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The Book Doctor | Can I Stay Athletic if I Go Vegan?

A plant-based diet can fulfill all of your body’s needs, and many important nutrients are only found in high concentration in plant-based foods.
by Caitlin Schiller | Jul 31 2016
20 June 2016

Dear Book Doctor,

Recently I’ve moved to the West coast of the US and it seems like everyone here is a vegan or a vegetarian. I don’t mind the idea of a vegetarian lifestyle, but I run 4-5 times a week and lift weights. I’m also training for a half marathon. What books are out there on vegetarian lifestyle/vegetarian athletics? Will I risk making myself sick if I do go vegan?


Dear Sam,

Ah, the West Coast. I hope that means you get some ocean and sunshine in addition to a lot of quinoa bowls, coconut water, and more-than-decent Mexican food!

Now. I’ve personally known a vegan bodybuilder. From what I could tell (and from how he placed in his competitions), I can report that an all-vegetable lifestyle is more than adequate for someone superhumanly athletic. Somebody else who can tell you this is Joel Fuhrman.

Fuhrman is an American physician and nutritional researcher who specializes in natural nutrition to prevent disease. Much of that research has been poured into his book Eat to Live. In it, Fuhrman explains that a plant-based diet can indeed fulfill all of your body’s nutrient and energy needs. What’s more, all the important vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals can actually only be found in high concentration in plant-based foods. And this, Sam, is why Fuhrman’s way of eating isn’t really called vegetarianism or even veganism (though it functionally is). He’s coined it something new: nutritarianism.

Fuhrman focuses hard on nutrient density, and the higher the ratio in any given food, the better the nutritional value. For example, dark leafy vegetables—like spinach, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli—and other greens, beans, legumes, and fruits are the most nutrient-rich foods. In terms of the nutrient density scale, such foods score between 50 and 100 points, while whole grains score 20 and refined sweets 0. Basically: natural, planty stuff is going to give you the most bang for your nutritional buck.

And if you’re concerned about protein and veganism, don’t be. Fuhrman shows that plant-based foods also contain a more-than-sufficient amount of protein for a healthy diet. Believe it or not, spinach is made of 51 percent protein (hey, Popeye!), while a cheeseburger or meatloaf is only 20 percent. Plus, if you make sure to factor in some seeds and nuts, which contain healthy fats like the essential omega-3, you’ll be covering all your bases.

Give it a try, but give the book a read first! You can start with the blinks to Eat to Live if you like. Full disclosure: this is the way the book doctor (a pretty healthy yogi/former athlete) usually eats, and she feels darn good. Maybe you will, too!

Happy greening up, Sam,
The Book Doctor

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