Physical fitness and vegetarian diets: is there a relation?

Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):570S-575S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/70.3.570s.


The available evidence supports neither a beneficial nor a detrimental effect of a vegetarian diet on physical performance capacity, especially when carbohydrate intake is controlled for. Concerns have been raised that an emphasis on plant foods to enhance carbohydrate intake and optimize body glycogen stores may lead to increases in dietary fiber and phytic acid intake to concentrations that reduce the bioavailability of several nutrients, including zinc, iron, and some other trace minerals. There is no convincing evidence, however, that vegetarian athletes suffer impaired nutrient status from the interactive effect of their heavy exertion and plant-food based dietary practices to the extent that performance, health, or both are impaired. Although there has been some concern about protein intake for vegetarian athletes, data indicate that all essential and nonessential amino acids can be supplied by plant food sources alone as long as a variety of foods is consumed and the energy intake is adequate. There has been some concern that vegetarian female athletes are at increased risk for oligoamenorrhea, but evidence suggests that low energy intake, not dietary quality, is the major cause. In conclusion, a vegetarian diet per se is not associated with improved aerobic endurance performance. Although some concerns have been raised about the nutrient status of vegetarian athletes, a varied and well-planned vegetarian diet is compatible with successful athletic endeavor.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anthropometry
  • Diet, Vegetarian*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / metabolism
  • Energy Intake
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Fitness*
  • Sports*


  • Dietary Carbohydrates