Vegetarian Athlete’s Diets Will Limit The Level Of Performance Achieved In Sport.

Vegetarian diets are part of a mainstream diet within some Western countries, to discuss this statement we must first understand what types of vegetarian diets there are the first is:

  1. Fruitarian – Diet consists of raw or dried fruits, nuts, seeds, honey and vegetable oil.
  2. Macrobiotic – Excludes all animal foods, dairy products and eggs. Uses only unprocessed, unrefined, ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ cereals, grains
  3. Vegan – Excludes all animal foods, dairy products and eggs. In the purest sense, excludes all animal products including honey, gelatine, silk, wool, leather and animal-derived food additives.
  4. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian – Excludes all animal foods and eggs. Does, however, include milk and milk products
  5. Ovovegetarian/lactovegetarian – Excludes all animal foods, however, includes milk, milk products and eggs.

Cox suggest that it is hard to collect dietary information on vegetarian athletes, due to small numbers of athletes choosing a vegetarian diet.

But studies have been done such as the survey by Cox based on female vegetarians compared to non female vegetarian, from this study its explained that vegetarian diets are high in fiber, which raises concerns that adequate kilojoules will not be met.  So what should a diet consist of for a non vegetarian Athlete


Clarke suggests that daily intake should consist of:

6 – 11 servings whole grain, bread, cereal, rise and pasta.

2 – 4 servings of fruit

3 – 5 servings of vegetables

2 – 3 lean meat, poultary, fish, dried beans, eggs, and nut.

2 – 3 low fat milk, yogurt and cheese

Saturated fats and sugars – use sparingly


Its important to understand that athletic performance depends on appropriate nutrition as previously said its important to understand the correct consumption of food via recommended daily allowances this will help determine the correct amount of macronutrients needed for athlete energy needs. Barr et al 2004 examines the impact of a vegetarian diet on athletic performance, looking at protein it has been suggested that protein intake is adequate to the total needed to provide equivalent support to athletic training and performance. The recommended daily allowance of protein intake for a healthy adult undertaking resistance and endurance is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight,    Meat alternatives such as legumes, dried beans and dried peas which are high in fiber and others such as nuts, tofu, tempeh, textured vegetable protein. Barr and Rideout, 2004 suggest that protein requirements are generally about the right recommended allowance.   The other micronutrient which was looked at is Carbohydrates  here the recommended allowance is 0.7 – 0.8g carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight,  Barr & Rideout suggest that there is no reason that a vegetarian or non vegetarian diet will not contain optimal carbohydrate intake. Its explained that this will be good for endurance athletes in particular.

The next section is micronutrients, Iron is an interesting area Larson, 1997 explains that there are very few studies to assess iron status in the body. Iron in vegetarians has been found to be low compared to omnivores, yet he explains that vegetarian can achieve proper iron status with the food they already eat. The concern with the vegetarian diet is that it has been found, to cause female athletes risk of iron deficiency anemia. particularly with endurance athletes.

Vitamin B12 is essential for life,  B12 has positive effects on its consumers and if there was a lack of B12 then the short time effect in performance would be nothing, but the long time effect of the of B12 would be increase macrocytic anemia, which is a reduction of oxygen transportation. A deficiency in B12 will contain signs such as:  tiredness, lethargy, feeling faint, becoming easily breathless.

Zinc is a low level for all athletes yet its important to understand that Zinc has no real affect on athletic performance but Larson, 1997 explains that more research will need to be completed to get a better picture of zinc and its affect. The last point in Zinc is that it is a much higher level in animal food compared to plant food.



There is evidence to suggest that vegans (and possibly vegetarians who consume little dairy products) may have lower calcium requirements due to their lower intakes of animal protein. For a healthy adult 800mg of calcium is the RDA. Low calcium intake has been associated with stress fractures and low bone density particularly with  amenorrhea female athletes, (amenorrhea is related to the suppression of normal menstrual flow). Female vegan athletes may need to add calcium supplements to meet their calcium requirements, particularly if amenorrhea is evident. Calcium intakes of lacto-vegetarians are comparable with or higher than those of non-vegetarians diets, whereas intakes of vegans tend to be lower than both groups and often below recommended intakes.

Calcium-rich plant foods include:  kale, collard and mustard greens, broccoli, soy beans, legumes, calcium-set tofu, fortified soymilk

Creatine Moderate is a supplement that many athlete are using to improve there performance a study by Lemon, 2002 concluded with three main point on creatine usage the first was that an effect was experienced when using the supplement the second was explaining that it was efficient when taking part in short bouts of exercise with a limited amount of rest. The third point made was training more intensely which will potentially enhance muscle growth.  Barr & Rideout, 2004 researched creatine supplementation within there study they explain that vegetarian athletes who rely on ATP/phosphocreatine system when exercising may have a greater benefit then omnivorous



From all the journals researched they explained there should be more studies to fully understand the benefits of a vegetarian diet if any and that education was important to fully understand they right plant food to consume. The main consensus of the studies support vegetarian diets, the following point are from the conclusions of these studies are as follows:  The American Dietetic Association’s opinion on vegetarian diets was that Vegetarian diets are healthy and nutritionally adequate when appropriately planned.  From the study by Nieman, 1999 the main point was that plant based diets are high in carbohydrate which will help facilitate prolonged exercise for example distance runners. One of the main points from Barr and Rideout’s study explained that appropriately supplemented vegetarian diets appear to effectively support athletic performance the second point was that there is no reason why a vegetarian or non vegetarian diet will not contain optimal carbohydrate intake. Cox explained that macronutrients are similar to that recommended for optimal sport performance. The last concluding point explained that by consuming high amounts of fruit, vegetables, and whole grain will provide a high amount of antioxidant nutrition which will reducing oxidative stress caused by heavy exertion. Oxidative stress can lead to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease. Martina Navratilova (Retired Tennis Champion) Billie Jean King (tennis champion) Bruce Lee,  Hank Aaron (home run champion in major league baseball)


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