Table 1: Overview of early studies on strict vegetarian (vegan) diets in sports.



Studies & Results (in extracts, abbreviated)

Laboratory testing


1904 & 1907: Plant-based diets affecting physical performance (hand-grip meter, stationary bicycle) [50,51]

Ø  Male subjects (students, fellow faculty members, and himself)

Ø  Plant-based diet: Subjects exercised more, with less fatigue, vs. diet based on animal protein

1907: Series of tests (holding horizontal arm position, deep knee bends) comparing stamina and strength of meat eaters vs. vegetarians (Fisher’s classic study) [52]

Ø  Males, fed different diets, consecutively tested: Meat-eating athletes, vegetarian athletes, vegetarian sedentary subjects

Ø  Compared to meat-eaters: Vegetarian athletes had twice the stamina, far more endurance

Ø  Meat eating athletes: Outperformed even by vegetarian sedentary subjects

Ø  Difference in endurance performance was entirely put down to diet

Ø  Strong evidence: Vegetarian diets increase endurance



Fisher’s classic study repeated (stationary bicycle to measure strength and endurance) [54]:

Ø  Initially mixed diet (meat, vegetables) -> pedalling time until muscle failure: 114 min

Ø  Re-test: High animal protein diet (rich in meat, milk, eggs) -> big drop in time: 57 min

Ø  Final re-test: Strict vegetarian (vegan) diet (grains, vegetables, fruits; no animal foods) -> pedalling time: 167 min

Ø  Vegan diet had:

v  Three-times better performance than animal protein-centered

v  One-third better performance than mixed diet


2 laboratory studies [280,281] considering the physical performance of vegetarians, both comparing fitness of vegetarian to non-vegetarian athletes

Ø  No differences in exercise performance

Field studies



Schatalova’s ‘Concept of Curative Healing’, ‘System of Natural Healing’ [55] (pp. 18-20, 51-52, 60, 63-65, 159-174), [56] (pp. 19-20):

1983 - 1984:

Ø  Series of 4 super-marathon races (500 km, 4-7 stages, 50-72 km/day, speed: 14-18 km/h)

Ø  Series of mountain trekking tours

v Altitude of about 5,000 m (25 km/day)

v High altitude camp at 3,000 m altitude

v Foot march crossing 4 mountain passes over 23 days


Ø   Series of 4 expeditions of desert traverse on foot crossing Central Asian deserts (250-500 km, 30-35 km/day)


Deutschlandlauf 1987 [282-286]: Influence of a 1,000-km ultra-run on lipid metabolism, Western diet (n = 30) vs. wholesome vegetarian diet (n = 25)

Ø   Runtime of vegetarians (114 h 14 min) was approximately 2 hours faster than that of omnivores (116 h 29 min)

Ø   Use of medications and drugs, and need of medical supply, was less in vegetarians vs. controls/other ultra-runners


National Runners’ Health Study (national US survey) [287]: Interactive effects of running (weekly mileage) and diet (weekly intakes of red meat, fish, fruit and alcohol), by self-reported food intakes of 289 vegetarians and 62 vegans, vs. physician-supplied medical data (8,891 omnivores)

Ø   Compared to omnivores, vegetarians ran significantly further, had higher BMI, higher fruit intake, less alcohol

Ø   Dietary assessment was limited -> lack of data on other foods/specific nutrients prevented any conclusion that red meat or fruit caused the associations