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Interview with the Expert: Dr. D Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD - Part I

Quick Hit Summary

In this installment of “Interview with the Expert” we have the highly respected vegetarian sports nutritionist Dr. D Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD, RD, FACSM, here with us. In part I of the interview, Dr. Larson-Meyer discusses her background and experiences as a sports nutritionist. Additionally, she addresses key nutritional concerns that athletes must be aware of if they decide to live a vegetarian lifestyle. Part I of the interview concludes with a look at hemp protein, a supplement that has started to gain popularity in various training circles.

About Dr. D Enette Larson Meyer

Dr. D. Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD, RD, FACSM.3

In this installment of “Interview with the Expert” we have the privilege of talking exercise and nutrition research with Dr. Enette Larson-Meyer, PhD, RD, FACSM. Dr. Larson-Meyer is an assistant professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Wyoming, where she also serves as director of the nutrition and exercise laboratory. Her research focuses on how nutrition and metabolism influence the heath and performance of active people. One of Dr. Larson-Meyer’s studies was spotlighted in a previous article (The Effect of Caloric Restriction and Exercise on Weight Loss and Heart Health) that appeared here at CasePerformance.

Dr. Larson-Meyer earned a BS in Dietetics while attending the University of Wyoming in 1987. During this time period, she also completed an internship at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. Dr. Larson-Meyer then went on to receive her PhD in Nutrition Sciences from the University of Alabama in 1998. Dr. Larson-Meyer served as a sports nutritionist for the University of Alabama at Birmingham Athletic Department from 1995 to 2000, and she has consulted with numerous athletes throughout her career.

Dr. Larson-Meyer is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and is past chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group. She has published numerous scientific and consumer articles, has been featured in publications like Vegetarian Journal, and has served as a chapter contributor to publications including the American Dietetic Association’s Sports Nutrition: A Guide for the Professional Working with Active People and the International Olympic Committee Medical Commission’s Volleyball (Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science). She has also written a full length book, Vegetarian Sports Nutrition, aimed at helping both competitive and recreational vegetarian athletes obtain their training goals.

A serious recreational athlete for close to 20 years, Dr. Larson-Meyer enjoys running distance events, cycling, and dancing in her spare time.


Quite the impressive resume to say the least! It’s a true pleasure to have someone with your diverse background join us today at CasePerformance.

Personal Background & Nutritional Planning For Athletes

First off, I’d like to discuss your background and experiences as an applied sports nutritionist. When did you first become seriously interested in nutrition?

I was very involved in 4-H as a child. I learned a lot about nutrition and making healthy meals. During my spare time in high school, I found that I enjoyed reading about nutrition, exercise and health. I especially liked reading magazines that reviewed the latest research. When I went to college I initially planned on majoring in fashion merchandising. Somehow I found my way back to nutrition after taking by first college-level nutrition class.

It appears that you’ve worked with a large variety of athletes. Specifically, what types of athletes (football, endurance running, basketball, etc) have you worked with?

I have worked primarily with college athletes in a variety of sports including track, cross-country, soccer, volleyball, basketball, football, softball and synchronized swimming. I have also worked with endurance runners, cyclists and triathletes.

Do your recommendations vary at all from sport to sport or are they pretty consistent? For instance, would you advise athletes from one sport to take in a little more or less of one micro/macronutrient vs. an individual competing in a different sport?

The general recommendations for all athletes are similar. Dietary carbohydrate is important for maintaining muscle (and liver) glycogen stores which are the primary fuel used during moderate to high intensity exercise. Dietary protein is needed for general growth and repair of muscle and other tissues and also for promoting muscle and mitochondria protein synthesis after exercise. Adequate fat, vitamins and minerals are also required for a variety of functions which include maintenance of the athlete’s health.

With that said, however, the sports nutrition recommendations should be individualized for each athlete and will vary by sport, training phase and training and performance goals. For example, endurance athletes typically have higher carbohydrate needs than do team sport athletes including volleyball and basketball players. Because carbohydrate needs are higher when training is particularly prolonged (greater than 1 to 2 hours) or intense (repeated intervals), all athletes may have days or training phases when more carbohydrates are needed to replace glycogen stores and times when carbohydrate needs are not so high due to emphasis on skill development or strength and power training. While protein consumption may be beneficial after all types of intense training sessions, it may be most important following strength and power sessions.

Carbohydrate, protein and fluid needs during competition will also very depending on the intensity and duration of the sporting event and how close the events are spaced. Carbohydrates before and during exercise for example will increase performance in some sporting events but may have little impact in others.

How do you go about determining an athlete’s total kcal and macronutrient requirements?

I typically do not estimate energy requirements of athletes unless the athlete needs to gain or lose weight or if he/she is generally curious about their energy needs. To estimate energy needs I usually first estimate the athletes energy needs at rest (resting energy expenditure) from a prediction equation or from the direct measurement in my laboratory. I then add an estimate of the energy expended during typical training sessions (estimated from activity tables) and an estimate of their daily activity outside of training. As you can imagine energy needs can vary considerably from day to day and season to season so I often calculate the energy needs of two different training sessions and provide a suggested range. While this provides me and the athlete with an estimate of total daily energy needs and may be helpful —as I mentioned earlier — if the athlete needs to lose or gain body weight, I try and focus on teaching the athlete to listen to their hunger and satiety needs rather than striving to consume a certain amount of calories. There is also a lot of error in estimates of energy needs.

To estimate carbohydrate needs I use the most acceptable ranges per kilogram body weight (as outlined in the Position paper by ADA, ACSM and the Dietitians of Canada1). For carbohydrate, the range is 6 to 10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. An athlete who is doing a lot of endurance or long interval training will be on the higher end of this range while an athlete who does less training or more strength-type training will be at the lower end. This is the art rather than the science of sports nutrition. I select the range based on training phase, typical intake, training goals and reported performance.

For protein, the estimated ranges are 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram body weight for endurance athletes and 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram body weight for strength athletes. Again, estimates may vary from day to day and training phase.

For fat, I simply ensure that they are eating enough fat and emphasize making choices that are higher in monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids. Diets that are too high in fat displace valuable carbohydrate calories while diets too low in fat compromise intramyocullar fat stores (fat stored in skeletal muscle) and may not provide the essential fatty acids and a vehicle for absorption of fat soluble vitamins.

If you had to list the top 2 problems commonly seen in an athlete’s diet, what would they be and how do you usually address them?

It is difficult to pick just two. With some athletes it is inadequate energy intake which in turn can result in inadequate carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins and mineral intake. For other is it making poor food choices due to lack of knowledge or consuming too little carbohydrate or protein in close proximity to training.

Sports Nutrition for the Vegetarian Athlete

You’ve become a respected name in the vegetarian sports nutrition field. How long have you been a vegetarian yourself?

I have been a vegetarian since 1986. I never liked meat as a child. I stopped eating meat the night after my first anatomy lab in college. I felt meat protein looked too close to my own skeletal muscle protein.

Did you notice any difference in your athletic performance, recovery or general health after switching to a vegetarian lifestyle?

I found that I felt better overall. When I switched to a vegetarian diet, however, I was just lifting weights and attending an intense one-hour aerobic class several times a week. Therefore I really was not training enough to notice a major change in performance.

Being a vegetarian athlete takes true dedication. If an athlete comes up to you and says, “I want to become a vegetarian…”, what are the key points that they must be aware of before implementing this lifestyle change?

New vegetarians need to ensure that they consume adequate energy from a variety of plant based foods to optimize performance and help meet the needs of other nutrients including protein, iron, zinc, magnesium and riboflavin. Therefore it helps to have an idea of what recipes and foods can be eaten (and where they can be purchased) and to focus on including legumes (including soy products) almost daily along with whole and enriched grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts (if tolerated), seeds and, if desired, dairy products and eggs.

Vegetarian athletes can easily achieve adequate protein if their diets are adequate in energy and contain a variety of the aforementioned plant-based protein foods including legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains. Research by Young and Pellett about twenty years ago found that vegetarians do not need to be overly concerned with eating specific combinations of plant proteins in the same meal (as was once believed) but should consume an assortment of plant foods during the course of a day. This pattern should provide all essential amino acids and ensure adequate nitrogen retention and utilization. Selecting complementary proteins at each meal is not necessary because “limiting amino acids” in one meal are buffered by the body’s “free amino acid pools” found primarily in skeletal muscle and through the digestive tract. Furthermore, although some plant foods tend to be low in certain amino acids, usual dietary combinations of protein such as beans and rice tend to be “complete”.

It is relevant to note, however, that since cereals tend to be low in the essential amino acid lysine, athletes who do not consume dairy and/or eggs should incorporate beans and soy products into their diets to ensure adequate lysine intake and nitrogen balance. With that said, however, I do encourage athletes to consume soy, dairy or a combined protein source (legumes and grains) in the 30-minute window after training so as to optimize recovery.

It seems that the use of hemp protein, as part of a post workout shake, has risen in popularity during the last 1-2 years. What are your thoughts on this protein and how does it stack up vs. other popular vegetarian protein sources (rice, pea or soy protein)?

I honestly know little about help protein although I obtained a free sample at a food show and did like the flavor. It mixed very well into a smoothie. I, however, have not had athletes in Wyoming asking about it—but then again things typically hit us a bit later.

A recent article in Agriculture and Food Chemistry evaluated the percentage protein digestibility and protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of a variety of hemp products and basically found that hemp proteins have a PDCAAS equal to or greater than certain grains, nuts, and some pulses (but not soy)2. Specifically the percentage protein digestibility and PDCAAS values were 84.1-86.2 and 49-53% for whole hemp seed, 90.8-97.5 and 46-51% for hemp seed meal, and 83.5-92.1 and 63-66% for dehulled hemp seed. Lysine was the first limiting amino acid which is true for most grains. Removal of the hull fraction improved protein digestibility and the resultant PDCAAS value. Thus there is nothing magical about hemp protein.

The one interesting advantage it may have it may have—unrelated to its protein value—is that hemp is a source of omega-3 fatty acids (the short chains) which may have some health benefits related to reducing inflammation. Only a small percentage of the short chains are converted to the longer chain DHA and EPA. Again I don’t know much about pea protein in direct comparison but it would be similar to most legumes. As far as plant proteins go, soy is the most complete.
And with that, Part I of this interview comes to a close. Stay tuned for Part II of this interview where Dr. Larson-Meyer discusses differences her academic/research background, her book – Vegetarian Sports Nutrition, as well as the exciting research on Vitamin D & Athletes that is currently going on in her lab.


1 Rodriguez NR, DiMarco NM, Langley S; American Dietetic Association; Dietetians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine. 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 Mar;109(3):509-27.

2 House JD, Neufeld J, Leson G. Evaluating the Quality of Protein from Hemp Seed (Cannabis sativa L.) Products Through the use of the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score Method. J Agric Food Chem. Nov 24;58(22):11801-11807.

3 Image obtained Dec 11, 2010 from: http://uwadmnweb.uwyo.edu/family/Faculty/Larsen-Meyer.asp

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Written on December 11, 2010 by Sean Casey
Last Updated: March 02, 2011

This information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.Please check with your health care providers prior to starting any new dietary or exercise program. CasePerformance is not responsible for the outcome of any decision made based off the information presented in this article.

About the Author: Sean Casey is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison with degrees in both Nutritional Science-Dietetics and Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology. Sean graduated academically as one of the top students in both the Nutritional Science and Kinesiology departments.
Field Experience: During college, Sean was active with the UW-Badgers Strength and Conditioning Department. He has also spent time as an intern physical preparation coach at the International Performance Institute in Bradenton, FL. He also spent time as an intern and later worked at Athletes Performance in Tempe, AZ. While at these locations he had the opportunity to train football, soccer, baseball, golf and tennis athletes. Sean is also active in the field of sports nutrition where he has consulted with a wide variety of organizations including both elite (NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars) and amateur athletic teams. His nutrition consultation services are avalable by clicking on the Nutrition Consultation tab.