Can plant-based diets improve body composition?
Plant-based (vegetarian or vegan) diets have grown in prominence in recent years both among the general population and professional athletes as well. People may avoid meat products for environmental reasons, ethical concerns, and health benefits as well. Can adopting this kind of diet partially or in full actually improve your health and body composition? In particular, is it a good idea to try it if you have a very active lifestyle and need a lot of energy to bring you through each day?
This research conducted by scientists in Italy (published in the Progress in Nutrition journal) studied the effect of plant-based diets on body composition in athletes, checking to see if it was adequate in comparison with an omnivorous diet.
The athletes were followed for 8 months under a structured diet, and BIA measurements were conducted regularly. The result was that "All subjects, especially vegans, showed an improvement in cellular efficiency, muscle mass, and a re-distribution of body water thanks to a better distribution of macronutrients with dietary plans."
So the good news is that you can indeed develop good body composition regardless of if your diet is plant-based or omnivore, and that plant-based diets are not necessarily at a disadvantage in this regard.
Of course, it's important to remember that a key aspect of this study was the fact that the athlete's diets were well-structured. Potato chips and soft drinks may be vegetarian or vegan, but that doesn't mean they're good for you! Regardless of your dietary habits, you need to ensure that your nutritional intake is suitable for your needs.