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Vegetarianism: A Winning Formula for Athletes

From Olympic arenas to NFL stadiums, vegetarian athletes are dominating their meat-eating competitors. Meat-free mavericks include Sports Illustrated “Olympian of the Century” Carl Lewis, top ultra-marathon runner Scott Jurek, tennis legend Chris Evert, football star Ricky Williams, Ultimate Fighting champ Mac Danzig, NBA standouts Raja Bell and Salim Stoudamire, and boxing champion Keith Holmes.

The Advantages of a Vegetarian Diet for Athletes

  • A vegetarian diet provides athletes with all the protein, complex carbohydrates, and other nutrients they need to get stronger and faster—without the artery-clogging cholesterol and saturated fats found in meat, eggs, and dairy products.
  • According to the American Dietetic Association and the Dieticians of Canada, vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and various types of cancer than meat-eaters.

Read about how a vegan diet has helped Ultimate Fighting champion Mac Danzig take his skills to a new level.

Top Tips for High-Performance Vegetarian Athletes

A sensible, well-rounded vegetarian diet will give you the essential nutrients you need to excel. Here are a few key things to remember:

  • Nutritionists recommend that most of the calories athletes consume come from complex carbohydrates. While refined carbohydrates like sugar and white bread should be avoided, complex carbs are critical for fueling your muscles with energy in a sustained way. Great choices are whole-wheat breads and pastas, cereals, brown rice, quinoa, and fruits and vegetables.
  • Protein can be found in abundance in foods like beans, nuts, tofu, whole grains, veggie burgers, Gardenburger’s meatless barbecue ribs, Boca’s Chik’n Nuggets, and other meat substitutes. Although vegetarians can easily get plenty of protein through these foods, if you’re looking for a post-workout boost, put some frozen fruit and a vegan protein supplement into a blender for a delicious smoothie, mix up a Vega drink, or grab a tasty Clif “builder bar” (weighing in at 20 grams of protein) from your local supermarket.
  • A bit of fat in your diet is important, and the fats in plant foods like avocados, vegetable and olive oils, nuts, and seeds tend to be much healthier than the artery-clogging fats found in most animal products. Take a pass on deep-fried foods.
  • Adding a multivitamin and a vitamin B12 supplement to your daily diet is a good idea for all athletes.
  • Any trainer will tell you that the more calories you burn, the more fuel you need. Vegetarian foods tend to be very nutrient-dense, but they are somewhat less calorie-dense than animal products. So eat plenty of your favorite vegetarian dishes.

Read our “Optimal Vegan Nutrition” page for more helpful tips.

Tell Us Your Story!

Are you a competitive athlete or a weekend warrior who found that your performance got a boost when you dropped meat from your diet? We want to hear about it! Please send your story and a photo to VegInfo@peta.org.

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