Vegetarian Diet in Sport: An Asset or a Stone in the Shoe?

It will be possible to practice a vegetarian diet in sport? What are the implications? This and other answers in our article!

Vegetarian Diet in Sport An Asset or a Stone in the Shoe

For decades, the terms sport and vegetarianism were considered to be incompatible. However, we are witnessing, currently, the membership increasing to a vegetarian diet in sportand, increasingly, the athletes who get good sports results, without resorting to the ingestion of foods of animal origin.

Indeed, in recent years, the vegan diet in sport high performance has been studied, having, apparently, gathered consensus, which produces negative impact on the physical performance of athletes, and may even improve it.

However, and as in any other type of diet, it is necessary a good planning and caution in their adoption, since, otherwise, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies and may negatively affect the sports performance.


A vegetarian diet incorporates either exclusively or almost exclusively products of plant origin, being each time more people that adopt this type of dietary pattern.

On the basis of this dietary pattern are, usually, fruit, vegetables, cereals, legumes, nuts and seeds, preferably local, seasonal and minimally processed.

In general, there are 3 major types of vegetarian diet: the standard lacto-ovo vegetarian, the standard lacto-vegetarian and the vegan.

  • The food lacto-ovo vegetarian excludes meat, fish, poultry, and products derived from these, allowing, however, eggs and dairy products.
  • The standard lacto-vegetarian excludes, in addition to the foods mentioned for the lacto-ovo vegetarian, the egg and the remaining egg-products.
  • The veganism, also known as strict vegetarianism is a type of vegetarianism that excludes all foods of animal origin or produced from animals (including eggs, dairy and honey).

As such, it is necessary to take into account that there is a substantial difference in nutrition among athletes who practice an ovo-lacto-vegetarian (includes milk, eggs, and dairy products), and those who practice a vegan diet.

In all cases, the diet has to be well-considered because certain nutrients usually of animal origin (protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12 and D) may be in deficit.



In spite of vegetarian diets to be able to provide a value sufficient energy, generally provide less energy than the diets omnívoras, and it is, therefore, necessary to monitor the intake of the athletes vegetarians.

In addition, as this type of diet has elevated levels of fiber, the energy available decreases, because the greater part of the fibers is not digestible.


Usually vegetarian diets contain less protein that the omnívoras, although you can accomplish with relative ease to the recommendations recommended.

The recommendation of protein for athletes, vegetarians round 1.3 and 1.8 g / Kg of weight/day, from a wide variety of protein sources vegetables, so as to promote the maintenance and gains in muscle mass.

In this sense, the vegetarian diet, since that diversified is able to provide proteins of high biological value through the eggs, dairy products, or by the complementarity of amino acids provided by various plant proteins.

An example of this complementarity of amino acids is the combination of cereals, such as brown rice, and legumes, such as beans or grain. The purpose of this mixing is to increase the amount of essential amino acids and branched-chain, important for muscle recovery, protein synthesis, and inhibition of muscle catabolism.

In addition to the protein sources of vegetable origin, today, there are also numerous supplements of vegetable protein available, including soy, pea and hemp, to which the athlete can use to increase the protein intake.


As the vegetarian diet is based on foods rich in carbohydrates (whole grains, pseudo-cereals (like quinoa and buckwheat), nuts/oleaginous, leguminous seeds), it may become advantageous in terms of recovery and the restoration of the levels of glycogen in the muscle and liver, essential for good sports performance.

As such, a vegetarian diet in the sport can even promote a better restoration of glycogen stores and energy by comparison to a diet omnívora.


Vegetarian diets contain equal or greater amount of iron than other diets that include animal products. However, it is a type of iron whose absorption is much lower (iron not eme).

To overcome this issue, the athlete should eat foods fortified with this mineral, such as breakfast cereals, as well as wholemeal bread, pulses, dried fruits and green leafy vegetables, accompanied by foods rich in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, because this vitamin increases the bioavailability of iron not eme.

Allied to this, you should still avoid combine the intake of iron-rich foods with foods that inhibit the bioavailability of this mineral such as, for example, tea, coffee and carbonated soft drinks.


Mainly the athletes and vegans should take extra care with vitamin B12, a vitamin source, mostly animal.

Within the plant foods, the athlete can find vitamin B12 in seaweed and fermented products, however, in the vast majority of cases, it will be recommended for supplementation, since the deficit of this vitamin can impair physical performance.


Zinc is another mineral whose ingestion is also generally lower in the athletes, vegetarians, mainly in the vegan. It is, therefore, necessary to increase the intake of foods rich in zinc, namely, cereals, grains, nuts, seeds and soy.


Particularly in the case of veganism, such as dairy products and eggs are excluded, the intake of calcium and vitamin D may be compromised.

In this context, and in order to avoid the lack of these nutrients, the athlete must obtain calcium from plant foods such as tofu, nuts, beverages, vegetable-fortified, green leafy vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts.

With respect to vitamin D, if sun exposure is reduced, it may be necessary to resort to fortified foods and/or supplementation.


The vegetarian diet, by itself, is rich in food properties, antioxidants and phytochemicals, helping to reduce the oxidative stress induced by exercise.

In this sense, a vegetarian diet in sport it seems to help counteract more efficiently the harmful effects of free radicals produced by exercise and may be beneficial also in terms of injury prevention and recovery after the effort, being, however, a need for more research in this field.


About the costs of a vegetarian diet, this can even be more affordable than the omnívora, since foods such as potatoes, vegetables, and legumes are cheaper per kilo than meat or fish.

In addition, the food supply at the level of hypermarkets and restaurants is increasing, which allows to lower the cost of the products, mainly of alternative vegetables to meat and to milk and milk products.


A vegetarian diet in sport is a valid option for obtaining the maximum performance sports. However, and as a diet omnívora, need to be appropriate to the athlete and monitored over time.

To confirm or not this theory, there are several elite athletes, such as the american Carl Lewis or Lewis Hamilton, who lead the global rankings practicing a vegetarian diet.