Research Shows Plant-Based Diets May Support Sports Performance


These days, many people are considering switching to a more plant-based diet, whether for health, environmental or ethical reasons. For performance-conscious runners, however, this decision isn’t always that easy. If you’re worried that eating less meat is affecting your running results, you can relax. A recent guide published in the Aspetar Sports Medicine Journal has shown that a well-designed plant-based diet containing fortified foods can provide adequate nutrition to support both your health and performance.

RELATED: Nutrition Tips for Vegetarian Runners

Plant-based vs vegan

The authors of the guide refer to a plant-based diet as being based on all or mainly plants, or in which foods of animal origin make up less than 10 to 20 percent of total energy consumption. This differs from veganism, which they define as “a movement for justice and a way of life that not only includes a strict PB diet, but also excludes the exploitation of animals in any form (e.g. clothing, entertainment) “. This way, not everyone who follows a plant-based diet is vegans, but all vegans consume a plant-based diet. Either way, research shows it can be a sustainable way to eat for athletes.


This is the big question on most people’s minds when considering switching to a herbal diet. The guide’s authors reviewed the available research on protein consumption and plant-based diets and concluded: Food is eaten and energy needs are met. In other words, as long as you’re eating enough to support your activity level, and you’re not just eating the same foods all the time, you’re probably getting enough protein.

The authors also address the idea of ​​complete and incomplete protein and argue that the terms are misleading when it comes to plant protein sources. “Ingesting protein from a variety of plant foods, over a 24 hour period, provides enough of all the much needed (essential) amino acids when energy needs are met,” they write. In addition, they include a helpful table that lists the main sources of plant-based protein, the top three being seitan, tempeh, and edamame.

Iron and zinc

Iron is another big concern for plant-based athletes, and the authors admit that those who forgo meat need to be more intentional in their consumption of iron-rich foods. Research shows that plant-based athletes generally consume the same amount of iron as their carnivorous counterparts through higher consumption of whole grains and legumes, but because our bodies do not also absorb iron from these sources, recommendations for plant-based athletes are 1.8 times higher. For this reason, women should be given 32 mg / day (vs. 18 mg / day) and men should aim for 14 mg / day (vs. 8 mg / day).

Plant sources of zinc are also harder for our bodies to absorb, so those who don’t eat meat may need 50% more zinc than omnivores.

Vitamin B12, Calcium and vitamin D

The authors concluded that due to the low bioavailability of these nutrients in plant-based foods, athletes who do not eat meat (or dairy, in the case of calcium) may need to include supplements in their diet to meet their daily needs. Of course, if you are considering supplementation, you should speak with a dietitian or doctor who can help you determine how much you need and point you in the right direction to make sure you are using a high quality product.

RELATED: 8 Ways Runners Can Make Their Meals Healthier

The bottom line

As long as you think about it and think about it, a plant-based diet can be just as healthy for athletes as a diet containing meat. If you are considering switching to a plant-based diet but are concerned that you may not be getting all the nutrients you need, talk to a dietitian who can help you develop a plan of action and set you up for success. You can also check out the full guide, which has a sample meal plan, here.

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