Vegans outperform omnivores in endurance tests: Montreal researchers

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Despite routine questions about where they get their protein from, a new study by Montreal researchers suggests vegans have higher endurance levels than omnivores.

In a world where many believe the consumption of animal products is synonymous with strength, researchers from l’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) set off to find out if the vegan diet is as detrimental to muscle strength and endurance as society makes it seem. 

“It’s a popular belief, and I don’t believe in this, and this is why we decided to do the study,” said Guy Hajj Boutros, a lecturer at UQAM and researcher at McGill University who co-authored the study, in an interview with CTV News. Hajj Boutros has a master’s degree in exercise physiology.

“We saw that there aren’t a lot of studies done on this topic," Hajj Boutros said. "If there are, they’re done more on vegetarians. They didn’t focus on vegan diets.”

The researchers noted veganism’s recent rise in popularity, given the evidence of a decrease in cardiovascular diseases among vegan folks.

“Still, in the general population, there is a popular belief that a vegan diet may be associated with a lower exercise performance in vegan individuals due to the lack of certain nutrients such as protein, creatine, vitamin B12 and vitamin D,” reads the study, published in the Nature Research Journal at the beginning of April.  

The study found that in young, physically-active women, being vegan is not detrimental to muscle strength or endurance – in fact, when it comes to the latter, it's better. 

The researchers had 28 women who have been vegan for least two years and 28 omnivore women with similar body composition perform strength tests and endurance tests after asking them to log their meals for a period of three days. 

Hajj Boutros said they decided to use these tests because they're easy to perform and "can define strength and endurance, which is very important to measure performance in general."

One of the endurance tests is designed to see how long the person can keep going before they have to stop. 

“It’s a fatigue test,” Hajj Boutros said. “And the vegans actually performed better.” 

The reason vegans performed better could be because of their intake of carbohydrates, Hajj Boutros said. 

“When you eat more carbohydrates, you’re actually increasing the amount of sugar in the muscle. When you increase this, you have better endurance capacity.” 

Hajj Boutros said that despite popular belief, vegans actually do get all the nutrients they need to be healthy – and protein intake isn’t a problem. 

“You have to understand that you don’t need a lot of protein as everyone is saying,” he said, noting that while it is important, people tend to exaggerate. “In general, people eat a lot more protein than they need.” 

When people ask for advice regarding their diets – like whether or not they should be vegan, or if they should be eating eggs – Hajj Boutros says the choice is ultimately theirs. 

“Just do something that makes you feel better,” he said. “And if you try (being vegan) and it makes you feel better, then do it.” 

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