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Fitness Master: The title misleads, but this nutrition handbook’s a worthwhile read

A review of The Vegan Athlete’s Nutrition Handbook (Hatherleigh Press, 2023) by Nichole Dandrea-Russert, MS, RDN, that doesn’t immediately address its title will assuredly lose readers. Lots and lots of readers.

For whether you see yourself as an athlete or not, there’s only about a 4% chance you’re a vegan, according to a Statista survey released in January. So why should you (or, for that matter, about 96% of all U.S. adults) bother to read a review of a book - let alone the book itself - about something seemingly targeted to help someone you’re not?

Because not just vegan athletes benefit from learning more about the nuts and bolts of nutrition. And your grocery store purchases over the last few years may very well reflect the growing trend of “reducing animal consumption and trying plant-based or vegan foods,” a trend that has led to record growth in their sales.

Moreover, it would be helpful to know how to create versions of these store-bought foods in your own kitchen since, record growth or not, they can certainly be pricey.

All this just about guarantees that The Vegan Athlete’s Nutrition Handbook will be for you what it was for me. A worthwhile read.

Over the years, I’ve done more than my fair share of research not only to create close to 2,500 health-based articles, but also to optimize the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet I’ve followed since 1979. Yet I learned something important to my diet from Dandrea-Russert immediately - so early in the book, in fact, the page has a Roman numeral rather than an Arabic one at the bottom.

There she explains the belief that the heme iron found in meat is superior to the non-home iron in planted-based foods is, in essence, a myth. That “plant-based iron can be just as available when paired with a vitamin C food.”

Regardless of the type of diet you follow (unless it’s a hardcore keto diet), you’ll learn a lot that can be applied to it in this book - without ever feeling Dandrea-Russert’s trying to turn you into a vegan. In the final segment of the preface, for instance, she stresses diet “does not have to be all or nothing.”

And you’d never confuse her with an over-the-top evangelist when she lists the advantages to a vegan or plant-based diet. Her tone is measured, matter of fact.

“Simply eating more plant-based foods can fuel your workouts, expedite recovery, improve sleep, support immunity, create a healthy mindset and more.”

And since alerting, rather than converting, is Dandrea-Russert’s primary goal, she devotes a good deal of her book to what I previously called the nuts and bolts of nutrition. That’s why this book could be - dare I say should be - more than just an intriguing one-time read for you.

While its scope is broad, the individual chapters are concise and easy to follow, which makes it a prime candidate to become your go-to nutrition handbook, one that’s especially effective when you need a quick refresher.

Can’t quite recall why the micronutrient magnesium is so important in any diet? The two and a half pages of The Vegan Athlete’s Nutrition Handbook that begin the chapter by that name will remind you.

And then, if you are also interested in getting more of that micro by consuming plant foods, there’s a half page about how to do that and a top-sources list.

In all, there are seven similar chapters on key micronutrients and six on the macros. How all these nutrients affect your microbiome is addressed when relevant.

For those who already adhere to a vegan diet or simply want to eat more plant-based foods, there are plenty of recipes as well as an overall eating program.

There’s also a subsection titled “Vegan Athlete Focus Topics,” but just like name of the book, that title’s a bit misleading. All four chapters in it - bone health, performance and recovery, sleep, and supplements - contain important-to-know information relevant to any type of dieter or exerciser.

Knowing about phytonutrients, for example, helps anyone. In the chapter devoted to performance and recovery, Dandrea-Russert provides basic information on the phytos and then shows how they help you recover from the inevitable inflammation that accompanies ambitious exercise.

In the supplements chapter, she makes it clear how caffeine can be used to improve workouts and explains why drinking green tea to get your dose often produces other benefits.

To start this review, I mentioned how I learned something new and valuable from The Vegan Athlete’s Nutrition Handbook immediately - before, in fact, the preface ends. To say I learned new and valuable stuff often after that is true and more than a symmetrical way to end.

It’s an enticement for you to read the book.

Though my use of “enticement” is like the title of the book, a bit misleading when all reading it could do is help your health.