NBA players are some of the most outstanding athletes in the world, and many of them have gone vegan. Whether you’re watching Kyrie Irving drop in a layup high off the glass or Damian Lillard hit a step-back three, you’re watching the effects of high-level athletes being powered by a vegan diet.

In a society that has seen veganism increase by 500% over the last few years, it should come as no surprise that the trend is growing in professional basketball. In the past, veganism as a diet and lifestyle has lived on the periphery of pop culture and Western life; the exclusive terrain of yoga instructors and Morrissey. Now it’s front and center, and helping your favorite players win ball games.

Why the change? Per Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, a plant-based diet gives him a leg up on the competition. In a Bleacher Report feature, he said, “I just think it’s a healthier lifestyle. Maybe it can give me a competitive edge on the basketball floor. I think that’s the next step.”

In the same feature, Lillard said, “I wanted to eat cleaner. Also, I wanted to play lighter this year and be easier on my joints and feet. I’m getting older, you know what I mean?”

For NBA players, it’s the potential that a plant-based diet holds to decrease the stress they place on their bodies that motivates them to make the switch.

As a personal trainer, this poses a question for you. When you have a client approach you about a switch to a vegan diet, are you on the side of these NBA players, or do you feel that they’ll be better off building their diet around a balance of plant and animal-based products?

Why Veganism?

The athletes that have turned to plant-based diets seem to have done so due to the desire to lighten the load on their bodies. Does a plant-based diet achieve this goal?

This takes us back to Kyrie Irving. The four-time All-Star has famously floated some questionable science in the past, but his dedication to a vegan diet has been corroborated by a host of experts in the field. Some highlights from their findings:

  • Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants. This is why most “detox diets” focus on them
  • Hard to digest foods, like dairy and red meat, cause tiredness and sluggishness
  • Fruits and vegetables are digested more quickly than meat
  • Fruit contains fructose, a simple sugar. It stabilizes blood sugar and provides energy more efficiently than processed sugar

Additionally, many players have found that they’re slimming down better on vegan diets, thus making them a bit quicker and decreasing the risk of injury. A Harvard study found that, although the average height of NBA players is not changing, the average weight is dropping. As the game speeds up, lighter players are becoming more valuable.

There are multiple factors that motivate people to pursue plant-based diets; the above list only contains a few.

Why Meat?

The case for plant-based diets is far from closed, however. One of the most popular workout recovery drinks is chocolate milk, and personal trainers are once again singing the virtues of beef for muscle-building. The benefits of these animal-based products are clear and backed by credible evidence. For example:

  • Red meat has iron, which helps to maintain energy levels
  • Meat is a great source of protein and amino acids that help build and repair muscles
  • Red meat is a good source of Vitamin B, which helps convert carbs into energy and is helpful for endurance

Another common argument is that a plant-based diet, especially for athletes, lacks the adequate amount of nutrients unless monitored extremely closely. Many hold that a well-balanced, omnivorous diet is the best way to maintain a healthy lifestyle, especially for those without access to an expert staff of nutritionists and trainers.

What Does This Mean For Personal Trainers?

Ultimately, there’s an argument to be had on both sides. One surety seems to be that veganism isn’t going anywhere. As long as it continues to work when correctly applied, it will grow. This means that, as a personal trainer, you’ll have clients coming to you who are either already on a plant-based diet or looking to make the switch to one.

No matter your opinion, your clients will likely look to you as an authority on the subject. They’ll trust your input on the types of diets they should pursue. As such, you’d do well to familiarize yourself with the benefits and potential risks in any dietary plan.*

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What is your stance on athletes going vegan? Are you on board with the revolution, or do you believe in a more omnivorous approach? Let us know where you stand and why in the comments below.

*If a client comes to you looking for advice on how to solve a medical issue, refer them to a professional.