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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


The Link Between a Vegetarian Diet and Athlete Endurance

Athletes train to perform at his or her best during major competitions. Everyday eating patterns must supply fuel and nutrients needed to optimize their performance during training sessions and to quickly recover. Athletes training for endurance sports have different training and fueling needs than those training for strength and power-oriented sports. Therefore, following different eating patterns has different effects on performance outcomes. 

Nutrition plays a key role in assisting distance athletes of all levels to achieve their training and competition goals. For decades, the general population believed that an endurance athlete needs to follow an omnivore diet in order to supply all their nutrients requirements. However, a study published in “Nutrients” found that both vegetarian and omnivores diets can support athletic performance.

The study included an equal number of omnivore and vegetarian athletes between 21–58 years old. Participants completed a health history questionnaire and were excluded if they had any chronic illness. Researchers assessed participant’s diet, their body composition, strength, as well as aerobic capacity and discovered that physical activity levels were 20 percent higher for vegetarians than omnivores. Female vegetarians had a lower total body mass and greater aerobic capacity when compared to female omnivores, but their body fat and oxygen utilization were similar. This study concluded that following a vegetarian diet may adequately support strength and cardiorespiratory fitness development, and may be advantageous for cardiorespiratory fitness. These results suggest that vegetarian diets do not compromise performance outcomes and can facilitate aerobic capacity in athletes.

It’s important to note that any vegetarian or vegan diet must be well balanced and vegan diets must have reliable sources of vitamin B-12, such as fortified foods or supplements to ensure zinc, selenium and other key nutrients. According the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vegetarian diets have proven to be appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes.

Endurance athlete’s strategies should include carbohydrate and fluid intake before, during, and after a workout to help reduce fatigue and enhance performance. Eating protein and some micronutrients will help during the recovery process after a race.

It should be noted that if vegetarian/vegan diets are not in your plans, no worries. Focus your time and energy in following a Mediterranean diet, which is also a Plant-Based Diet. The Mediterranean diet has proven several health benefits including reduction in cardiovascular disease, inflammation and much more!

To learn more about nutrition and fitness for vegetarian eating patterns click here.          

To learn more about Mediterranean Diet click here

Have a wonderful weekend,

Karen Alexander, BSND, MSCN

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