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Athletes Can Thrive on Plant-Based Diets

Athletes Can Thrive on Plant-Based Diets

By:  Lisa Esposito   Courtesy:  USNews.com (health)

Athletes are always looking for a competitive edge – and that could mean swearing off meat. Elite athletes from Olympians to NFL linebackers are adopting vegan or vegetarian diets for improved performance, quicker recovery and overall health.

Even if you're into running half-marathons or otherwise competing for personal enjoyment, growing evidence suggests that following a plant-based diet could help you get leaner and train better.

Champion Vegan

Dotsie Bausch is an Olympic medalist and a true believer in diets that are free from animal products. Now retired from competitive cycling, Bausch is a multiple USA Cycling National Champion, two-time Pan American champion and silver medalist in women's cycling team pursuit at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. As an elite athlete, she embraced plant-based eating about nine years ago and has since become a full-time advocate.

For Bausch, healthy eating means a vegan rather than vegetarian diet. Dairy products are not OK from her perspective. An anti-cow's milk PSA featuring Bausch and five fellow Olympians – which aired during coverage of the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, – makes that clear. Today, Bausch, now 45, is executive director of the nonprofit Switch4Good, an athlete-led coalition aiming to build a dairy-free future.

Bausch made the switch to veganism as a relatively older athlete. It was something she discovered on her own. "The U.S. Team was a little nervous about what I was embarking on," she says, but trainers didn't try to deter her.

She noticed results from her new way of eating almost right away. "I wasn't feeling as inflamed, creaky or sore, or just kind of blah in the morning," she says. "I was bouncing out of bed – I felt ready to go. I was more energized."

The biggest race, Bausch says, was against the time it took her body to recover after training and competing. Changing to a plant-based diet helped.

"When you recover faster, you can handle more load," Bausch says. "You can handle more damage, more training. The more training you can do, the faster you're going to become. People can't train 24 hours a day, because you have to recover. So if you recover fast, you can train again. So, yes – I got much better and much faster."

Evidence for Plant-Eating Athletes

Athletes who follow plant-based diets could see improvements in their heart health, performance and recovery, suggests a new review of studies published online Thursday in the journal Nutrients.

First, researchers looked at evidence of traditional dietary shortcomings and negative health effects in athletes. Next, they summarized potential benefits of plant-based diets on athletes' heart health, recovery and performance.

Vegan diets, which include no animal products whatsoever, were the main focus of the review, researchers noted. However, benefits also appeared from vegetarian diets, which allow dairy products such as milk and eggs.

Review authors included Dr. James Loomis, medical director for the Barnard Medical Center in the District of Columbia and a former team internist for the NFL's St. Louis Rams (now the Los Angeles Rams) and the MLB's St. Louis Cardinals.

The review cited a 2017 study on coronary plaque buildup in older endurance cyclists and runners. Another study found that fewer than half of its Ironman triathlete participants were meeting the recommended carbohydrate intake for endurance athletes. Carbohydrate is the primary energy source during high- and moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, authors noted. Endurance, both right before athletic events and in the long term, is enhanced by higher carb intake, they added. Starting a plant-based diet rich in grains, legumes and root veggies can boost an athlete's intake of healthy carbs.

Other studies in the review showed increased artery plaque or heart-muscle damage in U.S. men and German runners who competed in multiple marathons, compared to sedentary study participants. "Athletes are not immune to atherosclerosis or cardiac events," authors wrote. "Surprisingly, endurance athletes may have more advanced sclerosis and [heart muscle] damage, compared with sedentary individuals, even as they age." What the studies did not show, researchers continued, was whether these changes are consequences of the athletic activity itself, or the type of food, such as animal products, used to fuel it.

It's possible that, low-fat, vegan diets have properties that could help protect vulnerable athletes from heart disease risk factors and improve their performance, researchers suggested. Such diets can help reverse plaque, improve high blood cholesterol, and reduce high blood pressure, excess weight and diabetes risk.

Following a plant-based diet may help athletes in these physiological ways:

  • Lowering body fat and promoting leaner body composition.
  • Improving glycogen storage in muscle cells through higher carbs found in grains, legumes and root veggies, for greater endurance.
  • Increasing blood flow and oxygen to the body's tissues.
  • Reducing oxidative damage by combating free radicals with antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies.
  • Decreasing inflammation and speeding the body's recovery after intensive training.
  • Protecting the heart from risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol for safer competition.

However, although the new review finds potential health benefits to athletes from vegan or vegetarian diets, it does not make a direct cause-and-effect connection from plant-based diets to improved athletic performance.

Vegan Over Vegetarian?

A strictly vegan diet may seem intimidating for lifelong meat-eaters, who might find a vegetarian diet more doable, even as the dairy debate continues.

"Eating healthfully is a spectrum," says Susan Levin, a specialist in sports dietetics, director of nutrition education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and a co-author of the new review. "You can kind of go for the gold or you can go for the bronze. There are issues with dairy consumption that are not ideal for health."

Vegan diets are moving increasingly mainstream for professional athletes, Levin says, a trend which provided the impetus for the study. "We had known about maybe extreme athletes doing it, meaning people who run ultramarathons or triathletes; typically very lean people and endurance athletes, adopting vegan diets," she says. "And it made a lot of sense to them in terms of their reported recovery, leanness (and) just basic endurance."

Researchers were intrigued as athletes in a wide range of sports announced they were following vegan diets to boost performance. Professional athletes who have gone public about going vegan, at least during training, include tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, several members of pro football's Tennessee Titans, arm wrestler Rob Bigwood and Formula One racer Lewis Hamilton.

You don't have to be a professional athlete to benefit from a plant-based diet, Levin emphasizes. Among her patients, she counsels people who run marathons or enter Ironman competitions for fun. With their low-fat, healthy carbohydrate, high-fiber content, plant-based diets boost the body's metabolism.

"When you eat carbs, your post-meal burn is significantly higher than when you eat a standard American diet," Levin says. "And when you lower body fat, you have a higher aerobic capacity. So you'll be able to outperform someone with a lower aerobic capacity – that can even be in the absence of weight loss."

Exercise produces oxidative stress in the body, Levin explains. "Compared with meat-eaters, people on vegan diets consume more antioxidants: vitamin C, vitamin E, beta carotene." Onions, garlics and leeks – members of the allium vegetable group – also have antioxidant properties, she notes.

Guidelines for Athletes

"The more intense the training – the duration, intensity and time – the more important diet is," says Enette Larson-Meyer, a professor in the Human Nutrition and Food Program at the University of Wyoming. That holds true whether athletes are doing heavy training as part of a college program or for recreational purposes, such as competing in a triathlon, marathon or even a 10K race, she says.

Larson-Meyer points to the position paper: "Nutrition and Athletic Performance," a joint effort from three expert groups published in 2016. These comprehensive guidelines spell out strategies with types, amounts and timing of food, fluid and supplement intake for optimal health and performance across different training and competitive sport scenarios.

"A vegetarian diet can be nutritionally adequate containing high intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants," concluded authors from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American College of Sports Medicine and Dietitians of Canada. However, they added that current research is lacking regarding the influence of long-term vegetarianism on athletic performance.

Larson-Meyer, author of the 2006 book "Vegetarian Sports Nutrition," addresses concerns about the ability of vegetarian or vegan diets to meet protein requirements for athletes. "For somebody who's doing more strength training and a lot of hard training, where they're building up a lot of muscle – and that can even be lean muscle – (that requirement) is higher in protein, about twice what it would be (for a) sedentary person," she says.

"Overall, beyond that, we really recommend a diet based on minimally processed grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts and dairy products, if they desire to eat that, and then, a source of protein," Larson-Meyer adds. "Meat certainly serves as a source of protein – we all know that – (as do) dairy products. But it's not necessary to have that as your protein source."

When advising athletes to help them meet nutritional guidelines, Larson-Meyer says, giving them a foundation for healthy eating is the focus. She might work with people on the USDA's MyPlate eating plan, for instance, or someone following a Mediterranean diet. While both plans allow some lean meat, they largely promote plant-based meals with an emphasis on vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds.

Helping athletes on plant-based diets is nothing new for Larson-Meyer, who says, "I've been vegetarian so long that I have a hard time working with athletes who are not at least semi-vegetarian."

Plant-Based Training Meal in a Bowl

Bausch continues to follow a whole-food based diet focused on legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, fruits and veggies. She recommends making what she calls a "trough bowl" as a simple pre- or post-workout meal.

Here's a sample of how to layer a bowl from bottom to top for a nutritious training meal. Choose your bowl size depending on how many calories you need.

  • Grain layer: Quinoa, brown rice or bulgur wheat.
  • Bean or legume layer: High-fiber, high-protein, satiating lentils or chickpeas.
  • Greens layer: Kale, spinach or romaine.
  • Nuts and seeds: Flax, pumpkin or chia seeds, walnuts.
  • Fruit: Avocados, berries.
  • Sauce: Spiced as preferred.
  • Topping: Grilled tempeh or sautéed tofu.

Meat alternatives can help people making the transition to plant-based diets, Bausch notes. The plant-based Beyond Burger or Field Roast grain meat sausages are available options.

Traffic Lights In Brussels Want You to Go Vegan

Traffic Lights In Brussels Want You to Go Vegan

Traffic lights in Brussels are doing more than just controlling the flow of cars in the EU capital city.

Similar to the popular “eating animals” stickers that have been appearing on U.S. stop signs for decades, at least two dozen lights in the city have been retooled — the red stop lights now flash “stop meat” and the green go lights urge drivers and pedestrians to “go vegan.”

The updated lights appear to be the work of activists. In a Facebook post, animal rights activist and vegan street artist Misteruncertain took credit for the lights.

“Nice to see my efforts spreading far and wide. So many people spend their time living halfhearted and disinterested in others. It takes courage to be altruistic in a society that is self-centered and to be compassionate in a world that is egotistical,” he wrote.

“One act can transform the very core of someone else’s life. When benevolence is real, boundaries are nonexistent, limits fade, life is more abundant, and the gap between present reality and dreams, close. Animals are innocent beings and deserve to be protected and respected, not massacred for human greed. Veganism is the answer and justice for all life!”

It’s unclear whether Misteruncertain retooled the lights personally or credits his influence for motivating other activists. The city has become one of Europe’s epicenters for climate activism in recent weeks. Students across Europe have begun skipping school on Fridays.

Activists in Action

The movement was spurred on by then 15-year-old Swede Greta Thunberg. “In August last year, she refused to go to school every day until the Swedish elections, asking politicians to take action against climate change,” the Independent notes. “Since then, she’s protested outside the Riksdag parliament house every Friday, sparking the #FridaysForFuture movement, and now she is joined by hundreds of other students every week.”

Earlier this month Brussels saw tens of thousands gathering in the streets. The protest was linked to the resignation of one of Brussels’ environment ministers who took the protests as a personal call to leave office. The marches started after the country passed on carbon-reducing steps in December.

“Some of the most dramatic protests have come in Belgium,” BuzzFeed News reports.

The protests are being spurred on by another teen, 17-year-old Anuna De Wever. Inspired by Thunberg, De Wever and a friend — both not yet old enough to vote — shared a video online that went viral encouraging people to join them in the march. Thousands showed up. And the number of attendees has been growing every week.

“Our generation will no longer accept catastrophic changes that are negatively affecting our future,” British teen activist Lottie Tellyn penned in an op-ed for the Independent yesterday as the UK prepares for another day of marches tomorrow. “Years of limited action against climate change, years of covered-up information on the climate crisis, and now we are finally saying enough is enough.” 

Meat and Climate Change


Diet has been inextricably linked to climate change. Livestock production is the single biggest greenhouse gas emitter – more than the transportation sectors. Some estimates put livestock production at a stunning 51 percent of all emissions.

“Huge reductions in meat-eating are essential to avoid dangerous climate change. In western countries, beef consumption needs to fall by 90% and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses,” the Guardian noted about a study published in the journal Nature last October.

“Food production already causes great damage to the environment, via greenhouse gases from livestock, deforestation and water shortages from farming, and vast ocean dead zones from agricultural pollution,” the Guardian reports.

“But without action, its impact will get far worse as the world population rises by 2.3 billion people by

Author:  Jill Ettinger

Courtesy:  https://www.livekindly.com

Is it time to tax meat?

Is it time to tax meat?

When we see the price label on a packet of meat, it’s easy to think that it reflects what the product costs to make, but the true cost of animal products is huge, wide-ranging and largely hidden. It includes: the cost to our health, a price borne in large part by public health systems; the expense of trying to prevent global deaths through antibiotic resistance; and the cost of animal agriculture’s immense environmental impact.

To combat these significant but hidden costs, politicians, scientists and think tanks are increasingly proposing the same solution: we need to implement a tax on meat.

Such a tax is not without precedent.

In the UK, sugar, alcohol and tobacco are taxed as a way of discouraging us from consuming these damaging products and better protecting our health.

We are also charged for plastic bags and for driving our cars in cities’ ‘congestion zones’, and these taxes are there to encourage us to change our behaviours and reduce our burden on the planet.

We are used to the government introducing such taxes where there is a pressing need, and there is little doubt that there is just such a need when it comes to meat.

The costs of processed and red meats

In 2015, the World Health Organization felt confident enough in the breadth and depth of research already conducted to state that processed meats cause cancer, and that red meats are also a ‘probable’ cause’.

While processed red meat is largely linked to bowel cancer, eating more red meat than the recommended amount – which we do in many wealthier countries – is linked to heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

Research carried out in the UK found that – to cover healthcare costs of eating red meat – a 20 per cent tax on unprocessed red meat and a 110 per cent tax on processed products across wealthy nations (with lower taxes in less wealthy nations) would cut annual deaths by 220,000 and raise $170 billion / £130 billion. It would also lead to an annual $41bn saving in healthcare. In short, the price of bacon and sausages would double if the harm they cause to people’s health was considered.

But that is still not the true cost of meat.

The costs of antibiotic resistance and cross-species diseases

Professor Tim Lang from the Centre of Food Policy and Professor Mike Rayner from Oxford University’s Department of Health Population wrote that meat not only adds to the burden of non-communicable diseases, it is a key driver of antimicrobial resistance. This is because a significant amount of antibiotics are given to farmed animals just to keep them alive for the few weeks or months until they are slaughtered.

In 2018, the World Health Organization released surveillance data on antibiotic resistance which showed ‘high levels’ of resistance to a number of serious bacterial infections in both high- and low-income countries.

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, has said ‘we face a post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and once again, kill unabated’. She described antimicrobial resistance as a ‘slow-motion tsunami’, with the World Bank estimating that antibiotic resistance could cost the world economy $1 trillion every year after 2030.

And then there are zoonotic diseases – the pathogens that cross from animals to humans.

With at least 61 per cent of all human pathogens coming from animals, it is little wonder the Food and Agriculture Organization calls them ‘a major threat for society’. They include avian flu, anthrax, salmonella and E. coli – all diseases that cause terrible suffering and can be fatal –  and their impacts without effective antibiotics are likely only to worsen.

While not all zoonoses come from farmed animals, in the 10years to 2012, the direct cost of zoonotic diseases was estimated to be more than $20 billion, with more than $200 billion indirect losses to affected economies as a whole.

The costs of animal agriculture to the environment

And what of the cost of animal agriculture to our environment? How do we factor that into the price we pay for animal products at the till?

We know for certain that the meat industry is environmentally damaging. It is a key driver of climate change through its creation of more greenhouse gas emissions than that are emitted by the fuel of every car, plane, truck and train on the planet.

We know the meat industry is a key driver of deforestation through its unrelenting demand for more land. And with the loss of forests and other habitats, we lose whole animal populations, with farming cited as a key reason why wild animal populations have dropped by 60 per cent in the past 40 years. A monetary figure for all of this has yet to be worked out but the cost to the economy of deforestation alone is said to be in the region of $5 trillion.

Of course, the value of something does not rest solely in its financial worth, and we know of no meaningful way to quantify the devastating loss of the Earth’s wild places as our consumption of animal products drives countless species to extinction.

Solutions to combating the high costs associated with meat

While these losses cannot be calculated, we do know there are clear ways each of us can help to combat it. A wealth of evidence has led University of Oxford researchers to state that being vegan (eating no animal products at all) is probably the ‘single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.’

But how do we encourage people along that plant-based path, especially as opponents to a meat tax argue that the poorest families and farmers would be hardest hit?

While it is right to raise such concerns, they could be dealt with quite easily if the income raised from the tax was used to subsidise sustainable foods and help farmers transition to more sustainable practices. Farmers have long been adept at diversifying to satisfy market trends, and there is an increasing number of former animal farmers who have switched to growing plant foods instead. No farmer need lose their livelihood. Vegans need farmers the same as everyone else does.

While we may know in our hearts that cutting down – or preferably cutting out – animal products will have significant and wide-ranging benefits, it seems that most of us still need to be nudged in the right direction.

After all, we knew that plastic bags were bad for the environment, but we still kept taking them home with us until a small charge for them was made. Three years after that levy was introduced, the number of single-use plastic bags given out by major retailers had fallen by 85 per cent. In short, the tax on plastic bags works.

Increasingly, key thinkers see a ‘sin tax’ on beef, lamb and pork as inevitable. We would propose it goes further and includes all meat, dairy and eggs. After all, antibiotic resistance, zoonotic diseases and heart disease are not exclusively associated with red meats, and when it comes to polluted rivers, dairy farms are all too often in the spotlight.

Many people are already convinced of the need for governmental action here. Says Rob Bailey of The Royal Institute of International Affairs: ‘I find it hard to imagine a meat tax won’t be implemented within the next decade.’

Author: Kate Fowler

Courtesy: www.milliondollarvegan.com.

Kate is the UK Campaign Manager for Million Dollar Vegan. Kate has been vegan for 25 years. She has worked on many media and political campaigns, including exposing the suffering of farmed animals at slaughter.