Body composition, energy expenditure and physical activity

Is a vegan diet detrimental to endurance and muscle strength?

Abstract

Background/objectives

In the general population, there is a popular belief that a vegan diet may be associated with a lower exercise performance due to the lack of certain nutrients in vegan individuals. Thus, the purpose of the present study was to examine endurance and muscle strength differences between vegan and omnivore participants.

Subjects/methods

We studied 56 healthy young lean physically active women (age: 25.6 ± 4.1 years; body mass index: 22 ± 1.9 kg/m2). Participants were classified as vegan (n = 28) or omnivore (n = 28) based on their eating habits. All volunteers followed either a vegan or an omnivore diet for at least 2 years. Anthropometric measurements, body composition, estimated maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max), a submaximal endurance test (70% of VO2 max), muscle strength (leg and chest press), and dietary factors were measured.

Results

Both groups were comparable for physical activity levels, body mass index, percent body fat, lean body mass, and muscle strength. However, vegans had a significantly higher estimated VO2 max (44.5 ± 5.2 vs. 41.6 ± 4.6 ml/kg/min; p = 0.03, respectively) and submaximal endurance time to exhaustion (12.2 ± 5.7 vs. 8.8 ± 3.0 min; p = 0.007, respectively) compared with omnivores.

Conclusions

The results suggest that a vegan diet does not seem to be detrimental to endurance and muscle strength in healthy young lean women. In fact, our study showed that submaximal endurance might be better in vegans compared with omnivores. Therefore, these findings contradict the popular belief of the general population.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Joanie Lagarde, Lara Deslauriers, Cindy Medina-Ventura, and Camryn Mullin for their technical assistance as well as the participants who accepted to be a part of this study.

Funding

This work was supported by start-up funds from the Université du Québec à Montréal. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the paper.

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ADK and GHB designed the research; MALD and MG conducted the research; MALD, MG, and GHB analyzed the data; GHB and ADK wrote the first draft of the paper; GHB, ADK, MG, and MALD contributed to the writing of the paper; ADK had primary responsibility for the design, writing, and final content. All authors read and approved the final paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Antony D. Karelis.

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Boutros, G.H., Landry-Duval, M., Garzon, M. et al. Is a vegan diet detrimental to endurance and muscle strength?. Eur J Clin Nutr (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41430-020-0639-y

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