down year by year! I sleep better than ever before, my head is clear and focused on the task at hand, and I am stronger than ever in my weekly strength and conditioning sessions.”

Plant-based whole food diet for performance and recovery time

A plant-based, whole foods diet is the now not-so-secret weapon athletes are using to stay in the game longer, reduce inflammation, and recover from injury and workout sessions faster. No lesser leading lights than Cam Newton, tennis ace Novak Djokovic, champ Mike Tyson, Chris Paul, and famously Tom Brady all have talked about how eating a fully vegan or mostly plant-based diet has helped them breathe better, recover faster, and compete against athletes half their age in sports that notoriously chew up and spit out veterans as their bodies break down.

 

Lisa says that the trick to being a plant-based athlete is being mindful of your protein intake and tries to have plenty of plant-based protein at both lunch and dinner. Some of her go-to’s are tofu, seitan, and jackfruit. She’s also a big fan of sustainable carbs. I am “big on oats, sweet potato, barley, and quinoa.”

When she isn’t competing, she’s busy running her company, Bravura foods, where she helps “make, sell and represent great-tasting cruelty-free, vegan products.” It was essential to her that her work aligned with her vegan values. “It’s imperative for someone like me to have full passion and belief for products we sell, and for me, that has to be vegan,” she said.

Other plant-based athletes who have transformed their performance by ditching meat

When leading athletes like tennis star Novak Djokovic and Australian Sprinter Morgan Mitchell, were featured in the hit documentary The Game Changers, weekend warriors took note of the potential benefits of a plant-based diet: Shorter recovery time between workouts, less inflammation, and quicker healing from injury, increased strength and endurance, and better mental focus. Here are more athletes who have gone plant-based or vegan and credited their diet as the reason they are at the top of their game.