Vegetarian Diets

Nutritional Considerations for Athletes

Abstract

The quality of vegetarian diets to meet nutritional needs and support peak performance among athletes continues to be questioned. Appropriately planned vegetarian diets can provide sufficient energy and an appropriate range of carbohydrate, fat and protein intakes to support performance and health. The acceptable macronutrient distribution ranges for carbohydrate, fat and protein of 45–65%, 20–35% and 10–35%, respectively, are appropriate for vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes alike, especially those who perform endurance events. Vegetarian athletes can meet their protein needs from predominantly or exclusively plant-based sources when a variety of these foods are consumed daily and energy intake is adequate. Muscle creatine stores are lower in vegetarians than non-vegetarians. Creatine supplementation provides ergogenic responses in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes, with limited data supporting greater ergogenic effects on lean body mass accretion and work performance for vegetarians. The potential adverse effect of a vegetarian diet on iron status is based on the bioavailability of iron from plant foods rather than the amount of total iron present in the diet. Vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes alike must consume sufficient iron to prevent deficiency, which will adversely affect performance. Other nutrients of concern for vegetarian athletes include zinc, vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin), vitamin D (cholecalciferol) and calcium. The main sources of these nutrients are animal products; however, they can be found in many food sources suitable for vegetarians, including fortified soy milk and whole grain cereals. Vegetarians have higher antioxidant status for vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E (tocopherol), and ß-carotene than omnivores, which might help reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress. Research is needed comparing antioxidant defences in vegetarian and non-vegetarian athletes.

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Notes

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    The use of trade names is for product identification purposes only and does not imply endorsement.

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Acknowledgements

No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review. The authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Correspondence to Dr Wayne W. Campbell.

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Venderley, A.M., Campbell, W.W. Vegetarian Diets. Sports Med 36, 293–305 (2006). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200636040-00002

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Keywords

  • Athletic Performance
  • Creatine Supplementation
  • Vegetarian Diet
  • Recommended Dietary Allowance
  • Vegan Diet