What do all these athletes have in common?
Yes, you guessed it – they’re all vegans or their diet is heavily plant-based.
[Clockwise from TL: David Haye, professional boxer; Scott Jurek, ultramarathon runner; The Williams sisters, tennis; Jermain Defoe, professional soccer player & England international. Centre: NFL defensive lineman David Carter]
I came across this UK Guardian newspaper piece the other day (see link, below), talking about how all these athletes have made the change to veganism, or a high plant-based diet. All seem to report having increased performance and recovery as a result. Usually I will dismiss such articles as simply anecdotal evidence in a long line of anecdotal evidence that regularly appears on both sides of the fence, both vegan & non-vegan alike, but this one was different, due to the following statement:
These healthy nutrients have also been proven to reduce chronic inflammation: the athlete’s worst nightmare. High meat consumption, on the other hand, is associated with inflammation.
Quite a claim! But it’s the first time I’ve seen such an article based on something remotely rational; the fact that inflammation is a hindrance to performance and that a low inflammation diet will therefore increase performance & recovery, whatever that diet may be. No one really disputes this.
Is a Vegan diet REALLY Low Inflammation? Is it compatible with LIHF?
I have always maintained that a HEAVILY supplemented vegan diet could in theory be compatible with LIHF. Indeed, in all but the very high carb diets this is probably true of most, if not all of the diets to the left of “Meat & Water”, a Zero Carb (ZC) diet.. but it’s risky! It’s risky due to the deficiencies, principally vitamin B12, that tend to manifest themselves over the longer term, typically 5-10 years in vegetarians & vegans. It all seems to start off very well in the beginning, with large beneficial changes such as weight-loss, well-being & reported energy levels but then things start to go wrong, sometimes in a quite dramatic, life-threatening fashion and is one of the reasons why many vegetarians & vegans return to meat eating, typically around their late 30’s & early 40’s when these deficiencies start to manifest themselves, with pregnant/ nursing women in particular being affected. It remains to be seen how these athletes will be performing or how their health will be affected later on in life..
What happens behind closed doors?
Let’s also not forget that Veganism is all the rage right now. These days sportsmen and women are just as much media personalities as they are athletes, and it’s in their (financial!) interests to maintain a high media profile. Part of that process is to be seen as a trend “front runner”, adopting all the latest styles & fashions, of which veganism is firmly one. Who’s to say that behind closed doors, when the eyes of the media are not on them, they are in fact doing something totally different i.e. secretly eating meat & eggs?
The hard evidence for Low Inflammation in either a Vegan or ZC diet
In short, there’s little to none. Very few long-term studies exist for either diet. We only get to know about their effects when things go wrong, such as the Vitamin B12 deficiency in vegans discussed above. I have heard of no such deficiencies in meat eaters, either anecdotal (e.g. from doctors) or published. There are of course studies relating to meat & cancer but these tend to be in the context of high-carb diets, smokers and/ or drinkers, etc., and so it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions either way for a purely ZC diet.
As stated above, I think it’s possible to be LIHF & Vegan if you monitor both your diet & overall health carefully, get the right balance of macros (in particular fats) and supplement like crazy! I would say it’s imperative that you have regular blood tests to check for signs of inflammation & deficiencies. When you add it all up, as an athlete you also have to eat a hell of a lot of vegetable matter in order to maintain performance levels, as well as having to spend a small fortune on supplements! Is it really worth it when a small lump of meat will deliver all this for a much smaller investment in time, effort & money ?
Having said all this, in the interests of furthering the noble science of inflammology, I would be willing to do a 30 day trial of a vegan diet, based on the above, but the time is not right at the moment. I need to wait for the results of my next set of blood tests on ZC before making any further decisions. For the record, as of writing I remain on a ZC diet, as per my previous blog post and have never felt better!
You can read the full Guardian article here: