Advantages of Nutritarian Diet for Athletic Performance

By Joel Fuhrman, M.D.

Micronutrient Adequacy And Avoidance Of Oils Prevent Exercise-Induced Immunosuppression!

Athletes desire to avoid disruptions to their training and competing schedules by avoiding illness, especially from viral infections. The main advantage for the serious athlete to adopt a nutritarian style vegan or near vegan diet is the improved immuno-competence, resulting in fewer instances of missed training and competitive events due to illness.

High-performance athletes demonstrate mildly suppressed immune function and often experience increased incidence of upper respiratory tract infections. These symptoms are thought to be a consequence of the long-term stresses placed on the athletes’ bodies by their intense daily physical training. Even in the short term, a single intense workout is capable of temporarily diminishing immune function. Proper functioning of neutrophils, a specific type of white blood cell, is the immune parameter most affected by intense exercise, and this could potentially result in increased susceptibility to microbial infections, which can disrupt the training schedule and thereby compromise performance or competitive opportunity. 3

Excess oil intake and poor nutrition may exacerbate exercise-induced immune-suppression. Adequate intake of micronutrients—notably folate, carotenoids, B6, B12, C, E, zinc, copper, iron, and selenium—by athletes has been suggested to attenuate exercise induced suppression of immune function. Carotenoids, pigment molecules abundant in green and other colored vegetables, are known to stimulate the immune system and enhance immune function. 3,4 However, when whole foods supply these essential nutrients, over 5,000 immuno-supportive phytonutrients come along for the ride and have profound beneficial effects.

Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are provided in excess by animal products and oils, contributing to inappropriate chronic inflammation. Omega-3-containing seeds (flax, hemp, chia, pumpkin, and sunflower) are a more healthful alternative to animal- derived fats and oils. They offer a substantial amount of protein while contributing to immune-competence.

High Antioxidant Foods

High antioxidant foods help to lessen exercise-induced oxidative stress. Each single bout of exercise produces oxidative stress in both the skeletal muscle and the blood, which may last several days. 5 This same exercise stimulates the body to build up its antioxidant defenses. However, the reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced from exercise may be proportionally larger and may overwhelm the body’s defenses. 6

The consistent intake of high antioxidant plant foods may attenuate the undesirable consequences of oxidative stress by keeping ROS levels in the favorable range. Antioxidant supplements, however, have not consistently shown benefits in curtailing exercise-induced oxidative stress and inflammation. 7 In fact, these supplements may slow recovery. Creatine kinase, a marker of muscle damage, remained elevated longer after exercise in athletes given antioxidant capsules than in those given placebo. 8 In another study, a concentrated antioxidant supplement actually increased a marker of oxidative stress and decreased circulating antioxidant levels. 9 Supplements of specific isolated antioxidants are vastly outperformed by the complex combinations of antioxidants and other phytonutrients in high micronutrient, whole plant foods, similar to what we see in epidemiological studies of chronic diseases. For example, there is strong evidence for the protective effect of vegetables against coronary heart disease, which is known to involve oxidative damage. 10 On the other hand, supplementation with antioxidant vitamins has not shown any clear benefit. 11

A recent analysis of over 3,100 foods for antioxidant content reported the overall mean antioxidant content of plant foods to be 11.57 mmol/100g. Compare this figure to the mean antioxidant content of animal foods, which is a minute 0.18 mmol/100g. 12 Plant foods are clearly superior in this regard.




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