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Vegetarian Food Protein & Sports Performance

Cooking Vegetarian Food Health Benefits

There is a growing interest in the many health benefits offered by vegetarian diets. There is a large body of scientific evidence that indicates that plant based diets offer a wide range of health benefits, and some of these include:

The above is just a list of some of the many health benefits of following a vegetarian diet, or even a semi vegetarian diet.

Vegetarian Nutrition and Athletic Performance

As we already mentioned above, different vegetarian diets allow some consumption of meats such as fish, eggs, and dairy products. One of the first things that come to mind for many is that if you're a vegetarian, your athletic performance is probably not up to par compared to someone who is a meat eater. This, in fact, is not true. While it is true that meat eaters have some advantages compared to vegetarians - such as having higher plasma creatine concentrations - however, studies have found that well planned vegetarian diets appear equally effective at supporting athletic performance.

In a Canadian study of nutritional consideration for vegetarian athletes, the researchers looked at whether vegetarian and omnivorous diets could affect physical performance differently. This study made the following observations:

  • well-planned, appropriately supplemented vegetarian diets appear to effectively support athletic performance
  • provided protein intakes are adequate to meet needs for total nitrogen and the essential amino acids, plant and animal protein sources appear to provide equivalent support to athletic training and performance
  • as a group, vegetarians have lower mean muscle creatine concentrations than do omnivores, and this may affect supramaximal exercise performance [1]

So, let's discuss that last point a bit more - about muscle creatine concentration differences between vegetarians and meat eaters. Creatine is produced within the body from arginine, glycine, and methionine, and it can also come from your diet - mainly meats and fish. So, an athlete who eats lots of meat will have more muscle creatine compared to a vegetarian who either eats no meat, or very small amounts of it. While there is a definite difference between muscle creatine levels which will affect athletic performance, studies have shown that creatine supplementation leads to no difference in plasma creatine concentrations between vegetarians and meat eaters.

In a study involving 26 healthy and moderately fit omnivorous men, they were assigned to either a 26 day lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, or a omnivorous diet. The subjects were also assigned to either a creatine monohydrate or placebo group on day 22 for 5 days. Study results found that following a lacto ovo vegetarian diet reduced plasma creatine concentration; however, regardless of the diet followed, the creatine monohydrate supplementation increased plasma creatine concentrations from day 22 to 27. Although the lacto ovo vegetarian group had lower creatine levels, after supplementation, there was no difference in plasma creatine concentrations between the two groups. [2]

What we can gather from this is that while vegetarian diets leads to lower creatine levels, supplementation with creatine brings the creatine levels back up to comparable levels with meat eaters. Also, because vegetarians will have lower initial muscle creatine concentration, they are likely to experience slightly greater performance increase from creatine loading.

Considering the many health benefits vegetarian diets offer, it makes sense for anyone - whether you're a vegetarian or non-vegetarian - to consume more plant based foods such as fruit, vegetables, and legumes. Cooking vegetarian food can also be quick and easy, and you can also prepare and cook delicious vegetarian meals in just minutes with Quick and Easy Chinese Vegetarian Cooking.

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1. Nutrition. 2004 Jul-Aug;20(7-8):696-703.
Nutritional considerations for vegetarian athletes.
Barr SI, Rideout CA.

University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. sibarr@interchange.ubc.ca

2. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Nov;19(4):735-40.
Effect of a defined lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet and oral creatine monohydrate supplementation on plasma creatine concentration.
Lukaszuk JM, Robertson RJ, Arch JE, Moyna NM.

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