Does A Vegetarian Diet Hinder Performance Training In Athletes?


Yesterday, I mentioned that more in-depth scientific evidence was needed to gauge the difference between a healthy brusselsomnivore and a healthy vegetarian. That got me to thinking, how do the two contrasting approaches to nutrition effect performance athletes?
I caught a very interesting personal account in Todays Dietitian of one dietitian’s struggle with the issue of how a lack of meat in one’s diet can affect performance training. Her name is Pamela Nisevich, and in her article, she eludes to the fact that:

Traditional studies of short-term vegetarian diets, in which athletes consumed a vegetarian diet for a period of two to six weeks, have detected no changes in performance based on the absence of animal products in the diet.”

In my opinion, two to six weeks is merely a smidgen of time when it comes to preparing for grueling acts of fitness such as a marathon, boxing match, or what have you. Nisevich quickly discovered that:

During the conversion process from omnivore to herbivore, I struggled with lethargy, weight loss, and general malaise. Despite the fact that I am a trained dietitian and an athlete, I had much to learn about this new pattern of eating. I began to empathize with many vegetarian and vegan athletes who suffer from nutrient deficiencies.”

While performance, as referenced by the author, was not an issue for vegetarian athletes, it begs the question of whether or not a mental strain was a factor in ditching the meat?

Even though I was not a big meat eater, as soon as I eliminated it from my diet, I began to feel the effects. Whether they were physical or psychological, I couldn’t say. But because all I could think about was meat, I struggled with crafting a meal plan to supply enough macronutrients and micronutrients to fuel my workouts. Initially, my workouts were sluggish, and I couldn’t perform at the level to which I was accustomed.”

Nisevich goes on to explain how those effects slowly went away after extremely precise attention was paid to her nutrient intake a la vegetarian diet, but I wonder if most athletes would be able to overcome such mental and physical deficiencies associated with a meat-less approach? While she mentions that athletes such as Hank Aaron, Billie Jean King, and Joe Namath were successful on vegetarian diets, it seems to me that the majority of athletes function at their best with meat on their plate.
Have you ever trained for a demanding physical event while on a vegetarian diet? How were you able to overcome the side effects? Let us know in the comments section!




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