Plant-based diets for cardiovascular safety and performance in endurance sports. Nutrients. 2019;11(1). pli: E130.
Vegan athletes–from tennis champion Venus Williams to Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton to Derrick Morgan of NFL’s Tennessee Titans–have proven the performance-boosting power of a plant-based diet.
A new scientific review by Physicians Committee doctors and dietitians examines the science behind the advantages a plant-based diet provides to athletes.
A plant-based diet, which is low in saturated fat and free of cholesterol, helps improve blood viscosity, or “thickness.” That boosts blood flow, allowing more oxygen to reach the muscles, which improves athletic performance.
Plant-based diets also improve arterial flexibility and diameter, further improving blood flow. One study found that even a single high-fat meal, including Sausage and Egg McMuffins, impaired arterial function for several hours. Plant-based diets do the opposite.
Compared with meat-eaters, people eating a plant based diet get more antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals. Free radicals lead to muscle fatigue, reduced athletic performance, and impaired recovery.
Plant-based diets, which are typically low in fat and high in fiber, can reduce body fat. Reduced body fat is associated with increased aerobic capacity–or the ability to use oxygen to fuel exercise. Studies show that athletes on a plant-based diet increase their VO2 max–the maximum amount of oxygen they can use during intense exercise–leading to better endurance.
Surprisingly, many athletes are at increased risk for heart disease: In one study, 44 percent of endurance cyclists and runners had coronary plaques. A plant-based diet keeps athlete’s hearts strong by reversing plaque, bringing down blood pressure and cholesterol, and reducing weight. Meat consumption and high cholesterol levels exacerbate inflammation, which can result in pain and impair athletic performance and recovery. Studies show that a plantbased diet has an anti-inflammatory effect.
Reprinted from Good Medicine, Spring 2019, by the Physician’s Committee For Responsible Medicine (PCRM). PhysiciansCommitte.org. 202 686-2210.