As a vegetarian athlete, it’s important to know that a balanced vegetarian
diet can provide the energy and nutrients you need to support your training
and athletic performance.
The key is choosing a variety of different foods rich in:
Protein. Protein gives you the energy you need to enhance your athletic performance
and rebuild small muscle tears that occur during sports and exercise.
As a vegetarian athlete, you can still meet protein needs by eating a
variety of protein-rich plant foods like nuts, seeds, soy foods and whole
grains. You should consume about 1.2 – 1.7 grams of protein per
2.2 pounds of your body weight per day to stay healthy and achieve peak
Iron. Iron helps carry oxygen from your lungs to your working muscles, which
can help enhance your athletic performance. Vegetarians need nearly twice
as much iron per day as non-vegetarians because iron from plant sources
(versus meat sources) is difficult for your body to absorb. Make sure
you eat foods with higher levels of iron, including beans, whole and enriched
grains, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts and seeds.
Carbohydrates. A vegetarian diet is naturally rich in carbohydrates because of all the
pasta, rice, vegetables, fruits and grains you eat. As your body’s
fuel of choice, carbohydrates can help boost your energy availability
– which is essential to optimizing your athletic performance. Starting
sports or exercise with stored carbohydrates, from previous carbohydrate-rich
meals, can also help prevent fatigue.
Calcium. This is the primary nutrient that enhances bone health and muscle function.
Athletes, especially female athletes, with low dietary calcium may have
increased risk of bone and stress fractures. You can easily get calcium
from foods like fortified soy or rice milk, fortified fruit juice, broccoli,
kale, cheese, yogurt, almonds and carrots.
Vitamin D. Vitamin D is required for your body to properly absorb calcium –
and it’s needed for a healthy immune system. You should consume
about 1,000 IU of vitamin D-rich and vitamin D-fortified foods like fortified
milk, yogurt, eggs, soy products and fatty fish. Spending about 20 minutes
outside every day can also help boost your vitamin D levels. A vitamin
D supplement may be needed if your blood level is low, and especially
during winter, when sun exposure is at a minimum.
Vegetarian Meal Options
A balanced diet that contains adequate protein, iron, carbohydrates, calcium
and vitamin D will help keep you healthy – and at peak performance.
Here are some meal options that include these vital nutrients and minerals
and are easy to prepare:
Breakfast: Melon and cottage cheese with rye crackers
Lunch: Whole-grain pita with hummus and cucumber slices; baby carrots; fruit yogurt
Snack: Dark chocolate-dipped strawberries
Dinner: Black bean taco salad with guacamole and tortilla chips; skim milk
Breakfast: Cooked oatmeal with raspberries and almonds; skim milk
Lunch: Zucchini and goat cheese pizza with a small spinach salad and vinaigrette
dressing; fruit yogurt
Snack: Chocolate and banana smoothie
Dinner: Sugar snap and snow pea stir fry with brown rice; skim milk
For more information, or to schedule a sports nutrition consultation, call