Meat-free diet no bar to sporting success

Runner cross the finishing line at an athletics trackContrary to the myth of the meat-eating iron man or woman, a meat-free diet does not prevent athletes from becoming champions.

According to research presented at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo, vegetarian athletes are not at a competitive disadvantage provided they get enough key nutrients commonly found in meat.

In the study, lead researcher Dilip Ghosh, a nutritional consultant from Sydney, points out that all athletes require the same mix of macronutrients to be able to compete physically – carbohydrates (45-65 per cent), fat (20-35 per cent) and protein (10-35 per cent) – but where these nutrients come from is not important.

Ghosh observes in his paper that: “Vegetarian athletes can meet their dietary needs from predominantly or exclusively plant-based sources when a variety of these foods are consumed daily and energy intake is adequate.”

Other vitamins and minerals found in meat, such as iron, zinc, creatine, vitamins D and B12 and calcium, also need to be added to the diet. Meat-free eaters as a group tend to have low creatine levels, which is important to maintain high-level exercise.

The research – based on observational studies, and which Ghosh says will need to be followed up by a longer term study will come as no surprise to sportsmen and women like Olympic silver-medallist Lizzie Armistead, former sprinter Carl Lewis and tennis big-hitters Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova… all of whom are vegetarian.

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