Overview: A recent study comparing vegetarian and omnivorous endurance athletes found no difference in force production, but VO2max levels were higher among female vegetarian athletes than among their meat-eating counterparts (Lynch, Wharton & Johnson 2016). However, vegetarian and vegan athletes often have lower levels of iron and muscle creatine, which can hurt performance (Barr & Rideout 2004).
Experts say: “Fueling with a plant-based diet is no different than [following] any other diet when it comes to macronutrients,” says Christopher Heslin, MS, CNS, supervising health educator for the Kaiser Permanente Positive Choice Integrative Wellness Center. “Preworkout meals should consist of moderate-glycemic-index carbs with protein and be lower in fat and fiber for gastric comfort. Postworkout meals should include large amounts of colorful produce and omega-3s to fight inflammation, along with plant-based proteins to promote recovery.”
Apply it with clients: Heslin suggests soy, textured vegetable proteins or legumes to provide postworkout protein. Muth encourages eating plant-based iron sources, such as beans, lentils, spinach, tomatoes and broccoli, paired with foods high in vitamin C to enhance absorption.