Are Vegetarian Diets Appropriate for Athletes?

5 Dec

vegetarian_diets[1]Vegetarian diets have grown in popularity, over the past several years.  They have been associated with a number of health benefits including: lower risk of heart disease-related death, improved cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, lower rates of type 2 diabetes, lower body mass index, and lower rates of certain cancers, according to several studies.

But, aside from their effects on overall health, how do vegetarian diets affect athletic performance?

Here’s a nice resource from Thomas M. Best, MD, PhD, FACSM, of The Ohio State University.  Dr. Best’s article is titled, Vegetarian Diets For The Physically Active Individual.

Appropriate macronutrient consumption — carbohydrate, fat, and protein — is important for vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes.

Among the concerns related to vegetarian diets for athletes are inadequate intake of protein, creatine, ironzinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium.  Deficiency of these nutrients will adversely affect performance.

  • “Protein recommendations for vegetarian athletes are slightly higher due to the decreased digestibility of plant foods.”
  • “Exercise-induced muscle damage is commonly experienced after physical activity, and different studies showed that the amount of protein consumed seems to affect its magnitude.”
  • “The vegetarian athlete who restricts meat intake may have an altered iron status when compared to non-vegetarian athletes even with similar amounts of dietary iron intake.”

According to the author, “The currently available evidence supports neither a beneficial nor a detrimental effect of a vegetarian diet on physical performance capacity…”


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