Plant-based diet and sports performance: The first point made in the movie was through these US marine, Roman Gladiators and elite athletes that they feature, squashing the beliefs that you need meat and animal protein to excel in sports.
This scene tends to deliver two different messages depending on one’s perception, firstly, you DON’T need animal products to excel in your athletic performance, SECONDLY, TOP athletes are plant-based, which gives a feeling that plant-based diet actually enhances athletic performance to a greater extent than an omnivorous diet.
The first one, can you build muscles effectively or function optimally in sports performance on a plant-based diet? The answer is yes, ONLY if you are able to get enough vital nutrients like protein, iron, B12 that are commonly inadequate when a person goes full vegan. The ACSM Nutrition and Athletic Performance Position Statement states that well-planned vegetarian diet seems to effectively support parameters that influence athletic performance, although studies are limited.  But bear in mind, the key is well-planned vegetarian diet. Just take protein for example as it plays an important role in muscle recovery, the challenge is to get enough protein from plant protein sources, as well as a variety of it. For example, to get around 20 plus grams of protein, you can either consume a palm size of salmon/chicken/fish, or you need approx. 3 cups of plant protein like red beans/green beans/chickpeas of this size. Not to mention, to get a same amount of protein, you are getting more calories from plant-based protein sources, which is not the best thing for someone who is trying to lose weight.
Will plant-based diet provide GREATER benefit than omnivorous diet? The answer is no. A study from the ISSN showed no difference comparing two diets. It is claimed in the show that anti-inflammatory antioxidants aid in exercise recovery and performance. This has not been proven as an acute degree of inflammation is required after exercise to trigger adaptation, in certain cases, studies even show attenuation of these inflammation can lead to inability to adapt and improve.
The movie played a good role in using anecdotal evidence, real life stories and top-class athletes to uplift the importance of plant-based food products, which is a not-so-scientific, but convincing method employed to gain greater impact to audiences. Now you are star-struck and feel like you want to be like them. However, be cautious that these athletes may cautiously use supplements and planned regimens to ensure that various nutrients are in good amounts. And although I have nothing against their achievements, they may not necessarily be the top amongst elite level competitors – which are their meat-eater counterparts. Hence, a plant-based diet, when planned optimally, does not impose limitations, but neither does it carry a superior benefit than that of omnivorous diet.
- Plant-based diet and Heart Disease: This documentary also featured a scene where three individuals, having consumed chicken, beef burritos and plant-based burritos respectively, the individual who consumed meat shown a clouding effect in centrifuged blood, proceeding to claim that meat-based diet has unfavourable effect on endothelial functions. Endothelial function basically means how healthy is the internal lining of blood vessels. An unhealthy endothelial function is linked to heart problems.
Now you need to understand your body produce “carriers” to package fats when your body absorbs fats, the clouding effect is probably due to these effects and it doesn’t mean that it carries the same meaning as “clogging” your blood vessels or damaging your blood vessels. Another thing is that they did not reveal how much fats there are in the plant-based burrito, nor did they reveal the cooking method, so it can also be hard to compare that way. So let’s forget about how “beef or chicken” clouds your blood and makes you die from heart attack.
However, there are certain studies that suggest linkage of saturated fats to endothelial function. Hence, it is definitely in line with AHA’s recommendation that you limit saturated fats, usually present in high amounts in animal products, or depending on the oil you use. AHA also claims that a plant-based diet with more plant products and less animal products is associated with lower risk of death from heart conditions. But one thing to remember is that plant products refer to whole grains, fruits, vegetables, plant proteins but not “less-healthy” plant products such as imitation meat. And it doesn’t suggest that complete elimination of animal products is necessary. Mediterranean diet, which emphasises on fishes, olive oil is also proven to lower heart disease risk. This is because there are beneficial nutrients like omega-3 in fish that you can’t find in plant products.
So bear in mind, by limiting red meat, selecting the right cut of white meat and fish, and controlling amount of oil you use, you can limit the amount of saturated fats you eat from animal products.
- Inflammation and meat:
Does meat cause inflammation? The documentary goes a bit deep in science to explain about various metabolites produced by body when you eat meat.
In line with various bodies’ recommendation to limit red meat such as pork, beef and lamb, certain studies suggest that red meat seems to contribute to a higher level of TMAO and others, chemical by-product in blood and linked to higher risk of heart disease. Also, emerging meta analyses reveals potential benefits in limiting inflammatory foods, such as processed meats, red meats specifically, as well as more anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, like what you can adopt in a Mediterranean diet or DASH diet. But do note that these studies are only at very preliminary stage, which means that nothing can be conclusive as of now.