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Is a Plant-based Diet for Athletes Possible?

Is a Plant-based Diet for Athletes Possible?

Is a plant-based diet for athletes enough? Muscles and athletic performance go together like bread and butter. While the demands of every sport are unique, all athletes train their minds and bodies to be in top condition. With that said, an athlete’s diet is just as important for health and performance—if not more important. Can athletes really build muscles and endurance without meat? Here’s the lowdown on following a vegetarian diet or vegan diet for athletes.

Can athletes do plant-based diets?

Yes! While we often associate athletes and bodybuilders with protein that comes from meat, we can get protein from other sources. Today, there are many plant-based and non-animal sources of protein products available in stores.

There are several reasons people may choose a plant-based diet. For some, it may be to avoid allergic reactions, reduce their cholesterol and caloric intake, control gout flares, or for personal and ethical reasons.

Athletes who decide to follow a plant-based diet need to be extra vigilant while reading package and nutrition labels. Depending on if you are vegetarian (no animal meat) or vegan (no animal products), you need to make sure the product does not contain traces of animal fat, flavorings, and the like.

In addition, you should consult your doctor or a dietitian regarding your diet. They can help determine your BMI and dietary requirements, including calculating your caloric and macronutrient needs.

Protein requirements for athletes

No matter what diet you have, it should cover all the macronutrients: protein, carbs, and fat. Protein is especially important for athletes and physically active people for strength and endurance. If you do not consume enough protein, the body starts to use up its stored protein in the muscles for energy. This results in muscle wasting and weight loss, which are not ideal for athletic performance.

Athletes should aim for about 1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day to maintain their muscle mass. Men generally require more protein than women. If you are looking to build muscle mass, you would need to increase your protein intake while also increasing your weight training load.

plant based diet for athletes

Tips for a plant-based diet for athletes

Vegetarian diet for athletes

A vegetarian diet is less restrictive than a vegan diet. Because vegetarian diets still allow animal products like milk and eggs, there are more high-protein options available to you. Yogurt, cheese, and omelets are great for a healthy, high-protein breakfast or snack.

Vegetarians can also use whey protein supplements to fill in any gaps in their protein requirements. A scoop of whey powder typically contains 20 to 30 grams of protein. Whey protein can be mixed into many recipes, including pancakes, smoothies, and bread.

Vegan diet for athletes

On the other hand, vegan diets are more restrictive than vegetarian diets. Vegan diets generally do not allow for any animal products, including meat, eggs, milk, and bones. This also includes ingredients such as gelatin, whey, casein, and stock.

Because vegan diets do not include eggs and dairy products, protein should be consumed from totally plant-based sources. Soy protein is a popular option for vegans and vegetarians alike. Soy milk, tofu, and meat substitutes are made from soybeans.

plant-based diet for athletes

The benefits of soy are its high protein content without cholesterol, unlike most animal protein sources. Other excellent sources of protein include nuts, lentils, beans, and broccoli. Even seeds and grains such as pumpkin seeds, brown rice, oats, and quinoa contain protein.

Vegan athletes should also consider taking vitamin supplements to prevent anemia. Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in people who have been on a vegan diet for a long time. Naturally, B12 is only found in animal products like meat and eggs. Iron supplementation should also be considered since red meat and liver are major sources of iron. However, leafy green vegetables do contain significant amounts of iron as well.

Key takeaways

In conclusion, a plant-based diet for athletes is definitely doable. While most people get their protein from meat, that doesn’t mean following a vegan diet or vegetarian diet for athletes is impossible. Because plant-based diets are special diets and athletes have specific nutritional requirements, it is best to speak with a doctor and dietitian to ensure that you have the best diet for your body.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.


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5 TIPS FOR CREATING A PLANT BASED DIET FOR ATHLETES https://online.csp.edu/blog/5-tips-for-creating-a-plant-based-diet-for-athletes/ Accessed January 8, 2021

The Plant-Based Diet for Athletes https://www.nomeatathlete.com/vegetarian-diet-athletes/ Accessed January 8, 2021

Vegan nutrition for athletes https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-for-athletes Accessed January 8, 2021

Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-017-0192-9 Accessed January 8, 2021

Plant-Based Diets for Cardiovascular Safety and Performance in Endurance Sports https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6356661/ Accessed January 8, 2021

Protein https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/ Accessed January 8, 2021

Vegetarian and vegan diets Q&A https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/vegetarian-and-vegan-diets-q-and-a/ Accessed January 8, 2021

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Written by Stephanie Nicole G. Nera, RPh, PharmD on Jan 11
Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel