Nutritional considerations for vegetarian athletes

Nutrition. 2004 Jul-Aug;20(7-8):696-703. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2004.04.015.


With the growing interest in the potential health benefits of plant-based diets, it is relevant to consider whether vegetarian dietary practices could influence athletic performance. Accordingly, this review examines whether nutrients that may differ between vegetarian and omnivorous diets could affect physical performance. We also describe recent studies that attempt to assess the effects of a vegetarian diet on performance and comment on other nutritional aspects of vegetarianism of relevance to athletes. Although well-controlled long-term studies assessing the effects of vegetarian diets on athletes have not been conducted, the following observations can be made: 1) well-planned, appropriately supplemented vegetarian diets appear to effectively support athletic performance; 2) provided protein intakes are adequate to meet needs for total nitrogen and the essential amino acids, plant and animal protein sources appear to provide equivalent support to athletic training and performance; 3) vegetarians (particularly women) are at increased risk for non-anemic iron deficiency, which may limit endurance performance; and 4) as a group, vegetarians have lower mean muscle creatine concentrations than do omnivores, and this may affect supramaximal exercise performance. Because their initial muscle creatine concentrations are lower, vegetarians are likely to experience greater performance increments after creatine loading in activities that rely on the adenosine triphosphate/phosphocreatine system. 5) Coaches and trainers should be aware that some athletes may adopt a vegetarian diet as a strategy for weight control. Accordingly, the possibility of a disordered eating pattern should be investigated if a vegetarian diet is accompanied by unwarranted weight loss.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Antioxidants / administration & dosage
  • Child
  • Creatine / administration & dosage
  • Diet, Vegetarian*
  • Dietary Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iron, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Nutritional Status
  • Physical Endurance / physiology
  • Physical Fitness / physiology
  • Sports / physiology*


  • Antioxidants
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Iron, Dietary
  • Creatine