Performance Nutrition for Vegetarians®

“Citius, Altius, Fortius with Plant-Based Diets”



Welcome to the 30th Olympic Summer Games where faster, higher, stronger captures the spirit all the talented athletes worldwide. While nutrition can make or break gold medaling performances, some athletes have stepped up their diets to an even higher level.

Take Lizzie Armitstead, 2012 Silver medalist for road cycling or Dylan Wykes, Canada’s fastest marathon in decades both who adhere to a meat-free lifestyle. Rumor has it even the tennis phenoms Gold medaling Venus and Serena have adopted vegan diets.


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While there’s mounds of evidence to support plant-based for health, sport & life, coaches remain apprehensive about advocating vegetarian diets for their athletes. Why?

Coaches are genuinely concerned that vegetarian athletes will not keep up with their carnivore peers nor maintain the demands of high performance training.  Accurate?

Healthy vegetarian athletes can for the most part meet all their nutritional needs despite limiting the use of animal products or eliminating them altogether. Some research even suggests they even have an advantage over their carnivore counterparts.

Potential Benefits

Regardless of commitment level, when consumed nutritiously, vegetarian diets are virtually always rich in both simple and complex carbohydrates, providing efficient fuel for all training intensity levels.

In addition, vegetarian diets tend to include larger quantities of phytochemicals—healthy plant-based compounds such as antioxidants that help protect muscle cells and assist with building strength, extending endurance, and enhancing recovery. With meat removed from the dietary equation, vegetarians typically don’t eat as much fat—especially saturated fat—or cholesterol. And the fat they do consume is more often “healthy fat,” such as the omega-3 fatty acids found in avocados, nuts, and seeds.

What the Experts Say

In my first book, The Vegetarian Sports Nutrition Guide: Peak performance for Everyone from Beginners to Gold Medalists (Wiley 2000),  I featured 17 Olympian and World class athletes representing dozens of sports including—football, basketball, wrestling, swimming, equestrian, running, triathlon, even curling who have excelled on plant-based diets. Some critics concede that veggie diets seem legit for endurance sports—aerobic, mitochondria burning energy from carb-rich foods like grains, soy, beans, fruits and veggies, & dairy alternatives- that’s a no brainer. But its benefits are slowly starting to resonate with power athletes who want to build strength and muscle too.

In 2009, The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada gave a thumbs-up to vegetarian diets for sports training in a Position Statement on Nutrition and Athletic Performance. This official seal of approval supported what many sports dietitians had been observing for years—that all else being equal, a carefully chosen plant-based training and competition diet can actually be superior to an omnivore’s regimen.

Ready to Go Veggie?

Committing to vegetarianism may give you an advantage but it doesn’t mean you have to toss all your fave animal-based foods. Since vegetarians come in all flavors, you can pick the option or extent of plant-based that you’re ready to conquer. Here are some of the options from the strict vegan to the more lenient flexitarian.

Vegan. These individuals exclude all meat products, dairy, and eggs. In general, they avoid any products derived from animals, which may include food items such as honey and gelatin. Often they’ll even refuse to wear silk, wool, or leather clothing. Without careful dietary planning, they are at increased risk for deficiencies in vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, creatine, and some essential amino acids.

Fruitarian. Members of this subset of veganism restrict their diet even further, eating only raw or dried fruits and vegetables, seeds, honey, and oil. Of all categories of vegetarians, these are at highest risk for vitamin, mineral, protein, and essential fat deficiencies.

Lacto-vegetarian. As a rule, lacto-vegetarians abstain from meat but do drink milk and eat dairy products. Accordingly, they have less difficulty meeting their dietary protein, fat, and calcium needs than non-dairy-eating vegetarians. Ovo-lacto-vegetarians are a similar category, including eggs in their diet as well as dairy.

Pesco-vegetarian. These individuals eat fish and other seafood, but no meat. They may or may not include dairy products and eggs in their diet, and they aren’t typically predisposed to any significant nutrient deficiencies.                                                                                               

Flexitarian. This is just what it sounds like—flexitarians are flexible in their food choices, but typically eat meat only occasionally. Some use this term to describe a diet with low or moderate amounts of white meat such as chicken and pork, but no red meat.

Getting Started

Should you choose to try a vegetarian diet to boost your performance, balance is key—get ample amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fats, carbohydrates, and protein for performance. Not ready for this challenge and take the risk for dietary deficiencies in things like iron, calcium, zinc, vitamins D and B12, and essential fats and amino acids.



When fueling for sports, one of the most basic concerns is adequate calorie consumption. Some vegetarians find this difficult because plant-based foods often have lower calorie densities and more fiber. An easy way to overcome this is to consciously include calorie-dense foods at mealtimes like soy- and tofu-based meat alternatives, soy milks, nuts, nut butters, seeds and oils, textured vegetable proteins, tempeh, and fruit juices and smoothies. Placing an extra emphasis on consuming calories throughout the day in the form of snacks and beverages to increase energy intake makes it easier rather than stuffing calories into 3 large meals.


Getting enough carbohydrates for vegetarians seems like a cinch since the bulk of food from grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and dairy substitutes is carb based. How much? Figure approximately 6 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight (2.7 to 4.5 grams per pound) per day to replenish glycogen stores and fuel activity. Most fruits and starchy foods provide about 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving, while milk and dairy substitutes provide around 12 grams per cup, and vegetables roughly 10 grams per cup.


As for protein, the American Dietetic Association advises that vegetarians eat roughly 10 percent more than the standard recommendation for meat eaters, because many non-meat proteins are less bioavailable than meat-based sources. This means an optimal daily intake for vegetarians is somewhere in the range of 1.3 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound), depending on the intensity of training.

Even with meat out of the equation, there are many high-protein vegetarian food and beverages choices, including soy based “meats, milks, tofu, miso & tempeh; beans and peas, nuts, sport bars, and protein shakes & dairy products & fish for those who choose to include. Getting enough protein may require some planning ahead, especially when travelling and at competition, that’s when bars like SOYJOY & sport shakes like UCAN or recovery milks like Rockin Refuel can make it easier to get a quick fix on the run.

Keep in mind different protein sources contain different essential amino acids (EAAs)—amino acids the body does not produce naturally so they must be obtained through diet. Most veggie sources may be rich in one particular EAA, but very little of others with the exception of soy, the only complete EAA plant based food. Therefore, variety is imperative for vegetarian athletes. Falling into carb ruts, low protein diets can be the downfall for the highly competitive athlete.

As for protein supplements beyond shakes and bars, creatine may have its greatest impact, especially vegetarian power athletes. Research shows that vegetarians consistently have lower creatine levels than omnivores, so some study authors suggest vegetarian athletes may benefit from moderate creatine supplementation. Any athlete considering supplementation should first undergo a dietary analysis by a nutrition expert (RD, CSSD) to see if necessary & safe to supplement with creatine.


Fats are essential for long-term energy, hormone production, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins including A, D, E, and K. Research suggests that while one of the benefits of vegetarian diets is a lower fat diet than meat eaters, and may account for numerous health benefits, such as lower lipid levels and body mass index, reduced risk for hypertension and diabetes, but too little fat can be detrimental for health and performance.

For example, diets that do not include fish or eggs can be low in essential omega-3 fats. Athletes who avoid these foods should consider additional soy, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, flax, and canola oils to meet their omega needs. Supplements are also an option, even algae-based alternatives to fish oil for vegans’ rich in specific omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Vitamins and Minerals

This is rubber sometimes meets the road—those who can maintain a healthy vegetarian diet vs. those who cannot keep up without meat.

Since carnivores get most of their vitamin B12, iron, calcium, and zinc from animal products without knowing it, vegetarians may be at risk for deficiencies in these vitamins and minerals which impact everything from energy, power, strength, endurance; protein synthesis, the immune system, skin, hair and new blood cell formation.

One key vitamin for which strict vegan vegetarians may be at risk of deficiency is B12. Found only in animal products and foods fortified with it, B12 is an important coenzyme required for the normal metabolism of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Getting enough B12 can be obtained through fortified cereals, bars, shakes, rice and soy milk, and nutritional yeast. If a vegetarian athlete is unsure of their B12 level, a simple blood test can determine if they have a sufficient supply.

In the case of zinc alone, strenuous exercise can lead to increased losses through sweat and urine. Studies have also shown that zinc levels are typically lower in vegetarians than omnivores. To further complicate matters for vegetarians, a plant compound called phytate found in the hulls of many nuts, grains, and seeds may inhibit zinc bioavailability. Eating fortified cereals and other zinc-rich foods together with citrus fruit, will help promote absorption.

Calcium is essential for bone and also plays an important role in circulatory and nervous system health. Low calcium intake can increase the risk of stress fractures, especially in amenorrheic female athletes. Some research suggests that vegetarians may have lower calcium needs than omnivores because the higher protein and sodium intake typical of meat eaters leads to greater calcium excretion, but the jury is still out on that theory. In any case, there’s no need to gamble, since calcium is easy to find in dairy products and fortified dairy alternatives like soy, rice, and almond milks, tofu, juices, shakes, and greens.

Iron is critical for all athletes because it synthesizes hemoglobin and myoglobin, which transport oxygen to muscles. The form of iron found in plants, called non-heme iron, is less bioavailable than the heme iron found in meat and fish. Another iron-related issue is hemolysis, or the destruction of red blood cells, which can be caused by high-volume endurance training.

While many vegetarians take an iron supplement to ensure they get an adequate supply of this vital mineral, it’s not hard to get enough iron in the vegetarian diet through beans, fortified cereals, greens, and dried fruits. Also consuming iron-rich foods along with citrus fruit and other fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C, such as broccoli, red and green peppers, and strawberries, helps to increase iron absorption.

Ready-Set-Veggie Go

The key to test-driving any performance eating plan is to make sure you meet your personal daily nutritional needs whether carnivore or not. Getting the best success from your vegetarian program will come down to 3 ingredients: ensuring adequate nutrition for training and competition by working one-on-one with a nutritional expert to calculate your personal best plan & accessing resources like books and online veggie websites for additional information, guidance and support.

Most important, try the program OFF-SEASON so it doesn’t affect important competitions like the Olympics where faster, higher stronger is always the number one goal.

For more information on Vegetarian Diets, go to: The Vegetarian Sports Nutrition Guide (Wiley, 2000) for recipes, grocery lists, restaurant reviews, eco home and body products, home of delicious bars, information, coupons & contests –research & recipes for the medical community, public and press -non-profit dedicated to ensuring vegetarian diet success -team for vegetarian athletes to join and unite.


Research suggests alcohol intoxication enhanced when mixers contain artificial sweeteners.

Rossheim ME, Thombs DL. Artificial sweeteners, caffeine, and alcohol intoxication in bar patrons.Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2011 Oct;35(10):1891-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01534.x. Epub 2011 May 9.

Previous laboratory research on alcohol absorption has found that substitution of artificially sweetened alcohol mixers for sucrose-based mixers has a marked effect on the rate of gastric emptying, resulting in elevated blood alcohol concentrations. Studies conducted in natural drinking settings, such as bars, have indicated that caffeine ingestion while drinking is associated with higher levels of intoxication. To our knowledge, research has not examined the effects of alcohol mixers that contain both an artificial sweetener and caffeine, that is, diet cola. Therefore, we assessed the event-specific association between diet cola consumption and alcohol intoxication in bar patrons. We sought to determine whether putative increases in blood alcohol, produced by accelerated gastric emptying following diet cola consumption, as identified in the laboratory, also appear in a natural setting associated with impaired driving.


We conducted a secondary analysis of data from 2 nighttime field studies that collected anonymous information from 413 randomly selected bar patrons in 2008 and 2010. Data sets were merged and recoded to distinguish between energy drink, regular cola, diet cola, and noncaffeinated alcohol mixers.


Caffeinated alcohol mixers were consumed by 33.9% of the patrons. Cola-caffeinated mixed drinks were much more popular than those mixed with energy drinks. A large majority of regular cola-caffeinated mixed drink consumers were men (75%), whereas diet cola-caffeinated mixed drink consumers were more likely to be women (57%). After adjusting for the number of drinks consumed and other potential confounders, number of diet cola mixed drinks had a significant association with patron intoxication (β = 0.233, p < 0.0001). Number of drinks mixed with regular (sucrose-sweetened) cola and energy drinks did not have significant associations with intoxication (p > 0.05).


Caffeine's effect on intoxication may be most pronounced when mixers are artificially sweetened, that is, lack sucrose which slows the rate of gastric emptying of alcohol. Risks associated with on-premise drinking may be reduced by greater attention given to types of mixers, particularly diet colas.




Study Shows that Almonds can be a nutritious, satisfying part of a weight-loss program!

Modesto, CA (June 29, 2012) A new study found that following a reduced-calorie diet including almonds led to weight loss and improved heart disease risk factors when compared to a similar weight loss program that did not include almonds. The study,alomonds conducted at Temple University and published online by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, compared the effects on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors of two diets – an almond-enriched diet (AED) consisting of two one-ounce servings of almonds per day and a nut-free diet (NFD) that did not include almonds – after six and 18 months.  . Because the study was conducted in a free-living population, the researchers were able to measure the impact of including almonds in a weight loss diet in a real-world setting, he said.

  “This is the longest and largest study to date on almond consumption in the context of a weight management program,” said Gary Foster, PhD, Professor of Medicine, Public Health, and Psychology, and Director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University and lead author of the study.


Both the AED and NFD groups experienced significant weight loss at six months and maintained the weight loss at 18 months. After 18 months, the two groups had experienced clinically significant and comparable weight loss and there were no significant differences in the effects of the diets on blood lipid levels. However, at the six month mark, the AED, compared with the NFD, was associated with greater reductions in total cholesterol, the total to HDL cholesterol ratio, and triglycerides, despite the fact that the AED group had lost slightly less weight at that point in the study.


“These findings suggest that including almonds in a low-calorie diet is associated with weight loss and with improvements in cardiovascular disease risk factors,” said Karen Lapsley, Chief Science Officer for the Almond Board of California, which funded the study. “In fact, almonds are a nutrient-rich, heart-healthy addition to a weight-loss diet.” The study supports previous research demonstrating almonds’ positive effects on cardiovascular risk factors.


Almonds are nutrient-rich. Ounce for ounce, they contain more dietary fiber (3.5 g), calcium (75 g), vitamin E (7.4 mg) and riboflavin (0.3 mg) and niacin (1 mg) than any other tree nut! In 2003, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a health claim recognizing that California Almonds can help decrease your risk of heart disease. The claim states that “scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as almonds, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.” In addition to the Qualified Health Claim, nearly two decades of research indicate that almonds can help you maintain a healthy cholesterol level as part of a diet low in saturated fat.


Find out about the Almond Board of California and more at!

Meredith Petran 

Phone:   (323) 762-2403  



 Molly Spence        

Phone:  (209) 343-3278                                                                                                      Email:


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Almond Nutritional Info – Not what you may think!

You don’t have to be an RD or health nut to know how many calories are in a serving of almonds- now-a-days these little super foods are all the craze and their nutritional values are spread throughout common magazines and popular daytime television shows.  However, a study conducted by scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and released in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) provides a new understanding of almonds’ calorie count, showing that whole almonds provide about 20 percent fewer calories than originally thought!

How can a food's calorie count suddenly change when the composition of the food itself hasn’t? The answer is that David Baer, PhD, and his team from USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) used a new method of measuring the calories in almonds, which built on traditional methods and allowed the researchers to determine the number of calories actually digested and absorbed from almonds. The data that resulted showed a one-ounce serving of almonds (about 23 almonds) has 129 calories versus the 160 calories currently listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel. The results may have implications for certain other foods as well.

The California almond industry is now working with government agencies to determine what these study results may mean for Nutrition Facts panels and other nutrition education about almonds.


Hooray for even healthier snacking with less calories! Munch on!


Read more at:

Article @
Almonds on FB @
Almond Board of California at @

Wendy H. Weiss, MA, RD
Porter Novelli
for The Almond Board of California



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