Doctor’s Tip: Athletic performance and diet
More elite athletes are embracing plant-based nutrition. A few do it for animal rights or environmental reasons, but most do it to improve their health and to enhance their performance.
There are three health issues that cause elite athletes go plant-based:
• When athletes suffer from illnesses such as the flu and common cold, they either miss performances or have sub-par performances. Eating plants improves immunity.
• Athletes such as football linemen are often overweight, which leads to heart disease, diabetes and early death. All these conditions can be prevented and diabetes and heart disease can be reversed through plant-based nutrition.
• Intense workouts and athletic performances cause inflammation, tendinitis and degenerative arthritis. A plant-based diet is anti-inflammatory while a diet based on animal products causes and intensifies inflammation.
Performance enhancement with plant power works like this: Although moderate exercise is good for us, the intense and prolonged exercise that elite athletes engage in causes free radicals and oxidative stress. These in turn lead to aging, inflammation and slow recovery following workouts and competitive events. Whole (unprocessed) plants have a multitude of antioxidants (animal products have few to none). Plant-based athletes are able to intensify their workouts, gain strength without gaining fat, recover faster and lengthen their careers.
What about just taking antioxidant vitamins (A, E and C), or antioxidant supplements? Theoretically they would help, but studies show they do not help and can even be harmful. For example, smokers who take vitamin A supplements have more lung cancer; people have more heart disease if they take high-dose vitamin E supplements. We evolved to get our nutrients from whole plants, not pills.
Ed Troy is a 60-year-old upvalley personal trainer who is an elite masters athlete. He went plant-based a few years ago, dropped some weight but remained just as strong. He feels better and his performance has improved. The clients who have followed his nutritional advice have noticed the same benefits.
Here is a small sample of elite, vegan athletes:
• Scott Jurek, who is a famous ultra-marathoner, became plant-based as a teenager because he found out that plants have the most nutrients per calorie, important for someone who runs 100 mile races and longer. He wrote an interesting book called “Eat and Run.”
• Carl Lewis, one of the greatest track and field athletes in history, dominated the sprints and long jump during the 1980s and ‘90s. He was and continues to be vegan.
• NFL player David Carter, “the 300-pound vegan,” grew up in L.A. on barbecue from his family’s restaurant. He developed high blood pressure in his 20s, requiring medication. He also developed tendinitis, arthritis and nerve damage. He resisted his wife’s veganism but went plant-based on 2/14/14 after watching the documentary “Forks Over Knives.” He says “the more I learned, the more my body benefited and my results came quickly. More energy, shorter recovery time, increased stamina, improved strength…”
• Tennis star Venus Williams went vegan after being diagnosed with Sjorgren’s Disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes joint pain, fatigue and shortness of breath. Her career suffered and almost ended but was resurrected after she became plant-based.
• MLB pitcher Pat Neshek says “The main reason I became vegan was the book ‘The China Study’ — it really changed my career.”
• Boxer Timothy Bradley says that being vegan makes him a better fighter.
• Bodybuilder Torre Washington says “vegan athletes are making an international impact on mainstream fitness.”
• Bodybuilder Holly Noll says “being vegan is not a hindrance but rather a tool to make you the very best you can be.”
• UFC fighter Mac Danzig says, “I realized how absurd the notion of ‘needing’ meat in the diet was. I never looked back … view it as a positive change and look forward to all of the new amazing, healthy, and delicious foods you can eat.”
• Ed Bauer, champion bodybuilder says “other bodybuilders eat steak, chicken, eggs, whey protein. I just eat vegan versions of that; tempeh, tofu, seitan, rice and pea protein, some nuts and seeds, spinach and broccoli.”
So maybe that “Got Milk?” ad should be changed to “Got Kale?” Unfortunately, Big Dairy can pay for ads like that but there is no “Big Kale.” Plants have all the protein we need (witness horses and elephants), and experts such as Dr. Michael Greger (nutritionfacts.org) offer proof that plant protein is healthier for us than animal protein.
Happy Thanksgiving. See you at the Tofurky Trot.
Dr. Feinsinger, who retired from Glenwood Medical Associates after 42 years as a family physician, now has a nonprofit Center For Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Nutrition. He is available for free consultations about heart attack prevention and any other medical concerns. Call 970-379-5718 for an appointment. For questions about his columns, email him at email@example.com.