There are many reasons people choose to follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. These are mainly concerns over animal welfare and the environment, but also to improve health. When searching for information online we're bombarded with claims of health benefits, but how accurate are these claims and what's the impact of a vegetarian diet on sports performance?
Studies show a vegetarian diet is higher in antioxidants, which is thought to help reduce exercise-induced oxidative stress, increase aerobic capacity and therefore endurance. However, most evidence is based on the average diet of well-educated vegetarians living in western countries, which may not apply to the general population.
Studies in vegetarians compared to health conscious non-vegetarians from the same population show little difference in rates of mortality, suggesting no impact on health. Studies in athletes show no improvement or reduction in performance. Benefits are more likely to be from a generally healthier lifestyle, increase in fruit and vegetable consumption and reduction in saturated fats than from an exclusion of animal products.
A well-planned and varied vegetarian or vegan diet can deliver all the nutrients required for health, growth and performance. However, some plant based sources of nutrients are more difficult for the body to absorb; the high fiber content characteristic of a vegetarian diet is also known to inhibit nutrient absorption.
Vegetarians, particularly those following a vegan diet, may have lower intakes of quality protein, iron, calcium, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins D, B2 (Riboflavin) and B12 (cobalamin). Additionally, young and adolescent athletes could struggle to support energy needs for high levels of physical activity plus healthy growth.
To ensure that a healthy vegetarian diet supports and maintains exercise performance, meals should be from a variety of food sources and well planned to ensure no nutritional deficiencies. Those on a vegan diet should consider supplementation with vitamin B12 to avoid potential neurological damage.
For more information and recommendations for following a vegetarian diet see the extended article at http://optimadiet.com/diet/vegetarian-diet-and-health/.
 Turner, D.R., Sinclair, W.H. and Knez, W.L., 2014. Nutritional adequacy of vegetarian and omnivore dietary intakes. Journal of Nutrition and Health Sciences, 1, pp.1-4.
 Lynch, H.M., Wharton, C.M. and Johnston, C.S., 2016. Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Peak Torque Differences between Vegetarian and Omnivore Endurance Athletes: A Cross Sectional Study. Nutrients, 8(11), p.726.
 Key TJ, Appleby PN, Rosell MS. (2006) Health effects of vegetarian and vegan diets. Proc Nutr Soc 65(1):35-41.
 Craddock, J.C., Probst, Y.C. and Peoples, G.E., 2016. Vegetarian and Omnivorous Nutrition—Comparing Physical Performance. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 26(3), pp.212-220.
 Nieman DC (1999), Physical fitness and vegetarian diets; is there a relation? Am J Clin Nutr, 70:570S-575S.
 Institute of Medicine (2005) Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients), National Academies; Washington, DC, USA.
 American Dietetic Association, Dieticians of Canada (2003) Position of the American Dietetic Association and Dieticians of Canada vegetarian diets. Can J Diet Pract 64:62-81.
 Garner DM (2004) Eating Disorder Inventory. Professional Manual Psychological Assessment Resources, Incorporated.
 Allen L.H (2009) How common is vitamin B-12 deficiency? Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 89:S693–S696.
 Craig WJ (2009) Health effects of vegan diets. J Clin Nutr 89:1627S–33S.
Bio - Natalie Brooks
A qualified Nutritionist, specialising in sports and exercise nutrition. Following successful completion of a 1st class BSc (Hons) in Food and Nutrition, Natalie worked as a Research and Development Manager for a multinational food company. She is now extending her studies in Sports and Exercise Nutrition (MSc) at Ulster University whilst working as a Nutritional Consultant at OptimaDiet.com.
She is also a cyclist who competes in events and races internationally. She understands that optimal nutrition for sports performance is an essential factor for success.
AES Athlete Ann Kennedy of the BicycleAttorney.com Cycling Team had a nice pair of races in Oregon last weekend.
The annual Gorge Roubaix brings out Oregon, Washington, and California's gravel road enthusiasts for a day of old-school road racing near Hood River. The next day, the die-hard stick around for the Gorge Grinder 65 in the hills east of The Dalles.
Kennedy, who specializes in cyclocross, did both and placed 5th at the Gorge Roubaix before winning the Master's Women class the next day at the Grinder. Here's a photo of Ann with the spoils of her work:
And on the start:
This past Saturday, AES athlete Ann Kennedy consolidated a strong start to her season by winning Zaaldercross (part of the GPBR Series) in nearby Vancouver, Washington. The win puts her 3rd in her class with two events yet to run. Here's a photo of Ann in action:
Endurance mountain biker Ed Serrat has had a great season, with notable results across the country. An 11th place finish at Oregon's High Cascades 100 was followed up this past weekend with 13th at Fool's Gold. The latter result was achieved after delays caused by a rear tire puncture in the early miles.
Here's a photo of Ed in action:
I recently wrote a little article for Quarq detailing Elle Anderson's successful 2015/2016 cyclocross season. Check it out on the Quarq website:
AES mountain bike racer Ed Serrat finished his season on a high at The Iceman Cometh in his home state of Michigan. Ed had been targeting Iceman and had an excellent race against a stellar field. Ed's season has been fantastic and we're looking forward to 2016!
That's Ed on the left!
Also today, AES Pro CX rider Elle Anderson rode to a podium finish in the Derby City Cup ProCX race against a stacked field. Elle has been preparing for her 2015/2016 European campaign and she's off to an excellent start.
Elle on the right! Photo by SRAM.
AES athlete Ed Serrat rode to an excellent 14th place finish in his first High Cascades 100. It was his first time riding in Bend and the trails seemed well-suited to his talents. His Vets Men time of 9.27 would have placed him in the top-20 of the Open Men. He plans to return next year as well.
Ed and his grandson(!) post-race at the High Cascades 100.
The sport of cyclocross, and team Aeolus Endurance Sport-Cable Huston, was recently profiled in a Portland Monthly Magazine feature entitled "Break a Sweat Like Portland's Top Athletes."
Check it out!
I was recently interviewed in a local magazine. We spoke about coaching and, of course, VeloPro. Here's the article:
AES athlete Ed Serrat had a great race at Michigan's Iceman Cometh. Ed had spent the autumn preparing for his season finale here, and he finished it well in 3rd place. Here are the nasty conditions the race saw this year:
Meanwhile, at the OBRA Cyclocross Championships, AES athlete Ann Kennedy scored a 3rd place finish in the Masters A class.
George Thomas had myself, along with VeloPro beta testers Jeff S and Monty H on the show to take last week's interview a bit further into the user experience realm: