Can Vegans Build Muscle and Have Endurance?

It’s a constant question and concern, especially among people who prefer high muscle mass. Can a vegan or vegetarian diet support muscle building?

It’s a constant question and concern, especially among people who prefer high muscle mass. Can a vegan or vegetarian diet support muscle building? Would such a diet impair athletic performance? Joel Fuhrman and Deana M. Ferrer, in their article published in Current Sports Medicine Reports, conclude that vegans have no disadvantages. They may even have some important advantages.  

A study from the early 1900s found that strength and endurance were superior among vegetarians. A study among Israeli athletes in 1986 found no difference in total serum protein (amount of protein in the blood) comparing vegetarians with their omnivorous peers. Various studies have found equal cardiopulmonary and athletic performance.

That’s not to say that anyone can adopt a diet of straight spinach and excel. As with omnivorous diets, vegans must learn to have the right foods and nutrients in proper balance. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has identified these key nutrients as ones that are easy to miss when switching to a vegan diet: omega-3s, iron, zinc, iodine, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12. Fortunately, the possible deficiencies can be overcome with supplements and/or strategic eating. The ADA deems vegetarian diets nutritionally adequate for all stages of life and for athletes.

Vegetarian diets are associated with a number of health benefits: lower risk of death from heart disease, better blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, less diabetes, lower body mass index, and less cancer. However, the avoidance of meat does not explain these benefits. Rather, those benefits seem to come from the increased consumption of whole plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, and beans, with all their fibre, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Joel Fuhrman and Deana M. Ferrer conclude that all the protein you need can be found in vegetables. Moreover, correctly implemented vegan, diets are compatible with high-level athleticism. If you are an omnivore, don’t let those vegans get the advantage over you. Have a reasonable portion of meat and a heaping helping of healthy vegetables.

Sources

  • Fuhrman J, Ferreri DM. Fueling the vegetarian (vegan) athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2010 Jul 1;9(4):233-41.

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