We often associate athletes with animal products - Rocky chugging down raw eggs, athletes eating steak to help build muscle. So is it possible to perform at a high level on a vegetarian diet? We look at the evidence.
Can vegetarians compete against meat eaters in competitive sports environments? While differences in nutrient intake between meat eaters and vegetarians have little effect in normal everyday activities, when we really push ourselves bodies, do these nutritional differences start to have an effect?
The quick answer is, it depends - mostly on what flavour of vegetarianism you follow. The different types of vegetarianism are:
- Fish or chicken allowed, only red meat avoided.
- No animal flesh eaten, but eggs and dairy allowed.
- Vegans - no animal products eaten, even honey.
For vegetarians, the difficulties increase as the diet becomes more restrictive. The biggest issue is getting sufficient protein, and the macro-nutrients meat contains, such as iron, B12, zinc, creatine and carnosine.
For those who eat chicken and fish, eating sufficient protein should not be an issue, and even for those who only permit eggs and dairy it shouldn't be too difficult to find enough sufficient protein.
However, getting your protein mostly from dairy will include a lot more carbs than eating primarily meat based protein sources.
The real problems are for vegans. Almost all their regular sources of protein come with loads of carbs, and even vegetarian protein powders such as soy protein isolate or pea protein powder have lots of excess carbs.