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August 20th, 2010
08:58 AM ET

Will eating meat help recovery after long runs?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Fridays, it's physician nutrition specialist Dr. Melina Jampolis.

Question asked by Michele of Manchester, New Hampshire: I have been a vegetarian and long-distance runner for about nine years. I am now wondering if re-introducing meat into my diet will help with recovery after long runs/races and improve my endurance and speed.

If I did begin eating meat again, what can I expect to see in terms of gains regarding running?

Expert answer:: Hi Michele - In order to answer your question, I turned to a leading sports nutritionist, Nancy Clark M.S., R.D., author of "The Sports Nutrition Guidebook" and "Nancy Clark's Food Guide for Marathoners." Here is her response along with a few points that I've added in.

Re-introducing meat will help you if:

1. You are iron deficient. Iron deficiency anemia can certainly slow you down and contribute to needless fatigue. It is more common in female athletes due to menstrual blood loss. Your body needs iron to make red blood cells that help transport oxygen from your lungs to your working muscles. Red meat is an excellent source of iron. White meat and seafood are also good sources of iron. While vegan foods, such as spinach, almonds, lentils and tofu offer some iron, the iron from plant foods does not boost iron stores as effectively. Combining plant-based sources of iron with vitamin C rich foods including oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, tomatoes and green peppers helps increase the absorption of iron.

To assess your iron status, I recommend you talk with your doctor about getting your blood tested for serum ferritin. This will let you know if your iron stores are depleted. If so, depleted iron stores will hurt your performance. You'll notice a big improvement when you both eat red meat and take iron pills (supplements are usually necessary to get out of the iron-deficient status but usually do not need to be consumed long term). If you take iron supplements, make sure to take them separately from calcium supplements, which can interfere with their absorption.

2. You are protein deficient.

Sometimes vegetarians eat too little plant protein; this hinders recovery from hard exercise. Each time you exercise, you create tiny bits of muscle damage. Protein is involved in the repair and growth of muscles. You'll get more from your workouts if your muscles can grow to their potential.

Red meat (and white meat) are also sources of natural creatine. Vegan athletes tend to have lower creatine stores than athletes who eat meat. Creatine assists with recovery from repeated hard exercise. Hence, you might find your recovery better from track workouts and weight lifting.


soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. peace

    I don't eat meat.

    August 22, 2010 at 17:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Swamprattler

    Armstrong lost the testicle from that stupid seat on bicycles, tests have proven that already. if you have any clue about the location of the prostate gland in men, that goofy looking seat compresses right on it. if you ride a bike at least get a "saddle" seat like I had on my bike as a kid. The cheeks of your butt supports the weight.

    August 22, 2010 at 17:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Swamprattler

      btw, a saddle seat is available in vegan hide

      August 22, 2010 at 17:46 | Report abuse |
  3. Glenn

    Not sure they always positively link cause and effect in these sciences. Could it be that people who eat meat also care less about their caloric intake (in general) and therefore are more prone to be obese anyway? Maybe it has nothing to do with the meat. And maybe their being obese in and of itself is a cancer risk since the obese body has more cells which can go cancerous. I'm not sold on the meat = cancer science just yet. I'd like to know if the meat/cancer studies first made sure the study subjects weighed the same. Lions don't die of cancer (ok I can't back that up).

    August 22, 2010 at 21:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tumeria Langlois

    I am a certified personal trainer, hold a BS in Physical Education/Exercise Specialist and have worked in the fitness industry for over 25 years. I have also been vegan for the past 10 years. I can promise you that you are NOT protein deficient. The average American including vegetarians and vegans consume a lot more protein than your body could ever use. It is in virtually all foods. The only protein deficient people are those who are literally starving to death. If you are concerned about iron, eat more spinach and other leafy greens as well as beans. Meat will actually hinder your exercise recovery time. It will make your body more acidic. Studies have proven this. Vegan athletes are more alkaline. I know from my experience that I recover better now at age 50 than I did when I was 30 and eating animal protein. Animal protein also contains saturated fat and cholesterol which will damage your health over time. I urge you to remain vegetarian for your health, the animals and the environment. Google Robert Cheeke (Vegan body builder)and Brendan Brazier(vegan world class triathlete) They can give you valuable nutritional information.

    August 22, 2010 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • speedro

      Ooh, BS in Phys Ed.

      August 23, 2010 at 16:34 | Report abuse |
    • matt

      I'm more muscular than Robert Cheeke and I'm no "bodybuilder", just a dude who lifts weights. I find it hilarious that people post guys like these as examples of successful vegan athletes.

      October 31, 2010 at 20:05 | Report abuse |
  5. Wet Wolf

    Carbs are more important.

    http://www.theomep.com

    August 23, 2010 at 16:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. larry

    Here's a good video on meat: http://meat.org

    August 26, 2010 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Chantel

    Having a sufficient amount of protein is crucial for any athlete or fitness enthusiasts and it can actually be found in certain types of meat. People like to rule most meats as unhealthy or fatty. In reality that couldn't be further from the truth. Grass-fed beef and other grass-fed ruminant meats such as bison, buffalo, lamb, and venison are some of the healthiest forms of meat you can possibly eat.

    August 30, 2010 at 09:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. jf

    Hemp protein is a complete protein and contain EFA in the correct ratio for our body plus fiber, seems perfect for vegans. The hemp seed is actually a perfect food for anyone.

    September 3, 2010 at 13:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Kelly

    The protein argument is grossly inaccurate. Plants have loads of protein, just one cup of cooked soybeans alone has 29 grams. What people should be interested in is the fact that the average American ingests TOO MUCH protein which leads to osteoporosis and kidney failure. The meat industry has invested billions to get you to believe you NEED their products. If you don't believe me, research any one of the things I've mentioned for yourself.

    September 11, 2010 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • matt

      There is no evidence that eating large amount of protein is harmful for anyone except for people who have pre-existing kidney issues. I challenge you to find me a study that says otherwise. Also if you do a proper resistance training program you'll never have to worry about osteoporosis.

      October 31, 2010 at 20:00 | Report abuse |
  10. Peter

    If you need to know more about iron intake and boosting iron in your diet have a look at http://www.ironrichfoods.info which really is a great source on all iron relate issues including low iron symptoms and plenty of recipes for iron rich foods.

    September 12, 2010 at 12:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Average Teen

    Come check out http://averageteen13.blogspot.com/

    November 21, 2010 at 13:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.