Venus Williams is generally regarded as one of the all-time greats of women's tennis. She is also a raw vegan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Venus Williams is generally regarded as one of the all-time greats of women’s tennis. She is also a raw vegan. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Nutrition science looks confident that a vegetarian diet is health-wise superior to a meat-based diet. Forgoing meat lowers your risk of developing hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallstones, obesity and food-borne illness. However, there are few studies that measured the difference in performance associated with a vegetarian diet for athletes.

Are veggie athletes weaker than omnivore athletes? This is a question that a recent study set out to answer. The findings suggest that veggie athletes perform just as well as omnivores at strength tasks and have a superior cardiovascular fitness.

The team from Arizona State University recruited 27 vegetarian and 43 omnivore athletes, both male and female, and tracked their diets for one full week. The participants were then put through various strength and fitness tests.

According to the dietary data, total protein intake was lower among vegetarians in comparison to omnivores. When viewed through a body mass index (BMI) lens, however, the protein intake proved to be nearly identical. For both groups, the protein intake was roughly equal to 1.2 grams per kg of body mass. In terms of calory intake, again, both groups scored the same. Apparently, no matter what they chose to put in their mouths, both groups consumed the same amount of calories.

In the case of men, both vegetarians and meat eaters scored the same in terms of body fat percentages, and lean body mass. A notable distinction was that meat-eating men had significantly more visceral fat — the kind that gets deposited around the abdomen but also increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.

During leg extensions that established peak torque, both groups performed almost just as well. So despite veggie athletes do not eat bacon or steaks, they can be just as strong as other elite sportsmen, which might surprise some.

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The treadmill trial showed vegetarians had significantly higher VO2 max than omnivores, the body’s upper limit for consuming, distributing and using oxygen for energy production. The more VO2, the longer you can sustain physical activity.

Though far from being the final word, the study published in Nutriets suggests that not only is a vegetarian diet healthier, it’s also just as good as meat-based diets for elite physical activity. Hopefully, more physical parameters will be gauged in future studies.

It’s worth mentioning again that the participants of this study had the same protein intake function of BMI. Don’t worry — it’s not that difficult to find high-protein veggie foods. The list below might help.

High Protein Vegetables and Beans (source)

DescriptionWeight (grams)MeasureProtein Content per Measure (grams)
Alfalfa seeds, sprouted, raw331 cup1.32
Artichokes, (globe or French), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1201 medium4.18
Asparagus, canned, drained solids724 spears1.54
Asparagus, cooked, boiled, drained604 spears1.55
Asparagus, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1801 cup5.31
Avocados, raw, California28.351 oz0.60
Avocados, raw, Florida28.351 oz0.45
Beans, baked, canned, plain or vegetarian2541 cup12.17
Beans, baked, canned, with franks2591 cup17.48
Beans, baked, canned, with pork and sweet sauce2531 cup13.43
Beans, baked, canned, with pork and tomato sauce2531 cup13.05
Beans, black, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1721 cup15.24
Beans, Cowpeas (Blackeyes), immature seeds,  boiled, without salt1651 cup5.23
Beans, Cowpeas (blackeyes), immature seeds, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1701 cup14.43
Beans, Cowpeas, common (blackeyes, crowder, southern), mature seeds,1721 cup13.30
Beans, great northern, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1771 cup14.74
Beans, Kidney beans, red, mature seeds, canned2561 cup13.44
Beans, Kidney beans, red, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1771 cup15.35
Beans, Lima beans, large, mature seeds, canned2411 cup11.88
Beans, Lima beans, large, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1881 cup14.66
Beans, Mung beans, mature seeds, sprouted, cooked, boiled,  without salt1241 cup2.52
Beans, Mung beans, mature seeds, sprouted, raw1041 cup3.16
Beans, Navy beans, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1821 cup15.83
Beans, Pinto beans, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1711 cup14.04
Soybeans, mature cooked, boiled, without salt1801 cup22.23
Soybeans, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1721 cup28.62
Beans, Snap beans, green, canned, regular pack, drained solids1351 cup1.55
Beans, Snap beans, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1251 cup2.36
Beans, White beans, mature seeds, canned2621 cup19.02
Beet greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1441 cup3.70
Beets, canned, drained solids1701 cup1.55
Broccoli, raw881 cup2.62
Broccoli, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1561 cup4.65
Beets, cooked, boiled, drained1701 cup2.86
Beets, cooked, boiled, drained501 beet0.84
Cabbage, Chinese (pak-choi), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1701 cup2.65
Cabbage, Chinese (pe-tsai), cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1191 cup1.79
Cabbage, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1501 cup1.53
Cabbage, raw701 cup1.01
Cabbage, red, raw701 cup0.97
Cabbage, Savoy, raw701 cup1.40
Carrots, baby, raw101 medium0.08
Carrots, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1561 cup1.70
Carrots, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1461 cup1.74
Carrots, raw1101 cup1.13
Cauliflower, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1241 cup2.28
Cauliflower, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1801 cup2.90
Cauliflower, raw1001 cup1.98
Celery, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1501 cup1.25
Celery, raw1201 cup0.90
Corn, sweet, white, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt771 ear2.56
Corn, sweet, yellow, canned, cream style, regular pack2561 cup4.45
Corn, sweet, yellow, canned, vacuum pack, regular pack2101 cup5.06
Corn, sweet, yellow, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt771 ear2.56
Corn, sweet, yellow, frozen, kernels cut off cob, boiled, drained, without salt1641 cup4.51
Corn, sweet, yellow, frozen, kernels on cob, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt631 ear1.96
Cucumber, peeled, raw1191 cup0.68
Cucumber, with peel, raw1041 cup0.72
Dandelion greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1051 cup2.10
Endive, raw501 cup0.63
Garlic, raw31 clove0.19
Lentils, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1981 cup17.86
Lettuce, cos or romaine, raw561 cup0.91
Lettuce, iceberg (includes crisphead types), raw551 cup0.56
Lettuce, looseleaf, raw561 cup0.73
Mushrooms, canned, drained solids1561 cup2.92
Mushrooms, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1561 cup3.39
Mushrooms, raw701 cup2.03
Mushrooms, shiitake, cooked, without salt1451 cup2.26
Mushrooms, shiitake, dried3.61 mushroom0.34
Mustard greens, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1401 cup3.16
Okra, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1601 cup2.99
Okra, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1841 cup3.83
Olives, ripe, canned (small-extra large)225 large0.18
Onions, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt2101 cup2.86
Onions, dehydrated flakes51 tbsp0.45
Onions, raw1101 whole1.28
Onions, spring or scallions (includes tops and bulb), raw1001 cup1.83
Parsley, raw1010 sprigs0.30
Parsnips, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1561 cup2.06
Peas, edible-podded, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1601 cup5.23
Peas, edible-podded, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1601 cup5.60
Peas, green, canned, regular pack, drained solids1701 cup7.51
Peas, green, frozen, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1601 cup8.24
Peas, split, mature seeds, cooked, boiled, without salt1961 cup16.35
Peppers, hot chili, green, raw451 pepper0.90
Peppers, hot chili, red, raw451 pepper0.90
Peppers, sweet, green, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1361 cup1.25
Peppers, sweet, green, raw1491 cup1.33
Peppers, sweet, green, raw1191 pepper1.06
Peppers, sweet, red, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1361 cup1.25
Peppers, sweet, red, raw1191 pepper1.06
Potato pancakes, home-prepared761 pancake4.68
Potato, baked, flesh and skin, without salt2021 potato5.05
Potatoes, baked, flesh, without salt1561 potato3.06
Potatoes, boiled, cooked in skin, flesh, without salt1361 potato2.54
Potatoes, boiled, cooked without skin, flesh, without salt1351 potato2.31
Potatoes, boiled, cooked without skin, flesh, without salt1561 cup2.67
Potatoes, hashed brown, home-prepared1561 cup3.78
Pumpkin, canned, without salt2451 cup2.70
Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt2451 cup1.76
Radishes, raw4.51 radish0.03
Spinach, canned, drained solids2141 cup6.01
Spinach, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1801 cup5.35
Spinach, frozen, chopped or leaf, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1901 cup5.97
Spinach, raw301 cup0.86
Squash, summer, all varieties, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt1801 cup1.64
Squash, summer, all varieties, raw1131 cup1.33
Squash, winter, all varieties, cooked, baked, without salt2051 cup1.82
Squash, winter, butternut, frozen, cooked, boiled, without salt2401 cup2.95
Sweet potato, canned, syrup pack, drained solids1961 cup2.51
Sweet potato, canned, vacuum pack2551 cup4.21
Sweet potato, cooked, baked in skin, without salt1461 potato2.51
Sweet potato, cooked, boiled, without skin, without salt1561 potato2.57
Tomatoes, red, ripe, canned, stewed2551 cup2.42
Tomatoes, red, ripe, canned, whole, regular pack2401 cup2.21
Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average1801 cup1.53
Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average171 cherry tomato0.14
Tomatoes, red, ripe, raw, year round average1231 tomato1.05
Tomatoes, sun-dried21 piece0.28
Tomatoes, sun-dried, packed in oil, drained31 piece0.15
Watermelon, raw2861 wedge1.77
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Other Vegetarian Foods High in Protein

DescriptionWeight (grams)MeasureContent per Measure (grams)
Buckwheat flour, whole-groat1201 cup15.14
Buckwheat groats, roasted, cooked1681 cup5.68
Bulgur, cooked1821 cup5.61
Bulgur, dry1381 cup11.70
Cornmeal, degermed, enriched, yellow1401 cup17.21
Cornmeal, whole-grain, yellow1221 cup9.91
Noodles, chinese, chow mein451 cup3.77
Oat bran, cooked2191 cup7.03
Oat bran, raw941 cup16.26
Peanut butter, smooth style, with salt161 tbsp4.03
Quinoa, cooked1 cup11
Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked1251955.03
Rice, white, long-grain, regular, cooked1581954.25
Rice, white, long-grain, regular, raw, enriched15818513.19
Spaghetti, cooked, enriched, without added salt1401 cup6.68
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked1401 cup7.46
Spaghetti, whole-wheat, cooked1401 cup7.46
Tempeh2251 cup31
Tofu, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride811/4 block6.51
Tofu, firm, prepared with calcium sulfate and magnesium chloride1201 piece7.86
Wheat flour, white, all-purpose, enriched, bleached1251 cup12.91
Veggie burger1 patty1 patty5-24
Wheat flour, whole-grain1251 cup16.44
Wheat flour, white, bread, enriched12513716.41
Whole wheat bread2 slices2 slices5
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