Dec 5, 2016
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After missing time over the past several seasons due to injuries, Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler wanted to find a way to stay healthy. Adopting a vegan diet appears to have done the trick.

“I’ve always had a pretty healthy diet, but after dealing with several injuries, I wanted to find a diet that would help with inflammation,” Chandler, a nine-year NBA veteran, told Sports Illustrated.

By avoiding meat and dairy products — which increase blood pH acidity — a plant-based diet is thought to produce less inflammation. Although there is a lack of scientific evidence connecting a vegan diet to reduced injury or increased athletic performance, some studies have suggested that consuming nuts, legumes, and fruit may reduce inflammation markers.

For Chandler, the results of the new diet have been clear. He’s currently averaging career highs in both points and rebounds per game.

“My recovery time is faster, I’m in a better mood, I feel more explosive on the court, and I’m leaner,” Chandler said.

In terms of lifestyle, the challenges of following a vegan diet are seen most often on the road. Finding plant-based foods can be difficult while traveling, but it’s worth the effort for Chandler.

Another challenge is finding good sources of plant-based protein. Often, ensuring that all of the essential amino acids are obtained takes some juggling.

“To ensure they are getting the right quality protein, vegans need to eat 10 percent more protein than average,” said Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, sports nutritionist and author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

Chandler makes sure to eat lentils or beans to get protein before and after games. This helps with boosting recovery. He also makes sure to always have grapes, cherries, and other fruit handy for easy snacking.

“Before games I like to eat a protein, greens, and a vegan pasta that I get from a Whole Foods that is close by to where I live,” Chandler said. “If I’m hungry at halftime, I’ll grab a banana.”

According to Clark, it is also important for vegans to supplement vitamin B12, which is related to red blood cell production and is only found in meat. In addition, she suggests vegan athletes work with a nutritionist or experienced vegan to make sure all of their other dietary boxes are checked.

“The vegan diet is a philosophy, a lifestyle that is more than just good food and bad food,” Clark said.

Given Chandler’s desire to optimize his career, the philosophy of a vegan diet might be the perfect fit.

“How people live with their food is often how they live with other parts of life and sports,” Clark said. “They usually put a lot of effort into training, rehab, and practice.”

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