veggies.jpg (6769 bytes)fruitbowl.jpg (6391 bytes)Vegetarian Athletes: A Recent Review

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Vegetarian Athletes: A Recent Review
Michael Greger, M.D.

The July/August issue of the journal Nutrition had a review on the "Nutritional Considerations for Vegetarian Athletes." The last comprehensive review of athletic performance and vegetarianism was over 5 years ago.[1] Not much has changed.

There still hasn't been a single well-controlled long-term study on the effects of vegetarian or vegan diets on athletes, but the best science we have so far suggests that there are no consistent differences in strength, fitness, or performance between vegetarian and nonvegetarian athletes. Vegetarian athletes seem to perform just as well as their flesh-eating counterparts.[2]

The review addressed the role of creatine. Creatine is a compound found in your muscles that your body produces to facilitate quick bursts of energy. People who eat the muscles of others--meat-eaters--tend to build up higher levels of creatine than vegetarians. While this has not been shown to offer a competitive advantage, there is some evidence that massive creatine supplementation may offer additional benefit for vegetarian athletes who may have lower baseline levels.[3,4] The level of creatine supplementation typically used, however, is the equivalent of eating about 10 pounds of meat a day,[5] the safety of which has not been established.[6]

The review concludes that "the most prudent conclusion is that more data on the long-term safety profile are needed before creatine supplementation can be endorsed for athletes, vegetarians, or others."[7]


1 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 70(1999):532S

2 Nutrition 20(2004):696

3 European Journal of Applied Physiology 82(2000):321

4 Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 35(2003):1946

5 Sports Medicine 18(1994):268

6 Journal of the American Dietetic Association 99(1999):593

7 Nutrition 20(2004):696

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