Fueling the Vegan Athlete
By Joel Fuhrman, M.D. www.drfuhrman.com.
Animal Products Are Not Necessary For High-Level Performance!
Vegan diets have been associated with a number of health benefits: lower risk of death from heart disease, lower LDL cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of type 2 diabetes, lower body mass index, and lower rates of cancers. The primary dietary factor that confers these health benefits is the increased consumption of whole plant foods—fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans, and their associated beneficial nutrients—fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Processed foods and animal products account for 90 percent of calories consumed in the typical American diet, and these foods are devoid of the antioxidants and supportive phytochemicals that are abundant in unrefined plant foods.1 of animal foods does not in itself define a health-promoting diet that will support athletic performance. However, a nutritarian diet (plant-based diet designed to be micronutrient rich) with sufficient protein and calories can maintain low body fat while maximizing muscle endurance and disease-resistance. A properly nourished vegan athlete can compete effectively at a high level in endurance sports.
Evidence of athletic success on vegetarian and vegan diets was found as early as the 1890s, when vegetarian cyclists and long distance walkers in the U.S. and Great Britain performed as well as or better than their omnivorous peers. In 1912, a vegetarian was one of the first men to complete a marathon in under 2 hours 30 minutes. A 1970 study comparing thigh muscle width and pulmonary function in athletes saw no difference between those on vegetarian and omnivorous diets. Similar results on pulmonary function, endurance, arm and leg circumferences, and strength measures were seen in a 1986 study of vegetarian female Israeli athletes and matched non-vegetarian peers. Vegetarian athletes also performed equally to their omnivorous peers in athletic events of long duration. Vegetarians and non-vegetarians consuming the same quantity of carbohydrate did not show any difference in their rate of completion or time to completion of a 20-day, 1000 km run in West Germany in 1989. 2 Despite these results, which clearly do not indicate an athletic deficiency in vegetarians, concern regarding plant-based diets for athletes persists because of our society’s belief that large amounts of animal protein are needed to build muscle.
Present-day vegan athletes such as Tony Gonzalez of the Kansas City Chiefs, Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier, track and field Olympian Carl Lewis, bodybuilder Kenneth Williams, and many others continue to provide evidence that very high-level athletic performance can be achieved without the consumption of animal products or byproducts.
1. Craig WJ, Mangels AR. American Dietetic Association. Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-82.
2. Nieman DC. Vegetarian dietary practices and endurance performance. Am J Clin Nutr 1988;48:754-61. Nieman DC. Physical fitness and vegetarian diets: is there a relation? Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70(suppl):570S-5S.
3. Gleeson M. Can nutrition limit exerciseinduced immunodepression? Nutr Rev 2006 Mar;64(3):119-31.
4. Chew BP, Park JS. Carotenoid Action on the Immune Response. J Nutr 2004;134:257S-261S.
5. Powers SK, Jackson MJ. Exercise-induced oxidative stress: cellular mechanisms and impact on muscle force production. Physiol Rev 2008;88:1243-1276.
6. Martarelli D, Pompei P. Oxidative stress and antioxidant changes during a 24-hours mountain bike endurance exercise in master athletes. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2009 Mar;49(1) 122-7.
7. Peake JM, Suzuki K, Coombes JS. The influence of antioxidant supplementation on markers of inflammation and the relationship to oxidative stress after exercise. J Nutr Biochem 2007 Jun;18(6):357-71.
8. Teixeira VH, Valente H, Casal S, et al. Antioxidants do not prevent postexercise peroxidation and may delay muscle recovery. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2009 Sep;41(9):1752-60.
9. Lamprecht M, Hofmann P, Greilberger JF, Schwaberger G. Increased Lipid Peroxidation in Trained Men After 2 Weeks of Antioxidant Supplementation. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2009 Aug;19(4)385-399.
10. Mente A, de Koning L, Shannon HS, et al. A systematic review of the evidence supporting a causal link between dietary factors and coronary heart disease. Arch Intern Med 2009 Apr 13;169(7):659-69.
11. Sesso HD, Buring JE, Christen WG, et al. Vitamins E and C in the prevention of cardiovascular disease in men: the Physicians’ Health Study II randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2008 Nov
12. 300(18):2123-33. 12. Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3,100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutr J 2010 Jan 22: 9:3.
13. Shahidi F, Liyana-Pathirana CM, Wall DS. Antioxidant activity of white and black sesame seeds and their hull fractions. Food Chemistry 2006;99(3):478-483.
14. Frassinetti S, Bronzetti G, Caltavuturo L, et al. The role of zinc in life: a review. J Environ Pathol Toxicol Oncol 2006;25 (3):597-610.
15. de Bortoli MC, Cozzolino SM. Zinc and selenium nutritional status in vegetarians. Biol Trace Elem Res 2009 Mar;127(3):228-33.
16. Weaver CM. Choices for achieving adequate dietary calcium with a vegetarian diet. Am J Clin Nutr 1999;70(suppl):543S-S.
17. Nutrition Data: Nutrient Search (Data from USDA nutrient database) http:// www.nutritiondata.com/tools/nutrient-search
18. Hunt JR. Bioavailability of iron, zinc, and other trace minerals from vegetarian diets. Am J Clin Nutr 2003;78(suppl):633S-9S.
19. Ostojic SM, Ahmetovic Z. Weekly training volume and hematological status in female toplevel athletes of different sports. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2008 Sep;48(3):398-403.
20. Rodenberg RE, Gustafson S. Iron as an ergogenic aid: ironclad evidence? Curr Sports Med Rep 2007 Jul;6(4):258-64.
21. McClung JP, Karl JP, Cable SJ, et al. Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of iron supplementation in female soldiers during military training: effects on iron status, physical performance, and mood. Am J Clin Nutr 2009; 90:124-131.
22. Sempos CT, Looker AC, Gillum RE, et al. Serum ferritin and death from all causes and cardiovascular disease: the NHANES II Mortality Study. National Health and Nutrition Examination Study. Ann Epidemiol 2000 Oct;10 (7):441-8.
23. Toyokuni S. Role of iron in carcinogenesis: cancer as a ferrotoxic disease. Cancer Sci 2009 Jan;100(1):9-16.
24. Mainous AG III, Diaz VA. Relation of serum ferritin level to cardiovascular fitness among young men. Am J Cardiol 2009 Jan 1;103 (1):115-8.
25. Bloomer RJ, Larson DE, Fisher-Wellman KH, et al. Effect of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acid on resting and exerciseinduced inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers: a randomized, placebo controlled, cross-over study. Lipids in Health and Disease 2009;8:36.
26. Tartibian B, Maleki BH, Abbasi A. The effects of omega-3 supplementation on pulmonary function of young wrestlers during intensive training. J Sci Med Sport 2009 Jun 10. [Epub ahead of print]
27. Conquer JA, Holub BJ. Dietary docosahexaenoic acid as a source of eicosapentaenoic acid in vegetarians and omnivores. Lipids 1997 Mar;32(3):341-5.
28. Hamilton B. Vitamin D and Human Skeletal Muscle. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2009 Oct 5. [Epub ahead of print]
29. Cuisinier C, Ward RJ, Francaux M, et al. Changes in plasma and urinary taurine and amino acids in runners immediately and 24 hours after a marathon. Amino Acids 2001; 20 (1):13-23.
30. Galloway SDR, Talanian JL, Shoveller AK, et al. Seven days of oral taurine supplementation does not increase muscle taurine content or alter substrate metabolism during prolonged exercise in humans. J Appl Physiol 2008; 105: 643-651.
31. Rana SK, Sanders TA. Taurine concentrations in the diet, plasma, urine and breast milk of vegans compared with omnivores. Br J Nutr 1986 Jul;56(1):17-27. Laidlaw SA, Shultz TD, Cecchino JT, Kopple JD. Plasma and urine taurine levels in vegans. Am J Clin Nutr 1988 Apr;47(4):660-3.
32. Negro M, Giardina S, Marzani B, Marzatico F. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation does not enhance athletic performance but affects muscle recovery and the immune system. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2008 Sep;48(3):347-51.
33. Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2007; Sept 26;4:8.
34. Tang JE, Phillips SM. Maximizing muscle protein anabolism: the role of protein quality. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 2009 Jan;12(1):66-71.
35. Tarnopolsky MA, Atkinson SA, MacDougall JD, et al. Evaluation of protein requirements for trained strength athletes. J Appl Physiol 1992 Nov;73(5):1986-95.
36. Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. Sports Nutr 2007; Sept 26;4:8.
37. Mettler S, Mannhart C, Colombani PC. Development and Validation of a Food Pyramid for Swiss Athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab 2009 Oct;19(5)504-518.
38. Phillips SM. Protein requirements and supplementation in strength sports. Nutrition 2004 Jul-Aug;20(7-8):689-95.
39. Frank H, Graf J, Amann-Gassner U, et al. Effect of short-term high-protein compared with normal-protein diets on renal hemodynamics and associated variables in healthy young men. Am J Clin Nutr 2009 Dec; 90(6):1509-16.
40. Halbesma N, Bakker SJ, Jansen DF, et al. High protein intake associates with cardiovascular events but not with loss of renal function. J Am Soc Nephrol 2009 Aug;20(8):1797-804.
41. Kaaks R. Nutrition, insulin, IGF-1 metabolism and cancer risk: a summary of epidemiological evidence. Novartis Found Symp 2004;262: 247-60; discussion 260-68.
42. Dewell A, Weidner G, Sumner MD, et al. Relationship of dietary protein and soy isoflavones to serum IGF-1 and IGF binding proteins in the Prostate Cancer Lifestyle Trial. Nutr Cancer 2007;58(1):35-42.
43. Lowery LM, Devia L. Dietary protein safety and resistance exercise: what do we really know? J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2009 Jan 12;6:3.
44. Samaras TT, Storms LH, Elrick H. Longevity, mortality and body weight. Ageing Res Rev 2002 Sep;1(4):673-91. References