The Vegetarian Athlete – A successful Combination

The Vegetarian Athlete – A successful Combination

For the last article in this protein series, I want to focus on a statement I often hear from my athletes: ‘Being a vegetarian is healthy, but athletes cannot be vegetarians.’  NOT TRUE! 

After hearing this over and over again, I want to put an end to this all too popular myth.  Being a successful athlete and Vegetarian (or Vegan) is possible and actually quite common.  Recognize any of these names:   Venus Williams (tennis), Joe Namath (American football), Mike Tyson (boxing), Jermain Defoe (soccer)?  Each a Champion of their respective sport and vegetarian!

The vegetarian diet is not drastically different from a normal healthy diet, with the obvious exception of meat.  However, there are multiple levels of vegetarianism.  Before beginning a meat free lifestyle, it is important to first consider which option is best for you:


Lacto-Ovo vegetarian (Most common) – Vegetarian diet excluding meat, poultry and fish but includes eggs and dairy products as protein sources.

Lactovegetarian – Vegetarian diet excluding meat, poultry, fish and eggs; but includes dairy products as protein sources.

Pescatarian:  Vegetarian diet excluding meat, poultry, and eggs; but includes fish and dairy products as protein sources.

Vegan – Vegetarian diet that excludes all animal products.  This includes meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products.  This group relies only on plant protein to meet protein needs.

Traditionally, the consumption of meat was thought to be the only way to build muscle and maintain adequate protein levels.  Today, we know there are variety of non-meat foods that contain sufficient protein to fuel performance and build muscle mass.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, ‘a well-planned vegetarian diet that meets energy needs and contains a variety of plant-based protein foods, such as soy products, other legumes (beans and lentils), grains, nuts and seeds can provide adequate protein for athletes without the use of special foods or supplements.’

In order to meet their personal needs, athletes following a vegetarian diet must consume a variety of non-meat protein sources throughout the day.  Because plant based foods are not considered complete protein sources (see article #6 – Protein: The Body’s Building Block), variety is key when it comes to meal planning.  Below is a high protein meal plan for the (Lacto-Ovo) vegetarian athlete, recipes included J!

Breakfast:  42 grams of protein

· Green Smoothie = 1 large banana + 1c milk + 1c baby spinach + 1 tbsp chia seeds +   ¼c hemp seeds + ice

· Oatmeal = 1c steel cut oats + ½c milk (of choice) +  ½c dried apricots + 1 packet stevia

Mid-Morning Snack:  8g protein

· String Cheese + Apple

Lunch:  30 grams of protein

· Salmon Pita Sandwich =

· Greek Yogurt Dipping sauce =

Afternoon Snack: 15 grams of protein

· Plain Greek Yogurt + Blueberries + 1 tsp honey

Dinner: 28 grams of protein

· Vegetarian chili =

· Whole Grain Jalapeno Cornbread =

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