A review of the effectiveness of a plant-based diet compared to a meat-eating diet on health, performance, and weight-loss.


When considering a plant-based diet, what option do you have to consider:

–   Vegan, complete removal of all animal products

–   Vegetarian does not eat meat or fish but may choose to eat some other animal products

–   Pescatarian still eats fish

–   Lacto or Ovo or Ovo-Lacto vegetarian, Lacto referring to lactose, which is found in dairy suggesting that this individual, still consumes dairy products. The word Ovo is referring to eggs, suggesting that this individual still consumes eggs.

–   Pollo-vegetarian means that these individuals still its chicken but avoids red meat, so not actually a vegetarian.

–   Flexitarian, simply refers to people who auto-regulate their amount/frequency of animal products to fit their morals or potentially sourcing from a higher quality provider oppose to supporting factory farming for example.


People choose to become some form of plant-based dieter because they believe it will help them lose weight, its better for their health, performance will improve or for ethical reasons.


In regards to health, we can look at the following studies and assess the levels of mortality in plant-based dieters in comparison to the general public that consumes meat.


–   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10479226

–   https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/78/3/533S/4689993

–   http://www.epic-oxford.org/oxford-vegetarian-study/

–   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15824171

–   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191896/


The collected data from the above studies found that mortality rates were no different when comparing vegans and vegetarians to comparable meat eaters. We use comparable meat eaters as a comparison as vegan or plant-based eaters are generally more health-conscious than the rest of the population so we evaluate the meat eaters lifestyle and compare, this includes things such as sleep (quality and length), exercise, work/life balance, relaxation techniques, overall quality of the diet (still consuming vegetables and fruits, not eating microwave meals etc.) and the consumption of alcohol and if they smoke or not.


It’s worth noting that both the plant-based diets and the comparable meat eaters both outperformed the general population, but between the plant-based diet and comparable meat eaters they found no difference in mortality rates.


One UK study found an outlier in that vegan diets performed just as bad as the general population in regards to health. This is hypothesized that many of the vegans in the UK become vegan because of ethical reasons and they don’t like animals to be killed for food, valid enough reason. But what comes with this is generally a lack of education around food and how to set up a diet for health when becoming a vegan, it is all too common that people become a plant-based dieter and still manage to eat next to no vegetables while living of refined carbohydrates and meat alternatives.


So essentially what we’re finding is un-surprisingly that people who focus on their health and make lifestyle choices to support this tend to have a better average rate of mortality than the general population who don’t focus on health in any way. This includes vegans, vegetarians, infrequent meat eaters, pescatarians and comparable meat eaters who on the whole all tend to take an interest in their health.


Is a plant-based diet BETTER for performance, no? Is it as good as a carnivorous diet if it is well planned out, yes? It is just practically speaking much harder to implement and adhere to when compared to a meat-eating protocol. What we have found is that if you’re are considering a plant-based diet for health reasons, performance or weight loss then you will not be provided with any benefits over a comparable meat-based diet from a physiological point of view, as we know calories, macronutrient proportions and food quality are the main driver behind performance, weight-loss and health. Which is perfectly fine as we don’t see any negative downsides either and if you’re choosing a plant-based diet for ethical reasons that is simply a personal decision that you choose to make. As long as the individual understands how to put together a plan for plant-based eating so they aren’t at a disadvantage


Some tips for going plant-based:

Lacto or Ovo or Lacto-ovo vegetarians tend to need to pay attention to B12 and iron levels, especially menstruating women. B12 can only be found in animal products and we store enough for a long time so symptoms only begin to develop when a plant-based diet has been adhered to for a long time. Whereas iron is found in vegetables but in a non-haem form, which is poorly absorbed therefor our uptake is very low.

Some additional nutrients worth paying attention to are EPA and DHA, which are very high in fish and easily supplemented from fish oil. We can get this from a vegetarian source such as algae oil but we rely on a conversion of the body to get the EPA and DHA from the algae but the conversion is very poor, usually, the conversion is done for us when the fish eat the algae and then we eat the fish. If performance is of interest to you then you may wish to look into supplementing creatine, beta-alanine, and carnitine all of which may assist you with your performance.


Now full-fledged vegans have to be careful of the above points also but have some extras to consider as well. These being protein quality, you may find that you have to supplement with vegan shakes quite a lot. Zinc and calcium are some others that you may become low in due to poor uptake, absorption of competing nutrients.


Vitamin D is needed from food when sun exposure is low. The food vitamin D is predominately found in are animal products such as oily fish and butter. Having said this most people even if they consume these products tend to be low in vitamin D so supplemental forms are required for most people.


Before beginning a supplement protocol it is always worth getting a blood test done to look for nutrient deficiencies so you can supplement correctly based on facts oppose to guessing deficiencies.


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James Rush

James works in functional sports nutrition, looking from an integrative health perspective, merging the fields of sports nutrition and nutritional therapy in an applied way so that both health and performance are considered. James works with his clients to ensure that the best possible health is maintained during off-season, in season, and peaking for events, and everyday life etc. As a healthy client is an optimal performer who carries less stress, injuries and ultimately performs better at their chosen goal. To help give others the education James has gained over the recent years he now teaches nutrition level 3 to aspiring trainers and coaches who wish also to enter the industry. Current physical targets: James currently competes as amateur u105 strongman and aims to be healthy and as pain free as possible.

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