If you're looking to join their ranks by switching to a vegan diet, a recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition might surprise you. In their work, researchers from Leibniz University Hannover in Germany revealed that everyone's exercise capacity was similar – regardless of diet. In an interview with Runner's World, co-author Andreas Hahn stressed the need for proper nutrients for athletes to perform well.
“The main issue is to get an intake of energy and nutrients that is adequate for runners — and this can be achieved by different types of diet,” he added. (Related: Vegan Diet Reduces Risk of Arthritis, Heart Attack and Stroke.)
For the study, researchers enrolled a total of 76 recreational runners – comprising vegans, vegetarians and omnivores. Then they had participants answer a survey to determine their group.
The team looked at any advantages a certain diet could give a person's exercise capacity. “Exercise capacity” is the maximum amount of physical exertion -- that is, the act of using muscles to keep fit -- a person can sustain. To determine the runners' exercise capacity in the study, the team had them ride an exercise bike until they reported that they couldn't anymore. Afterward, they measured the participants' body mass, body cell mass and relative body fat.
Despite their differences in diet, the researchers found no differences in exercise capacity among the participants.
“The results suggest that there are no differences in exercise capacity between vegan, lacto-ovo-vegetarians and omnivorous recreational runners,” they concluded in their report. “A lacto-ovo-vegetarian and also vegan diet might be suitable alternatives for recreational athletes.”
It's worth noting, however, that the study only looked at an athlete's endurance, not skill. In an interview with Healthline, David Nieman, an exercise science researcher at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who wasn't part of the study, noted that while a person may opt for a vegetarian or vegan diet for endurance, it won't do much for his sport skill.
“The only possible way it [a vegan diet] may help some people is if they’re involved in a sport that takes more than an hour,” he added. “And that’s only if they were on a low carb, high-fat diet and switched to a vegan diet, which would mean they’d be taking in more carbs.”
There's still a case for adding more vegetables to your plate, regardless of which category you fall into. Eating more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory foods, especially fruits and vegetables, can greatly help with cognitive function, including mental endurance and motivation. Adding some lemon juice, in addition, can help your body absorb the iron from the vegetables. If you're looking to add more flavor, ditch the salt and go for spices like turmeric, garlic and cinnamon.
At the end of the day, healthy eating and proper training are still the cornerstones of a great exercise performance, no matter the diet.