Studies suggest that endurance athletes are at higher-than-average risk for atherosclerosis and myocardial damage. The ability of plant-based regimens to reduce risk and affect performance was reviewed. The effect of plant-based diets on cardiovascular risk factors, particularly plasma lipid concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure, and, as part of a healthful lifestyle, reversing existing atherosclerotic lesions, may provide a substantial measure of cardiovascular protection. In addition, plant-based diets may offer performance advantages. They have consistently been shown to reduce body fat, leading to a leaner body composition. Because plants are typically high in carbohydrate, they foster effective glycogen storage. By reducing blood viscosity and improving arterial flexibility and endothelial function, they may be expected to improve vascular flow and tissue oxygenation. Because many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress. Diets emphasizing plant foods have also been shown to reduce indicators of inflammation. These features of plant-based diets may present safety and performance advantages for endurance athletes. The purpose of this review was to explore the role of nutrition in providing cardioprotection, with a focus on plant-based diets previously shown to provide cardiac benefits.
Keywords: athletic performance; exercise; nutrition; vegan; vegetarian.