Why strength training is important if you’re on a vegan diet

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Lifting weights or doing resistance training can be crucial for stronger bones. Javier Diez/Stocksy
  • Researchers studied the effects of strength training on bone density in vegans.
  • They found that vegans who did some form of resistance training, such as lifting weights, had similar bone density to omnivores who did weight training.
  • They recommend vegans include resistance training as part of a plant-based lifestyle.

Veganism is a growing practice, with the number of people following a vegan diet or lifestyle in the United States increasing by approximately 1% in 2014 at around ten% in 2022.

However, in addition to its health benefits, research has also indicated a link between the vegan diet and greater susceptibility to fractures and low bone mineral density.

Studies show that resistance training can stimulate bone formation, while others sports such as cycling or swimming do not affect bone mineral density.

Knowing how different forms of physical activity affect bone mineral density in vegans could help inform public health recommendations.

Recently, researchers assessed the bone microarchitecture of matched vegans and omnivores.

They found that vegans who did resistance training had higher bone mineral density than vegans who did aerobic exercise or no exercise at all.

They also found that vegans and omnivores who did resistance training had similar bone structures.

“Veganism is a global trend with a sharply growing number of people around the world adhering to a purely plant-based diet,” said Dr Christian Muschitzfrom St. Vincent’s Hospital Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna in Vienna, Austria, one of the study’s authors.

“Our study showed that resistance training offsets reduced bone structure in vegans compared to omnivores. People who adhere to a vegan lifestyle should perform resistance training regularly to preserve bone strength.
— Dr. Christian Muschitz

The study was published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

For the study, researchers recruited 43 healthy, non-obese men and women who had been on a plant-based diet for at least five years. They also recruited 45 non-obese men and women who had been on an omnivorous diet for at least five years.

They assessed each participant’s bone mineral density via a noninvasive imaging technique known as peripheral high-resolution quantitative computed tomography (HR-pQCT).

They also took fasting blood samples from the participants and asked them to complete questionnaires detailing their diet and level of physical activity.

Nine women and 11 men from the vegan group reported training regularly in progressive resistance alongside 8 women and 17 men from the omnivore group.

“Resistance training isn’t just about lifting weights,” Dr. Sabrina Corbettaassociate professor in the Department of Biomedical, Surgical and Dental Sciences at the University of Milan, who was not involved in the study, said Medical News Today.

“Resistance training is a form of exercise aimed at increasing muscle strength and endurance. It involves exercising the muscles using some form of resistance. This resistance could be weights, bands or even your own body weight working against gravity,” she added.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that vegans who did no resistance training had significantly reduced bone microarchitecture compared to omnivores without resistance training.

However, they also noted that vegans who did resistance training at least once a week had similar bone structure to omnivores who also did resistance training.

They further noted that vegans who did exclusively aerobic activities had similar bone microarchitecture to vegans who did no sports.

The researchers also found that serum markers of bone turnover were within healthy ranges for both groups; however, the omnivorous group had significantly higher calcium levels.

To explain their findings, the researchers noted that lower calcium levels in the vegan group could be explained by lower calcium intake.

They also wrote that vegans who did strength training likely had higher bone mineral density due to progressive resistance training. mechanical stress which increases bone modeling.

Dr. Corbetta added that the benefits of resistance training on bone metabolism go beyond stimulating bone turnover. She noted that they also include modulation of the metabolism of various minerals, including calcium, phosphate and parathyroid hormone (PTH).

The researchers concluded that in addition to a well-planned diet, regular progressive resistance training should be part of the vegan lifestyle.

Dr. Corbetta noted that “a significant proportion of vegan subjects included in the study consumed supplements.”

“Adequate intake of vitamin D and B12 can only be achieved in vegans by consuming supplements or fortified foods. Vegans should pay particular attention, especially in postmenopausal age, to maintaining an adequate intake of all micronutrients known to be important for bone health.
— Dr. Sabrina Corbetta

Asked about the limitations of the study, Dr Corbetta said: “The study has an observational design, and [so a cause-effect relationship cannot] To be drawn. An interventional study should be designed and performed to demonstrate that resistance training can prevent the derangement of bone microarchitecture associated with the vegan diet.

Dr. Muschitz also said DTM that the study sample was too small to draw conclusions about a possible high risk of fragility fracture in vegans.