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Nutrition of Vegan Athletes

Athletic Benefits of Vegan Diets

In his paper, Dr. Fuhrman contends that high level athletes compromise their immune systems through hard training, leaving them more susceptible to upper respiratory infections. These infections disrupt their training programs. He believes that following a nutrient rich vegan diet bolsters the athletes’ immune systems, reducing their viral infections and loss of training time. Furthermore, Dr. Fuhrman asserts that consuming high-antioxidant plant foods may abate the effects of oxidative stress that occurs from exercising.

Nutrient Supplementation

He then addresses whether specific micronutrients can be adequately acquired in a vegan diet. Regarding calcium and iron, he suggests that sufficient amounts of these nutrients can be found in a thoughtful plant-based diet. Other nutrients may require supplementation, however. These include zinc, iodine, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, which tend to run low in vegans and vegetarians. Vitamin D levels are often deficient, even in the general population. Finally, taurine supplements appear to boost athletic performance and also tend to be lacking in vegans.

Protein Requirements

Athletes require an increased amount of protein to synthesize intramuscular protein and reduce muscle damage from exercise. Yet the actual amount of protein needed daily remains controversial. Dr. Fuhrman’s literature review in his article generally cites protein requirements as ranging from about 1.4 to 2 grams protein per kilogram of body weight. Thus, a 150-pound athlete would require from 95 to 136 grams of protein daily.

However, he prefers to cite protein needs in terms of kcals (calories) and protein grams. He offers an example of a 150-pound endurance athlete needing 3600 calories and 120 grams of protein daily. These amounts are based on the person training four hours per day. The vast majority of competitors certainly do not train anywhere near that level. A 150-pound sedentary individual needs only about 55 grams of protein. Extrapolating to a casual recreational athlete, somewhere in the range of 70-100 may be appropriate.