• A plant-based or vegan diet has known health benefits, but it can also harm bone strength.
  • A new study has investigated the role strength training plays in the bone health of people who follow a vegan diet.
  • The researchers found that vegans who regularly performed resistance exercise had better bone microstructure than vegans who did not do resistance training.
  • The study results suggest that people who adhere to a vegan or plant-based diet should perform resistance training regularly to maintain strong bones.

A vegan or plant-based diet is a dietary lifestyle that avoids all foods of animal origin, including meat, dairy, eggs, and often honey.

Plant-based or plant-based diets are growing in popularity, especially veganism. A 2018 news report estimates that the number of people in the United States identifying as vegan increased by 600% between 2014 and 2017. Additionally, the Good Food Institute reports that sales of plant-based foods increased from $4.9 billion in 2018 to $7.0 billion in 2020. .

Following a plant-based diet has known health benefits. A research report 2019 shows that a vegan diet can have positive effects on energy metabolism, weight and systemic inflammation.

Despite the benefits of going herbal, there can be downsides. A study 2020 found that non-meat eaters and vegans are more likely to experience bone fractures, particularly in the hip. Experts believe this may be related to the nutrient profile of an all-vegetable diet.

But new research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that resistance training may be essential for maintaining bone strength in people who follow a plant-based diet, even more so than nutrient intake.

In the study, Austrian researchers assessed the microarchitecture of trabecular bone and cortical bone of the radius and tibia in vegans and in those who followed an omnivorous diet for at least 5 years. They then examined the relationships between these bone microstructures and nutrition and physical exercise.

The scientists who conducted the study recruited 88 male and female participants for the research. They divided them into two groups: vegans and omnivores.

Both groups completed questionnaires regarding the types of sporting activities in which they regularly participated. Those who reported regularly resistance training at least once a week – using free weights, machines or bodyweight exercises – were placed in a subgroup. People who did not engage in resistance training were assigned to another subgroup.

Researchers assessed the bone microarchitecture of study participants using high-resolution peripheral quantitative computed tomography (RH-pQCT). They also looked at nutrient intake and serum markers of bone turnover.

After analyzing the data, the scientists found that study participants in the vegan group who did not participate in regular resistance training had significantly decreased bone microarchitecture compared to omnivores without resistance training.

However, scientists found little to no differences in bone structure between omnivores and vegans who regularly participated in strength training exercises.

The researchers also noted that bone structures differed between individuals who trained against resistance and those who did not train against resistance, and found greater variation among vegan participants.

Additionally, study results showed that vegans and omnivores who only performed aerobic exercise or did no physical activity had similar bone microarchitecture.

Additionally, the researchers found that bone microstructure was not influenced by how long a person had been on a vegan diet.

“Vegan participants who did strength-training exercises such as using machines, free weights, or bodyweight resistance exercises at least once a week had stronger bones than those who didn’t. fact,” study co-author Dr. Christian Muschitz, an associate professor at the University of Medicine. of Vienna and head of the metabolic bone disease unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital told Healthline.

“People who adhere to a vegan lifestyle should perform resistance training regularly to maintain strong bones.”

In addition to resistance training, nutrition may play a role in bone health for people following a plant-based diet.

The study authors report that protein, vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D intakes were adequate and similar between the resistance-training and non-resistance vegan groups.

However, they suggest that vegans consider taking vitamin B12 supplements and making sure they get enough plant protein in their diet to prevent bone loss.

According to Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, FAND, professor of nutrition at Boston University and host of the nutrition and health podcast, Spot On!, healthy bones need other nutrients, including:

“Fortunately, these nutrients are usually very easy to consume on a vegan diet,” she said.

Blake pointed out that other nutrients known to promote bone growth, including vitamin D and calcium, may be lacking in a diet that does not contain animal foods.

Yet it is possible to get these nutrients from a plant-based diet.

“One of the best plant sources of these two nutrients is fortified soy milk,” Blake said. “Keep in mind that not all plant-based milks will provide adequate sources of vitamins and calcium unless they are fortified.”

The Austrian study suggests that resistance exercise is essential for bone health in people following a vegan diet. Kelsey Butler, MSc, registered dietitian and nutritionist, agrees.

“Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are most beneficial because they help build and maintain bone density,” she told Healthline.

“Examples of weight-bearing exercises include walking, running, jogging, and stair climbing. Resistance exercises like lifting weights or using resistance bands can also help build bone density.

Butler said adding balance exercises to maintain coordination and muscle strength can also help prevent falls and bone fractures.

Although not specific to vegans, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults perform moderate-intensity muscle-strengthening exercises involving all major muscle groups 2 or more days per week.

Vegan diets can provide health benefits when the proper balance of nutrients is consumed from whole foods. But if meals aren’t well planned, this eating lifestyle can sometimes lack adequate nutrients for bone health.

According to the new research, people who follow a plant-based diet may have reduced bone strength compared to those who eat both plant-based and animal-based foods. However, scientists have found that regular resistance training can offset these differences.

While superior nutrition is essential, scientists recommend that people following a plant-based diet consider incorporating regular resistance training into their lifestyle to maintain bone health and strength.