Nutritional Deficiencies in Vegan Runners: A Comparison of Actual Versus Recommended Nutritional Intake and Dietary Recommendations

Main Article Content

Philip Woodbridge
Maria Konstantaki
Gill Horgan


Macronutrient intake, RNI, Vegan, Runners


Introduction: The aim of this study was to assess the dietary intake of vegan runners against targets and Reference Nutrient Intakes (RNIs) to identify potential nutritional deficiencies.
Methods: Thirty vegan recreational runners who do not run professionally (mean ± SD; age: 42.9 ± 10.6 y, stature: 171 ± 0.1 cm, body mass: 65.7 ± 8.8 kg) were assessed using 3-day food diaries. Key nutrients, energy intake, lifestyle characteristics and dietary habits were determined.

Results: Deficiencies (actual v target intake/RNI) were identified in energy intake (2219 ± 531 kcal v 2554 ± 420 kcal), protein intake (72.9 ± 20.0 g v 92.0 ± 12.4 g), vitamin D (5.0 ± 6.3 μg/d v 10.0 μg/d) and selenium (45.7 ± 21.0 μg/d v 60.0 μg/d and 75.0 μg/d for females and males, respectively; all at p<0.05). In contrast, the average intake of iron, zinc, vitamin B12, calcium and iodine were shown to be above the RNI. Conclusions: These results suggest that the dietary intakes of the vegan recreational runners in the study were deficient in some key nutrients whilst being above target RNI in other nutrients. Therefore, careful planning is required to normalize nutrient intake and achieve a balanced diet. This paper presents dietary recommendations to address key nutrient deficiencies in the vegan diet to improve health and performance.

Abstract 883 | PDF Downloads 448


1. Vegan Society. Half a million Britons are now vegan., accessed 18/8/2016

2. Walsh, S. Plant Based Nutrition and Health, St. Leonards-on-Sea: The Vegan Society. 2003.

3. Craig, W.J. Position stand of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc, 2009; 109,7, 1266-1282.

4. Turner-McGrievy, G.M., Moore, W.J., & Barr-Anderson, D. The interconnectedness of diet choice and distance running: Results of the research understanding the nutrition of endurance runners (runner) study, Int J Sports NutrExerc Metab. 2016;26, 205-211.

5. Wells, A.M., Haub, M.D., Fluckey, J., et al. Comparisons of vegetarian and beef-consuming diets on hematological indexes and iron stores during a period of resistive training in older men. J Am Diet Assoc,. 2003;103, 5, 594-601.

6. American College of Sports Medicine & American Dietetic Association. Joint Position Statement: nutrition and athletic performance. American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, and Dietitians of Canada. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016;48, 3, 543-568.

7. Barr, S.I. & Rideout, C.A. Nutritional considerations for vegetarian athletes. United States: Elsevier Inc. 2004

8. Cox, G. Special needs: the vegetarian athlete, In Clinical Sports Nutrition, 2010; pp. 602-616. [Burke, L., and Deakin, V., editors). Sydney (NSW): McGraw-Hill.

9. Craddock, J., Probst, Y., & Peoples, G.E. Vegetarian and Omnivorous Nutrition – Comparing Physical Performance, Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2015;26, 3, 212-220.

10. Larson-Meyer, D.E. Vegetarian sports nutrition. Leeds: Human Kinetics. 2007

11. Loucks, A.B., Kiens, B. & Wright, H.H. Energy availability in athletes. J Sp Sci, 2011;29(1) Suppl., S7-S15.

12. Wirnitzer, K. & Kornexl, E. Energy and macronutrient intake of a female vegan cyclist during and 8-day mountain bike stage race, Proc (Bayl University Medical Centre), 2014;27(1), 42-45.

13. Department of Health. Dietary reference values for food energy and nutrients for the United Kingdom. London: HMSO. 1991

14. Griffin, J. Nutrition for marathon running. Ramsbury: Crowood. 2005

15. Rodriguez, N.R., DiMarco, N.M., & Langley, S. Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: nutrition and athletic performance. J Am Diet Assoc, 2009;109, 3, 509-527.

16. Venderley, A.M. & Campbelli, W.W. Vegetarian Diets: Nutritional Considerations for Athletes. Sports Med. 2006;36, 4, 293-305.

17. Wilson, P.B. Nutrition behaviors, perceptions, and beliefs of recent marathon finishers. Physicians Sportsmedicine. 2016;44, 242-251.

18. Wirnitzer, K., Boldt, P., Lechleitner, C., Wirnitzer, G., Leitzmann, C., Rosemann, T., & Knechtle, B. Health status of female and male vegetarian and vegan endurance runners compared to omnivores- Results from the NURMI Study (Step 2), Nutrients. 2018;11, 29.

19. Black, A.E., Cole, T.J., Goldberg, G.R., et al. Critical evaluation of energy intake data using fundamental principles of energy physiology: 2. Evaluating the results of dietary surveys. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1991;45, 583-599.

20. Dyett, P., Rajaram, S., Haddad, E.H. et al. Evaluation of a validated food frequency questionnaire for self-defined vegans in the United States. Nutrients. 2014;6, 7, 2523-2539.

21. Goldberg, G.R., Black, A.E., Jebb, S.A., et al. Critical evaluation of energy intake data using fundamental principles of energy physiology: 1. Derivation of cut-off limits to identify under-reporting. Eur J Clin Nutr. 1991;45, 12, 569-81.

22. Jeukendrup, A.E. & Gleeson M. Sport Nutrition. 3rd Ed. Munich: Human Kinetics. 2019

23. Ainsworth, B.E., Haskell, W.L., Herrmann, S.D., et al. 2011 Compendium of Physical Activities: A Second Update of Codes and MET Values. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43, 8, 1575-81.

24. Jeukendrup, A.E. Nutrition for endurance sports: Marathon, triathlon, and road cycling. J Sports Sci. 2011;29, 1, Suppl, S91-S99.

25. Mountjoy, M., Sundgot-Borgen, J., Burke, L., et al. The IOC consensus statement: beyond the Female Athlete Triad--Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S). Br J Sports Med. 2014;48, 7, 491-497.

26. Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN). Vitamin D and Health, London: Crown Copyright. 2016

27. Donovan, U.M., Gibson, R.S., Ferguson, E.L., et al. Selenium intakes of children from Malawi and Papau New Guinea consuming plant-based diets. J Trace Elem Electrolytes Health Dis. 1992;128, 39-43.

28. Snyder, A.C., Dvorak, L.L., & Roepke, J.B. Influence of dietary iron source on measures of iron status among female runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1989;21, 1, 7-11.

29. Thomas, D.T., Erdman, K.A. & Burke, L.M. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016;116, 3, 501-528.