Dietary protein quality, muscle mass, and strength in vegetarian athletes
Vegetarian diets can provide an abundance of nutrients when planned with care. However, research suggests that vegetarian diets may have lower protein quality than omnivore diets. Current protein recommendations assume that vegetarians obtain a majority of their protein from animal products, like dairy and eggs. Studies have shown that this assumption may not be valid. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) may not be adequate in vegetarian populations with high protein requirements. The purpose of this study is to analyze dietary protein quality using the DIAAS (Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score) method in both vegetarian and omnivore endurance athletes. 38 omnivores and 22 vegetarians submitted 7-day food records which were assessed using nutrition analysis software (Food Processor, ESHA Research, Salem, OR, USA). Dietary intake data was used to calculate DIAAS and determine the amount of available dietary protein in subject diets. Dietary data was compared with the subjects’ lean body mass (obtained using DEXA scan technology), and strength (quantified using peak torque of leg extension and flexion using an isokinetic dynamometer). Statistical analyses revealed significantly higher available protein intake in the omnivore athletes (p<.001). There were significant correlations between available protein intake and strength (p=.016) and available protein intake and lean body mass (p<.001). Omnivore subjects had higher lean body mass than vegetarian subjects (p=.011). These results suggest that vegetarian athletes may benefit from higher overall protein intakes to make up for lower dietary protein quality.