Can Plant-based Eating Increase Running Speed?

Why does nutrition matter for speed performance?

Nutrition substrates (also known as fats, carbohydrates, and proteins) are championed with the responsibility of fueling an athlete’s body to move through proper performance protocols specific to their sport.

Muscle glycogen stores from carbohydrate energy supply a substantial amount of the fuel needed to drive speed training across a broad spectrum of sports training.

The energy pathway taken to push sprints and speed for short bursts (glycolytic) depletes energy stores rapidly, requiring a constant availability of high-quality carbohydrates to be available in an athlete’s body.

An athlete looking to create higher power output should absorb adequate amounts of carbohydrate sources so that they can perform to their maximum potential. Speed training is a subdivision of sports performance that requires working in both aerobic and anaerobic (with and without oxygen) phases of energy use for athletes across a broad spectrum of sports. One goal of proper speed output for athletes is to utilize high-quality carbohydrate content that reduces the onset of muscle fatigue prematurely during their training.

Athletes have used vegan and vegetarian diets to set speed records for their events. They have credited their vegan/vegetarian food sources of fuel as positively contributing to their success. The goal of this post is to summarize research demonstrating that the high availability of consistent plant-based carbohydrates as nutrient-dense energy does have the capacity to propel athletic speed performance to an elevated degree.

Studies collecting empirical data suggest that research proves a whole-food, plant-based diet yields increased athletic performance results for athletes of multiple sprint sports (Fuhrman and Ferreri, 2010).  If an athlete’s goal is to increase their speed effectively with high performance and low body fat, nutrition is an adjustable variable; a whole-food plant-based diet offers a natural (and clean) solution for maximum performance in speed.

Carbohydrate for speed energy

A key element of training to obtain speed gains is through focusing on improvements of power output, or the amount of ground contact force an athlete can exert during the pushing action with each step in starting, accelerating, and sprinting (Dintiman and Ward, 2011).

In other words, the quicker one can touch the ground and then shorten the amount of time they contact it, the more power they can exert during an event. An adequate supply of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) [on a cellular level] ensures sufficient energy is available within the body of an athlete. A constant supply of ATP propels their muscles forward for the results they desire. Aerobic and anaerobic pathways work together cyclically to enable adequate output of various sprint durations within different sports (Williams and Rollo, 2015).

Training for anaerobic power, for short bursts of intense output, requires an athlete to improve their power output for durations of moderate to high-intensity movement during their initial acceleration. Carbohydrate energy alone does not generate all the fuel needed to move an athlete fast through their phases of speed, however, its availability is imperative for the continuum of energy to remain smooth and for constant effort to be generated.

When placing the body under the increased stress of intense energy bouts, efficient muscle glycogen synthesis is a key contributor to enhanced speed energy results (Williams and Rollo, 2015).

Plant-based foods can offer results

Most plant-based foods in their whole food form include large amounts of high-quality carbohydrate energy. A whole-food, plant-based diet can supply carbohydrate substrates for athletic performance efficiently using foods in their most natural state. They can be utilized in the body quickly for necessary uptake, as a result (Arson-Meyer, 2018).

In fact, vegetarian diets have been demonstrated to be comparably effective as non-vegetarian diets as studies revealed: “no difference in strength/power, aerobic and anaerobic performance parameters” (Arson-Meyer, 2018). Athletes are able to perform to a high degree by eating from plant-based food sources.  This discovery leads an athlete to prioritize their nutrition as a critical training including necessary consumption ranges of macronutrients depending upon their sport of choice and individual needs.

Another factor impacting athletic speed performance is the amount of oxidative stress put on their bodies while moving through the various energy systems that utilize their stored energy. Research suggests that a plant-based diet, including large amounts of phytonutrients and antioxidants, can indeed alleviate this stress on an athlete (Fuhrman and Ferreri, 2010).  A high amount of nutrients within plant-based whole foods allows the body to receive adequate energy components while gaining additional assistance for performance from reduced stress. A decrease in fatigue maximizes the power output needed to generate maximum speed results.

Aside from performance during physical activity, Dintiman and Ward (2011) conclude that an athletic build with a lower fat content can move speed results quicker due to less weight-imposed demands on the body. In order for power output to increase, an athlete should remain within healthy ranges of body fat that produce the most force possible in their required amounts of time per sport. Dintiman and Ward (2011) suggest, “for optimum sprinting speed, athletes should strive for 10 percent (males) and 15 percent (females).

Since plant-based Vegan diets are lower in caloric and fat content, there is a reduced chance of body weight from fat stores impacting power output (Fuhrman and Ferreri, 2010).  Athletes can feel stressors from different angles to decrease their body weight. A whole-food, plant-based diet can increase food intake for energy regeneration without adding in detrimental effects of “too much” or “too little” food intake.

In order for an athlete to maintain optimum speed results, their ability to generate power, effectively utilize nutrient substrates and utilize a body of peak physical condition should be a primary focus.

Considerations for a transition into a plant-based diet for performance

If anyone is looking to transition to a plant-based Vegan diet after eating animal products for some time, it may be best for them to acclimate to their new way of eating before looking to train at their maximal output level.

As with any shift of nutritional habits, sustainable and consistent energy generation should take priority. Carl Lewis, who set a world record for the 100-meter dash after transitioning to a vegan diet, has said that there was an adjustment period for him after deciding to shift to his new diet before the 1991 World Championships (Hall, 2017). Upon review of his food intake, he made adjustments to increase his overall caloric intake of plant-based foods that created sufficient energy for his training.

After those adjustments, Lewis won with a time of 9.86 seconds, feeling more stamina winning the race at the age of 30 after years of previously running the same spring race (Hall, 2017).

Additionally, supplementation of necessary micronutrients on a whole food plant-based diet can keep an athlete’s physiological condition at its peak. Adding in B12, Vitamin D, Zinc, and DHA while ensuring adequate levels of Calcium, Iron, and Protein combined in a daily nutritional regimen can alleviate issues of nutrient deficiency in both plant-based and non-plant-based athletes (Fuhrman and Ferreri, 2010).  The key is to make sure intake is sufficient without overages as well.


Multiple elements of the day impact power output for athletes despite daily nutritional intake. Enhancing speed athlete nutrition is one way to ensure increased amounts of power are available to generate speed, despite uncontrollable factors. Athletes have spent years deciding what nutritional supplements or ergogenic aids to add to their repertoire in order to maximize their speed.

Pre-sport nutrition that includes an adequate supply of carbohydrate energy for fluid use of the energy pathways is a key determining factor in the success of an athlete wanting to perform higher measures of output and to generate maximum speed without losing momentum. Adjusting food intake to incorporate more plant-based fuels is an option that can naturally impact power output results in a positive way for sprint speed sports.


1. Dintiman, Ed.D & Ward, PED (2011).  Encyclopedia of Sports Seed: Improving Playing Speed for Sports Competition. .Retrieved from

2. Arson-Meyer, D. E., PhD, RD, CSSD, FACSM. (2018, December). Vegetarian and Vegan Diets for Athletic Performance. Retrieved July 22, 2019, from

3.  Fuhrman, J., & Ferreri, D. M. (2010). Fueling the Vegetarian (Vegan) Athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports,9(4), 233-241. doi:10.1249/jsr.0b013e3181e93a6f

4.  Williams, C., & Rollo, I. (2015). Carbohydrate Nutrition and Team Sport Performance. Sports Medicine,45(S1), 13-22. doi:10.1007/s40279-015-0399-3

5.   Hall, B. (2017, November 09). How Carl Lewis Shattered World Records on a Vegan Diet. Retrieved July 22, 2019, from

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