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Vegetarians Rock Athletic Performance

vegetarians rock athletic performance

Many people believe that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet can have a negative effect on athletic performance, even though there are thousands of professional athletes who have chosen this lifestyle. Now a new study has examined the impact of a vegetarian diet on athletic performance in elite adult endurance athletes.


Venus Williams, Hank Aaron, Tony Gonzalez, Phil Mickelson, Ricky Williams, Carl Lewis, and Patrik Baboumian—all of these professional athletes have one thing in common: they follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Their dietary choices have not kept them out of the game!

Study of vegetarian diet and athletic performance

At Arizona State University, a team of researchers recruited 27 vegetarian and 43 omnivore male and female adult endurance athletes. Twenty-four of the vegetarians had followed their diet for more than two years, and 15 of the vegetarians were vegans (nine men and six women).

All of the participants were asked to keep a comprehensive food diary for seven days before they were tested for maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and strength, which was assessed using a dynamometer to identify peak torque for leg extensions. Here’s what the investigators discovered about the dietary intake and athletic performance potential for each of the groups:

  • Both groups had similar caloric intake, but the vegetarians consumed more fiber, carbs, and iron daily compared with omnivores
  • Omnivores consumed more saturated fat, cholesterol, selenium, protein, and vitamin B12 than did vegetarians
  • Body fat percentages were similar between the two groups
  • Strength was similar between the two groups
  • VO2 max was better for vegetarian females, but not vegetarian males, than for omnivores

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These findings indicate that the cardiorespiratory fitness level of the vegetarian endurance athletes was superior to that of their omnivore peers and that they were similar on peak torque. The authors thus concluded that consuming a vegetarian diet does not compromise athletic performance and may even have an advantage regarding aerobic capacity.

Read about pea protein as a vegetarian protein source

Lynch HM et al. Cardiorespiratory fitness and peak torque differences between vegetarian and omnivore endurance athletes: a cross-sectional study. Nutrients 2016; 8(11): 726

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