Vegetarianism in sport: the effectiveness of the ancient diet

Вегетарианство в спорте Nutrition
We are interested in the effectiveness of the oldest nutrition system that excludes meat and other animal products in cyclic sports.

In addition to the fashion, aesthetic or spiritual component of the oldest dietary system that excludes meat and other animal products, we are interested in the effectiveness of this diet in cycling sports.

Among runners and triathletes today there are a very large number of vegans. Not only do they not complain about their health, but they also note a marked improvement in their performance during training and competitions. This makes us take a closer look at vegetarianism.

In fact, a vegetarian diet among ordinary people who have nothing to do with running or other sports is designed to reduce the risks of diabetes, heart disease, to bring weight back to normal and to neutralize the damage to the body caused by lifestyle. And, according to some research data, it seems to be doing a pretty good job of it.

The only problem is that there are very few and inconclusive serious studies that specifically study vegan athletes. And studies of simpler studies cannot claim to be scientific and accurate because of the small number of participants, so they are often contradictory.

Nevertheless, it has been noted for almost two centuries that vegetarians most often perform as well as their meat-eating counterparts in running. And sometimes their running performance is even better, all other things being equal. Moreover, some of the early marathon finishers who approached 2 hours and 30 minutes (a record at the time) were vegans.

But you should not blindly believe everything they say, write and show the gullible public, when it comes to the direction, which has long been a commercial.

Benefits of vegetarianism in sports

The large amount of plant foods eaten, due to their phytochemicals and also rich in antioxidants, has a really positive effect on the athlete’s body. Vegans, in particular, are less likely to have upper respiratory tract infections, thanks to a more robust immune system. At least, that’s what’s believed.

No less, and perhaps most importantly, a point that is often not considered at all is the good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in meat opponents. After all, the body cannot or does not want to synthesize them itself. A strong prevalence of omega-6 over omega-3 is fraught with bad consequences for the athlete: from increased strain on the heart to various kinds of inflammation. Recent evidence suggests a close link between excess omega-6 and cancer.

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In addition to our daily foods that are high in omega-6 in nature (e.g., sunflower oil), meat dishes significantly increase the concentration of these acids. This is due to their accumulation in animals as a result of cheaper feeding methods and products. Moreover, the same is true for oily fish: if you are not sure of its origin from the natural habitat, then along with the extremely important omega-3 fats you get a weighty set of omega-6.

From a vegan’s perspective, the intake and balance of these fats is closer to ideal after the disappearance of meat from the diet. The exception may be their own animal husbandry, in which cows eat green grass, as nature intended. And also catching oily fish on their own that are rich in omega-3 and do not acquire omega-6 in the growing process.

But if you have already become a convinced vegetarian for the above reason, you should not forget that, for example, walnuts and almonds, as well as some seeds (including pumpkin and sunflower seeds) contain 4-5 times more omega-6 fatty acids than the same sunflower oil. So as a vegan, you can’t just toss everything plant-based indiscriminately into the furnace.

A weighty (and more often than not, the main) advantage of convinced vegans is the preservation of animal life. However, psychologists are wary of this type of herbivore and warn about their increased aggressiveness towards people. Here everyone decides for himself.

Disadvantages of vegetarianism in sport

The main disadvantage for an athlete who decides to go vegan is the lack of some of the nutrients that runners need. Here is a small list of items that you need to pay special attention to replenish:


Given the involvement of iron in the transport of oxygen to the tissues, runners and cyclists cannot ignore this item.

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The problem is not that plant foods contain less iron, but that it is less digestible. According to sports nutritionists, a vegetarian should consume twice as much iron as a meat-eater for this reason.

Lentils, peas, beans, almonds (remember the very high amount of omega-6 in them), cashew nuts, and green leafy vegetables are a small list of foods a vegan should look out for.

Our beautiful half of mankind should be the most attentive to iron in the body, because its deficiency (and anemia associated with it) occurs more often among them than among men.


The immune system is very dependent on this element, but its absorption from plant foods is just as difficult as that of iron. Phytic acid (or phytate) present in zinc-rich plants binds this mineral (and others) to form an insoluble complex.

Cereal products and seeds reduce phytic acid levels. It is likely that runners who have given up meat completely will have to take various artificial supplements containing zinc.

The Protein

Of course, protein is also found in legumes, grains, and nuts. But the protein intake from all plant foods alone cannot be called complete, because they do not provide the ideal combination of amino acids.

You can find complementary options for amino acids, such as beans and rice or peanut butter and whole-grain bread. However, not all foods can go well together.

Vitamin B12.

This vitamin is essential for the health of the nervous system and the regulation of circulation, which means it directly affects our results in running.

Unfortunately, vitamin B12 deficiency is a hallmark of vegan athletes who do not take extra vitamin B12. At the same time, in “partial” vegetarians, who do not exclude milk and eggs from their food, the amount of vitamin B12 is more optimistic. The best way to get it can be considered the inclusion of increased amounts of soy products in the diet.

Veganism and Mental Health

Repeatedly psychotherapists have pointed out and continue to point out some psychological problems in ardent herbalists. Up to unpredictable aggression and complete antisociality. But probably here it is necessary to clearly distinguish between cause and effect.

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There will be no savings

Prepare for the fact that the transition to plant-based foods will hit the wallet hard, if you plan to continue to exercise, get all the necessary nutrients in adequate quantities and somehow diversify your meals.

A Brief Conclusion

The desire to become a vegan athlete is quite predictable, given the powerful agitation by the media and the various animal rights communities.

In professional marathon runners and cyclists, red meat consumption is often kept to a minimum during the peak of the competitive phase. At least in standard preparations in the form of fried steaks, kebabs and similar heavy things. They put a lot of strain on the digestive system and do not provide the nutritional value needed.

Nevertheless, if it is not connected with a sudden cardinal change of outlook, but only one of the ways to improve your results in sports and general well-being, you should not exclude fish, eggs and dairy products. These are the most valuable sources of essential elements.

It is also worth remembering that you should not consume all kinds of plant foods immensely. For example, nuts, despite their nutritional value, are created by nature as dosed vitamin and mineral complexes and are not food in the conventional sense.

In all other respects vegetarianism in sports periodically proves to be valid and can be considered as an effective, but temporary type of diet. It is necessary to apply a reasonable approach. But no matter how you look at it, the strongest athletes on the planet are still meat-eaters.

Veganism has long been an industry. And with a good turnover. It should be understood that today any pseudoscientific claim can have a financial background.

The vegetarian trend is, first of all, a fashion, and where fashion is, huge budgets are spinning. Therefore, the benefit of switching to a plant-based diet will be powerfully promoted further, as a tool for making a profit from the new adherents of the fashion trend.

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