Whether or not vegetarianism and veganism is truly healthy and even better than other diets for active and athletic people has been a question on our minds for a long time. Though there is not yet enough evidence to establish fact in an answer, Reynolds puts together a smart article interviewing different doctors and experts to illuminate some helpful knowledge. Below are some of the questions and answers from the piece I particularly enjoy.
Photo by John Fedele/Getty Images
You can read the full article here.
Q. Will a vegan diet make someone a better athlete?
A. Nancy Clark: I was just at the American College of Sports Medicine Annual meeting in San Francisco, and there was a presentation about vegetarian athletes that basically concluded that there’s not enough research to know how vegetarian — let alone vegan — diets affect athletes. But anecdotally, people do fine. It’s possible that some vegan athletes are low on creatine, a nutrient that you get only from meat and that can help during short bouts of intense exercise, like sprinting, though supplementation isn’t necessary. My feeling is that hard training trumps everything. Diet, if it’s healthy, isn’t going to make that much difference.
Q. Because of Scott Jurek’s book and others, there’s some sense out there that athletes should become vegans. Do you agree?
A. David Nieman: I know Scott. He’s been a subject in some of our studies at the Western States 100. He’s a great guy — opinionated, sure, but he’s been very successful as a racer, so he can have opinions. But runners always think they have inside information on nutrition. They don’t. It’s my duty as a scientist to separate out the hype from what’s been validated.
What we know is that when it comes to endurance performance, it’s all about the fuel, primarily carbohydrates, and you can get sufficient carbohydrates whether you’re a vegetarian or a meat eater — unless you follow a really goofy diet, which some people do. It’s possible to eat a lousy vegetarian diet, just as you as can eat a lousy meat-based diet.
Q. So is there any compelling reason for those of us who are active but not necessarily running ultramarathons to decide to become vegan?
A. D. Enette Larson-Meyer: In general, vegetarians are healthier, with less risk for heart disease and obesity, although there are obese vegetarians. Many people tell me after they start a vegetarian diet that they feel better, but then again, many of them — and I believe this was the case with Scott Jurek — were eating a pretty poor diet before, so of course they feel better. They could have switched to a healthier meat-based diet and they would probably have felt better.
I like to tell people that if we got most Americans to eat one less serving of meat every day, there would be far greater impact from that, in terms of improving overall public health and the health of the planet, than convincing a tiny group of endurance athletes to go full vegan.