Vegan Diets Are Better For Athletes' Heart Health, Says Review

The review showed that a plant-based diet can boost heart health, performance, and recovery in sportspeople
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Vegan athlete Lewis Hamilton

Vegan athlete Lewis Hamilton

Vegan diets can benefit athletes in numerous ways - including improving heart health, performance, and recovery, according to a new review.

The research, Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports, was published in the journal Nutrients.

One of the review's co-authors is Dr. James Loomis, who was featured in The Game Changers, a documentary on vegan athletes scheduled to be released in 2019. Another is Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Vegan diet review

The study reviewed the ability of plant-based regimens to reduce risk for atherosclerosis and myocardial damage in athletes. "The effect of plant-based diets on cardiovascular risk factors, particularly plasma lipid concentrations, body weight, and blood pressure, and, as part of a healthful lifestyle, reversing existing atherosclerotic lesions, may provide a substantial measure of cardiovascular protection," says the review.

"In addition, plant-based diets may offer performance advantages. They have consistently been shown to reduce body fat, leading to a leaner body composition. Because plants are typically high in carbohydrate, they foster effective glycogen storage. By reducing blood viscosity and improving arterial flexibility and endothelial function, they may be expected to improve vascular flow and tissue oxygenation.

"Because many vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods are rich in antioxidants, they help reduce oxidative stress. Diets emphasizing plant foods have also been shown to reduce indicators of inflammation. These features of plant-based diets may present safety and performance advantages for endurance athletes."

Vegan diets and athletes

"It's no wonder that more and more athletes are racing to a vegan diet," said review co-author James Loomis, M.D., M.B.A., who is also Medical Director for the Barnard Medical Center.

"Whether you're training for a couch-to-5K or an Ironman Triathlon, a plant-based diet is a powerful tool for improving athletic performance and recovery."

"Like any endurance athlete, plant-based athletes just need more calories than less active people," added Dr. Levin. "And if they are eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans, they will easily meet all of their nutritional needs."