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Cycling and a Vegetarian Diet

Whether you are a Vegetarian or you just want to cut back on your meat intake, knowing how to get the right balance of nutrients from a meat-free diet can keep you at peak cycling performance. If you have chosen to follow a Vegetarian diet, you may also be wondering if you are getting enough protein and other nutrients from plant foods to fuel your cycling and promote recovery.

The main protein sources for Vegetarian Cyclists are dairy foods, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, soya products (tofu, tempeh), whole grains (such as bread, oats, pasta, rice and millet) and quinoa. However, most plant sources of protein — with the exceptions of quinoa and soya, do not provide all eight amino acids.

The solution is to combine protein sources: grains with pulses (e.g. black beans and vegetable curry with rice); grains with dairy (e.g. porridge); soya with vegetables (e.g. tofu and vegetable stir-fry); grains or pulses with nuts (e.g. chickpea); dairy with vegetables (e.g. spinach and cheese).

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Cycling and a Vegetarian Diet-2

For optimal muscle recovery, aim for 0.3g/kg body weight (roughly 20–25g) post-exercise and per meal. This is equivalent to 500ml milk or 25g whey, soya, pea or four tablespoons (200g) cooked pulses combined with five tablespoons (250g) cooked whole grains (pasta, rice or quinoa).

The type of iron found in plants is less easy for your body to absorb than is the iron found in meat. However, you can increase the amount absorbed by eating a Vitamin C-rich food (i.e. fruit, vegetables) at the same time as iron-rich foods. Good plant sources of iron include whole grains, quinoa, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, leafy green vegetables, and dry fruits.

The source of Omega-3 (fatty acids EPA and DHA) for vegetarians is flax seed, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and walnuts; which provide some alpha linoleic acid (ALA), which is converted to EPA and DHA in the body, but only at a limited rate. Consume a tablespoon of these per day.

Pros and cons of a vegetarian diet


  1. A longer lifespan: long-term vegetarians live on average nearly four years longer than meat-eaters, according to 2016 research conducted at the Mayo Clinic, Arizona, USA.
  2. Lower heart disease risk: the EPIC-Oxford Vegetarian Study of 45,000 people showed vegetarians have a 32 per cent lower chance of developing heart disease.
  3. Lower cancer risk: populations that eat less meat tend to have less cancer, particularly bowel, breast and prostate cancers.
  4. Better for the environment: livestock farming is responsible for 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.
  5. More sustainable and a better use of land: 30 per cent of the planet’s available surface is used by livestock or for growing food for livestock.
  6. Budget-friendly: Meat is much more expensive than plant-based proteins like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and tofu.
  1. Lack of nutrients: if you do not have a plan in place for getting the nutrients found in meat through vegetarian sources, you can fall short on protein, iron, zinc, omega-3s; and for vegans, calcium and vitamin B12.
  2. Not getting enough calories: plant-based diets are not very calorie-dense so you may unintentionally eat too few calories to fuel your cycling.
  3. Eating too much fibre: many plant-based foods are high in fibre. Eating lots of high-fibre foods may cause premature satiety, gas, bloating and discomfort.

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If you are a Cyclist looking to explore a complete Vegetarian diet, we hope this article gave some useful insights for you. While making your meal plan, make sure to double check for individual allergies and if it’s suitable for you as each body is different. Happy cycling!


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