Plant-based diets provide well-established physical and environmental health benefits. These benefits stem in part from the degree of restriction of animal-derived foods. Historically, meat and other animal-derived proteins have been viewed as an integral component of athletes’ diets, leading some to question the adequacy of vegetarian or vegan diets for supporting athletic performance. The purpose of this review is to examine the impact of plant-based diets on human physical health, environmental sustainability, and exercise performance capacity. Based on currently available literature, it is unlikely that plant-based diets provide advantages, but do not suffer from disadvantages, compared to omnivorous diets for strength, anaerobic, or aerobic exercise performance. However, plant-based diets typically reduce the risk of developing numerous chronic diseases over the lifespan and require fewer natural resources for production compared to meat-containing diets. As such, plant-based diets appear to be viable options for adequately supporting athletic performance while concurrently contributing to overall physical and environmental health. Given the sparse literature comparing omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan athletes, particularly at the elite level, further research is warranted to ascertain differences that might appear at the highest levels of training and athletic performance.
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