Plant-based athletes are more visible than ever, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to convincing the average Joe that being an active vegetarian doesn’t mean we are wasting away. Luckily, there is plenty of science to back us up! New research even shows how plant-based endurance athletes may have an advantage over omnivorous ones.
A study published in the journal Nutrients examined the difference in performance between a group of vegetarian and omnivorous athletes. Researchers from Arizona State University were specifically looking at maximal oxygen uptake (VO2) between the two groups of elite endurance performers, as well as leg strength. The participants kept a food log and had their abilities tested on treadmills and leg extension equipment.
For the most part, there were no significant differences between the two groups when it came to strength and endurance. “Peak torque” during leg extensions were the same and VO2 tests showed similar results among all of the men involved. The women, however, painted a different picture. Vegetarian women were shown to have a 13 percent greater VO2 maximum score than omnivorous ladies—a result which led to intrigue amongst the researchers.
“Certainly many factors affect an athlete’s sports performance, and there is no dietary substitute for quality training,” the researchers wrote. “However, our study contributes to the literature about cardiorespiratory and strength comparisons between vegetarian and omnivore endurance athletes, and may provide rationale about the adequacy of vegetarian diets for sport performance.”
Another notable finding was that, yes, vegetarians tend to consume less protein than those adhering to the Standard American Diet. The same reality was reflected in this study: plant-based athletes recorded eating less protein than their omnivorous counterparts. Yet, their strength and endurance levels were pretty much the same. How can this be?
As it turns out, Americans tend to eat way more protein than we actually need. Almost twice as much, in fact. Males tend to consume over 100 grams per day, while only needing 56 grams, and females are consuming nearly 80 grams each day, when they only require 46 grams. This excess of protein does not automatically translate into better health or fitness—in fact, it can lead to serious health concerns.
The final question to ponder is this: If eating a vegetarian or vegan diet improves health, is better for the environment, is a more ethical choice for the animals and supports a physically active lifestyle—with benefits even surpassing meat-eating athletes—then why not do it? What do you have to lose? Here are some tips to get started and some compassionate athletes to follow on your journey to becoming plant-strong.
Photo credit: Thinkstock