Breaking News on Supplements, Health & Nutrition - Europe US edition | APAC edition

News > Research

Read more breaking news



Vegetarian diet doesn’t compromise athletic performance: Study

By Annie-Rose Harrison-Dunn+

Last updated on 18-Nov-2016 at 13:45 GMT2016-11-18T13:45:33Z

'This study suggests that following a vegetarian diet may adequately support strength and cardiorespiratory fitness development, and may even be advantageous for supporting cardiorespiratory fitness.' ©iStock/petrenkod
'This study suggests that following a vegetarian diet may adequately support strength and cardiorespiratory fitness development, and may even be advantageous for supporting cardiorespiratory fitness.' ©iStock/petrenkod

Vegetarian diets do not compromise athletic performance and may even help aerobic capacity, according to a study comparing elite vegetarian and omnivore athletes.

There has been increasing interest in meat-free diets in recent years, with more and more people interested in switching from animal to plant sources of protein for health, sustainability and ethical reasons.

Yet researchers at the Arizona State University in the US said despite well-documented health benefits of vegetarian diets, little research had been done on the impact on athletic performance.  

According to 2015 Mintel research in Germany, while only 7% of adults claim to follow a vegetarian diet, more than a third (33%) say they are actively reducing their red meat consumption and 19% say they are incorporating more vegetarian foods into their diet compared to a year ago.

Less protein, more antioxidants

“In spite of the many health aspects of vegetarian diets some concern has been raised pertaining to the nutrient adequacy of vegetarian diets for
supporting athletic performance,” they wrote in the journal Nutrients.

“Vegetarian diets are typically lower in vitamin B12, protein, creatine, and carnitine, and iron and zinc from plant sources are less bioavailable than from meat sources. However, vegetarian diets are typically higher in carbohydrate and antioxidants, which may be advantageous for athletic performance, particularly for endurance activities.”

Looking at 27 vegetarian and 43 omnivore elite adult endurance athletes, they tracked maximal oxygen uptake (VO2) on a treadmill and strength in leg extensions.

Tracking performance


Detailed seven-day food logs showed that although total protein intake was lower among vegetarians in comparison to the meat-eaters, protein intake as a function of body mass did not differ.

Comparing the results of the strength and VO2 tests, they found vegetarian women had better results while for men there was no significant difference between the vegetarians and meat-eaters.

The female vegetarians had a 13% greater VO2 maximum score than their meat-eating competitors.  

“This gender difference is intriguing and merits further investigation in future studies,” they wrote. 

Peak torque, or force, in the leg extensions were not significantly different between the two diet groups.

Backing for vegetarianism

“This study suggests that following a vegetarian diet may adequately support strength and cardiorespiratory fitness development, and may even be advantageous for supporting cardiorespiratory fitness,” the researchers wrote.  

“Certainly many factors affect an athlete’s sports performance, and there is no dietary substitute for quality training. However, our study contributes to the literature about cardiorespiratory and strength comparisons between vegetarian and omnivore endurance athletes, and may provide a rationale about the adequacy of vegetarian diets for sport performance.” 

Organisations like the Vegan Society have said high profile cases of vegan and vegetarian sportspeople have helped cast off outdated stereotypes of pasty protein and iron-deprived animal lovers.

“Vegan athletes play an integral part in furthering the [vegan] movement. From Carl Lewis in the early 1980’s to the Williams sisters in tennis today, there have been so many influential vegan athletes. Their success has shown everyone that you simply don’t need animal products to compete at the very top of any sport,” Vegan Society media manager, Jimmy Pierce, told us in the past .

The Arizona researchers called for larger trials to confirm the conclusions.


Source: Nutrients 

2016, 8(11), 726, doi:10.3390/nu8110726

“Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Peak Torque Differences between Vegetarian and Omnivore Endurance Athletes: A Cross-Sectional Study”

Authors: H. M. Lynch, C. M. Wharton and C. S. Johnston 

Related products

Live Supplier Webinars

Polyphenols tipped to become the way to innovate in Sports Nutrition
Orally bioavailable standardized botanical derivatives in sport nutrition: special focus on recovery in post-intense physical activities
Collagen in motion: move freely and keep your injuries in check
Leading manufacturer of gelatine and collagen peptides
Life’s too short for slow proteins. Whey proteins hydrolysates: Fast delivery for enhanced performance
Arla Foods Ingredients
What it Takes to Compete and Win in Today’s Sports Nutrition Market
Sports Nutrition Snapshot: Key regional drivers and delivery format innovations
William Reed Business Media
Gutsy performance: How can microbiome modulation help athletes and weekend warriors
William Reed Business Media
Pushing the boundaries: Where’s the line between ‘cutting edge nutrition’ and doping
William Reed Business Media
Alpha & Omega in Sports Nutrition – Using Omega 3’s and A-GPC to improve performance and recovery.
KD Pharma

On demand Supplier Webinars

High-amylose maize starch may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes: what does this qualified health claim mean?
Balancing Innovation and Risk in Sports Nutrition Ingredients
Explaining bio-hacking: is there a marketing opportunity for food companies?
William Reed Business Media
Personalized Nutrition – how an industry can take part in shaping the future of Nutrition
BASF Nutrition & Health
Find out Nutritional and ingredient lifecycle solutions and strategies!
Is the time rIpe for I-nutrition?
William Reed Business Media
The Advantage of Outsourcing Fermentation-based Manufacturing Processes
Evonik Health Care
All supplier webinars