Venus Williams is generally regarded as one of the all-time greats of women's tennis. She is also a raw vegan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Vegetarian athletes can perform just as well — or even better — as meat-eaters, nutrition study finds

Venus Williams is generally regarded as one of the all-time greats of women's tennis. She is also a raw vegan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Venus Williams is generally regarded as one of the all-time greats of women’s tennis. She is also a raw vegan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Nutrition science looks confident that a vegetarian diet is health-wise superior to a meat-based diet. Forgoing meat lowers your risk of developing hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallstones, obesity and food-borne illness. However, there are few studies that measured the difference in performance associated with a vegetarian diet for athletes.

Are veggie athletes weaker than omnivore athletes? This is a question that a recent study set out to answer. The findings suggest that veggie athletes perform just as well as omnivores at strength tasks and have a superior cardiovascular fitness.

The team from Arizona State University recruited 27 vegetarian and 43 omnivore athletes, both male and female, and tracked their diets for one full week. The participants were then put through various strength and fitness tests.

According to the dietary data, total protein intake was lower among vegetarians in comparison to omnivores. When viewed through a body mass index (BMI) lens, however, the protein intake proved to be nearly identical. For both groups, the protein intake was roughly equal to 1.2 grams per kg of body mass. In terms of calory intake, again, both groups scored the same. Apparently, no matter what they chose to put in their mouths, both groups consumed the same amount of calories.

In the case of men, both vegetarians and meat eaters scored the same in terms of body fat percentages, and lean body mass. A notable distinction was that meat-eating men had significantly more visceral fat — the kind that gets deposited around the abdomen but also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

During leg extensions that established peak torque, both groups performed almost just as well. So despite veggie athletes do not eat bacon or steaks, they can be just as strong as other elite sportsmen, which might surprise some.

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The treadmill trial showed vegetarians had significantly higher VO2 max than omnivores, the body’s upper limit for consuming, distributing and using oxygen for energy production. The more VO2, the longer you can sustain physical activity.

Though far from being the final word, the study published in Nutriets suggests that not only is a vegetarian diet healthier, it’s also just as good as meat-based diets for elite physical activity. Hopefully, more physical parameters will be gauged in future studies.

It’s worth mentioning again that the participants of this study had the same protein intake function of BMI. Don’t worry — it’s not that difficult to find high-protein veggie foods. The list below might help.

High Protein Vegetables and Beans (source)

Description Weight (grams) Measure Protein Content per Measure (grams)
Alfalfa seeds, sprouted, raw 33 1 cup 1.32
Artichokes, (globe or French), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 120 1 medium 4.18
Asparagus, canned, drained solids 72 4 spears 1.54
Asparagus, cooked, boiled, drained 60 4 spears 1.55
Asparagus, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 180 1 cup 5.31
Avocados, raw, California 28.35 1 oz 0.60
Avocados, raw, Florida 28.35 1 oz 0.45
Beans, baked, canned, plain or vegetarian 254 1 cup 12.17
Beans, baked, canned, with franks 259 1 cup 17.48
Beans, baked, canned, with pork and sweet sauce 253 1 cup 13.43
Beans, baked, canned, with pork and tomato sauce 253 1 cup 13.05
Beans, black, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt 172 1 cup 15.24
Beans, Cowpeas (Blackeyes), immature seeds,  boiled, without salt 165 1 cup 5.23
Beans, Cowpeas (blackeyes), immature seeds, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 170 1 cup 14.43
Beans, Cowpeas, common (blackeyes, crowder, southern), mature seeds, 172 1 cup 13.30
Beans, great northern, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt 177 1 cup 14.74
Beans, Kidney beans, red, mature seeds, canned 256 1 cup 13.44
Beans, Kidney beans, red, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt 177 1 cup 15.35
Beans, Lima beans, large, mature seeds, canned 241 1 cup 11.88
Beans, Lima beans, large, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt 188 1 cup 14.66
Beans, Mung beans, mature seeds, sprouted, cooked, boiled,  without salt 124 1 cup 2.52
Beans, Mung beans, mature seeds, sprouted, raw 104 1 cup 3.16
Beans, Navy beans, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt 182 1 cup 15.83
Beans, Pinto beans, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt 171 1 cup 14.04
Soybeans, mature cooked, boiled, without salt 180 1 cup 22.23
Soybeans, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 172 1 cup 28.62
Beans, Snap beans, green, canned, regular pack, drained solids 135 1 cup 1.55
Beans, Snap beans, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 125 1 cup 2.36
Beans, White beans, mature seeds, canned 262 1 cup 19.02
Beet greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 144 1 cup 3.70
Beets, canned, drained solids 170 1 cup 1.55
Broccoli, raw 88 1 cup 2.62
Broccoli, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 156 1 cup 4.65
Beets, cooked, boiled, drained 170 1 cup 2.86
Beets, cooked, boiled, drained 50 1 beet 0.84
Cabbage, Chinese (pak-choi), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 170 1 cup 2.65
Cabbage, Chinese (pe-tsai), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 119 1 cup 1.79
Cabbage, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 150 1 cup 1.53
Cabbage, raw 70 1 cup 1.01
Cabbage, red, raw 70 1 cup 0.97
Cabbage, Savoy, raw 70 1 cup 1.40
Carrots, baby, raw 10 1 medium 0.08
Carrots, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 156 1 cup 1.70
Carrots, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 146 1 cup 1.74
Carrots, raw 110 1 cup 1.13
Cauliflower, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 124 1 cup 2.28
Cauliflower, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 180 1 cup 2.90
Cauliflower, raw 100 1 cup 1.98
Celery, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 150 1 cup 1.25
Celery, raw 120 1 cup 0.90
Corn, sweet, white, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 77 1 ear 2.56
Corn, sweet, yellow, canned, cream style, regular pack 256 1 cup 4.45
Corn, sweet, yellow, canned, vacuum pack, regular pack 210 1 cup 5.06
Corn, sweet, yellow, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 77 1 ear 2.56
Corn, sweet, yellow, frozen, kernels cut off cob, boiled, drained, without salt 164 1 cup 4.51
Corn, sweet, yellow, frozen, kernels on cob, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 63 1 ear 1.96
Cucumber, peeled, raw 119 1 cup 0.68
Cucumber, with peel, raw 104 1 cup 0.72
Dandelion greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 105 1 cup 2.10
Endive, raw 50 1 cup 0.63
Garlic, raw 3 1 clove 0.19
Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt 198 1 cup 17.86
Lettuce, cos or romaine, raw 56 1 cup 0.91
Lettuce, iceberg (includes crisphead types), raw 55 1 cup 0.56
Lettuce, looseleaf, raw 56 1 cup 0.73
Mushrooms, canned, drained solids 156 1 cup 2.92
Mushrooms, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 156 1 cup 3.39
Mushrooms, raw 70 1 cup 2.03
Mushrooms, shiitake, cooked, without salt 145 1 cup 2.26
Mushrooms, shiitake, dried 3.6 1 mushroom 0.34
Mustard greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 140 1 cup 3.16
Okra, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 160 1 cup 2.99
Okra, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 184 1 cup 3.83
Olives, ripe, canned (small-extra large) 22 5 large 0.18
Onions, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 210 1 cup 2.86
Onions, dehydrated flakes 5 1 tbsp 0.45
Onions, raw 110 1 whole 1.28
Onions, spring or scallions (includes tops and bulb), raw 100 1 cup 1.83
Parsley, raw 10 10 sprigs 0.30
Parsnips, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 156 1 cup 2.06
Peas, edible-podded, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 160 1 cup 5.23
Peas, edible-podded, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 160 1 cup 5.60
Peas, green, canned, regular pack, drained solids 170 1 cup 7.51
Peas, green, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 160 1 cup 8.24
Peas, split, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt 196 1 cup 16.35
Peppers, hot chili, green, raw 45 1 pepper 0.90
Peppers, hot chili, red, raw 45 1 pepper 0.90
Peppers, sweet, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 136 1 cup 1.25
Peppers, sweet, green, raw 149 1 cup 1.33
Peppers, sweet, green, raw 119 1 pepper 1.06
Peppers, sweet, red, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 136 1 cup 1.25
Peppers, sweet, red, raw 119 1 pepper 1.06
Potato pancakes, home-prepared 76 1 pancake 4.68
Potato, baked, flesh and skin, without salt 202 1 potato 5.05
Potatoes, baked, flesh, without salt 156 1 potato 3.06
Potatoes, boiled, cooked in skin, flesh, without salt 136 1 potato 2.54
Potatoes, boiled, cooked without skin, flesh, without salt 135 1 potato 2.31
Potatoes, boiled, cooked without skin, flesh, without salt 156 1 cup 2.67
Potatoes, hashed brown, home-prepared 156 1 cup 3.78
Pumpkin, canned, without salt 245 1 cup 2.70
Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 245 1 cup 1.76
Radishes, raw 4.5 1 radish 0.03
Spinach, canned, drained solids 214 1 cup 6.01
Spinach, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 180 1 cup 5.35
Spinach, frozen, chopped or leaf, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 190 1 cup 5.97
Spinach, raw 30 1 cup 0.86
Squash, summer, all varieties, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt 180 1 cup 1.64
Squash, summer, all varieties, raw 113 1 cup 1.33
Squash, winter, all varieties, cooked, baked, without salt 205 1 cup 1.82
Squash, winter, butternut, frozen, cooked, boiled, without salt 240 1 cup 2.95
Sweet potato, canned, syrup pack, drained solids 196 1 cup 2.51
Sweet potato, canned, vacuum pack 255 1 cup 4.21
Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, without salt 146 1 potato 2.51
Sweet potato, cooked, boiled, without skin, without salt 156 1 potato 2.57
Tomatoes, red, ripe, canned, stewed 255 1 cup 2.42
Tomatoes, red, ripe, canned, whole, regular pack 240 1 cup 2.21
Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average 180 1 cup 1.53
Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average 17 1 cherry tomato 0.14
Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average 123 1 tomato 1.05
Tomatoes, sun-dried 2 1 piece 0.28
Tomatoes, sun-dried, packed in oil, drained 3 1 piece 0.15
Watermelon, raw 286 1 wedge 1.77

 

Other Vegetarian Foods High in Protein

Description Weight (grams) Measure Content per Measure (grams)
Buckwheat flour, whole-groat 120 1 cup 15.14
Buckwheat groats, roasted, cooked 168 1 cup 5.68
Bulgur, cooked 182 1 cup 5.61
Bulgur, dry 138 1 cup 11.70
Cornmeal, degermed, enriched, yellow 140 1 cup 17.21
Cornmeal, whole-grain, yellow 122 1 cup 9.91
Noodles, chinese, chow mein 45 1 cup 3.77
Oat bran, cooked 219 1 cup 7.03
Oat bran, raw 94 1 cup 16.26
Peanut butter, smooth style, with salt 16 1 tbsp 4.03
Quinoa, cooked 1 cup 11
Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked 125 195 5.03
Rice, white, long-grain, regular, cooked 158 195 4.25
Rice, white, long-grain, regular, raw, enriched 158 185 13.19
Spaghetti, cooked, enriched, without added salt 140 1 cup 6.68
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked 140 1 cup 7.46
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked 140 1 cup 7.46
Tempeh 225 1 cup 31
Tofu, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride 81 1/4 block 6.51
Tofu, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride 120 1 piece 7.86
Wheat flour, white, all-purpose, enriched, bleached 125 1 cup 12.91
Veggie burger 1 patty 1 patty 5-24
Wheat flour, whole-grain 125 1 cup 16.44
Wheat flour, white, bread, enriched 125 137 16.41
Whole wheat bread 2 slices 2 slices 5

2 thoughts on “Vegetarian athletes can perform just as well — or even better — as meat-eaters, nutrition study finds

  1. Elelei Guhring

    But the sugar and insulin shocks to the body will catch up with them. Longevity in humans is closely associated with two items: LOW consumption of sugars (this includes carbohydrates) and consumption of healthy oils such as contained in an Avacado. There are currently no other known factors. This compliments what is known about historical human diets: protein rich with an assortment of seasonal fruit, nuts and vegetables. Our digestive system, it's structure and how it operates also supports this, in addition to our dentition. Make no mistake, we can eat anything to survive those long cold winters and droughts but we are healthiest when we eat meat and fruits non-starchy vegetables.

  2. Pingback: Diabetes Artichokes, (globe Or French), Cooked, Boiled, Drained, Without Salt

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