There is a myth saying that one cannot become a professional athlete if they follow a plant-based diet. Presumably, this meal plan doesn’t contain enough protein and some other vital nutrients to help you grow muscle and maintain good sports performance. However, hundreds of vegetarian athletes prove that this is nothing but a myth. With a well-balanced diet and a smart training plan, you can achieve great results in any sport, even if you exclude all meat from your diet.
The secret to becoming a great athlete while rejecting the majority of animal-based foods is to develop a well-balanced nutrition plan that would meet your needs perfectly. Note that being more active means that your meals have to provide you with a higher level of energy. Most importantly, this has to be the right kind of energy as any nutrient deficiency can be extremely dangerous for an athlete. You will need to be even more thorough in designing your diet if you aim to be a bodybuilder. However, it’s possible to grow muscles even without indulging in protein-laden meats.
Prominent Vegetarian Athletes on the Advantages of Their Diet
Many renowned athletes are either vegetarians or vegans. Such outstanding persons like Rich Roll (top Ultraman finisher), Brendan Brazier (ultra-runner), Tim Van Orden (running champion), and Hillary Biscay (pro triathlete) claim their diets have the following benefits over meat-eaters:
- Vegetarian meals are more ‘alkaline’.
This is believed to be one of the most important advantages of veggie meals as ‘acidic’ meat-based foods include sulfur-containing amino acids. It’s believed that consuming them regularly can bring the acidity level of the body so high, it would start to leech calcium from the bones. Presumably, vegetarian diet helps normalize pH as vegetables are more alkaline by default.
- Many veggie foods consume less energy to produce more energy.
Vegetarian athletes need to consume lots of smoothies and juices as these particular ‘dishes’ provide you with a nutritional boost only raw foods can produce and are easy to digest. After eating them, you will experience a surge of energy that will allow you to increase the length and intensity of your training.
Note: Be careful with this power boost, especially if you are just starting your pro sports training. The surge is so powerful that an inexperienced athlete can overwork themselves, which increases the risk of injury.
- Vegetarian diet speeds up your recovery rate.
Another huge benefit of ‘smashed’ raw veggie foods is their ability to elevate the natural recovery rate. If you include protein-rich produce (seeds and nuts) into your workout cocktails, even bodybuilders might be able to up their training frequency.
Vegetarian Diet for Athletes: Common Mistakes to Avoid
One thing all vegetarian athletes and researchers studying these meal plans agree on is that this diet requires extremely careful planning. It’s true that the risk of developing various nutrient deficiencies is high. However, you can prevent this by avoiding the following mistakes:
- Not eating enough calories.
As an athlete, you have a higher need for energy, so you must consume more calories. It would be best to discuss your exact nutrition requirements with a dietary professional experienced in working with athletes.
- Not supplementing nutrient deficiencies.
Supplements are a must for any athlete, but those eating a plant-based diet require specialized types of them. This meal plan creates the need to up your supplementation of vitamins D and B12 as well as zinc. It’s like dealing with the spring avitaminosis, you just need to look up the right kind of products and make sure your meals include specific foods, for example soy beans for B12. Vitamin D and zinc deficiencies are common risks regardless of whether you eat meat or not. The former is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight and the amounts of the latter in foods are insufficient to meet the daily requirements. Vegetarian athletes also need to make sure their meal plan includes sources of iodine, riboflavin, and omega 3.
- Eating poorly.
Yes, you can eat poorly even as a vegetarian or vegan as there is a great number of processed plant-based foods available in the stores. Indulging in French fries, processed ‘fake meat’, and junk foods would result in a variety of health issues for anyone, not just an athlete.
- Not eating a wide variety of colored foods.
A vegetarian diet for an athlete must be multicolored, because the color of a fruit or vegetable denominates its nutritional value.
Sample of a Vegetarian Athlete Diet
The key to sports success on a plant-based diet is developing a meal plan that would meet your increased needs without overloading your system with unnecessary carbs. Here is an example of how this can be achieved offered by one of the renowned vegetarian pro athletes, Rich Roll.
- Pre-workout in the morning.
Start your day with a smoothie that would give you power for the first workout of the day. It should include kale, chia, flax, and hemp seeds, beets, orange, and Vega Whole Food Optimizer.
- Post-workout in the morning.
Replenish your energy with cold quinoa laced with coconut milk berries and hemp seeds, as well as some coconut water.
This meal should give you lots of energy, so it should include brown rice, veggie salad, or beans and greens with hemp seeds.
The perfect snacks for vegetarian athletes are nuts (almonds and walnuts in particular). You can also try some Vitamix with pea/brown rice/hemp protein.
Similar to lunch, the best plan for dinner is lentils over brown rice and a salad.
Being a vegetarian athlete doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy some delicious treats for desserts. For example, try making coconut milk ice cream or Chia seed pudding.
Another great tip for sports pros is switching to coconut water during your workouts as it’s much tastier and more nutritious.
Nutritional Guidelines for Building Muscles on Veggies
If growing muscle mass is one of the main goals of your sports training, following these general nutrition rules will allow you to achieve it on a plant-based diet.
- Eating small frequent meals.
You’ll need to eat 6-8 times per day with the intervals of 2-4 hours. This will not only provide you with sufficient nutrients but also increase your fat-burning rate. The nutrients will boost muscle growth and give you the energy to work out harder in the gym.
- Get enough proteins.
You need to consume 1-1.5 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. For example, if your weight is 180 pounds, you should get the minimum of 180 grams of protein per day (approximately 30-gram servings 6 times a day).
- Get the right type of carbs.
One of the biggest benefits cited by professional vegetarian athletes is that this diet gives you a choice of the best carbs. You need them to grow muscles, and you can get them from whole grains so you don’t run the risk of sudden blood sugar spikes. These foods have a low glycemic index and are considered ‘healthier’ than other sources of carbs.
If you aim for an intense muscle growth, you’ll need to eat about 2-3 grams of carbs per pound of body weight.
- Maintain the right fat-to-calories ratio.
Vegetarian bodybuilders may have difficulties with consuming a healthy amount of ‘energy’ as fruits and vegetables that make up the bulk of their diet are high in fiber, but low in calories. You should aim to get 15-20 calories per pound of body weight and 30% of them should be from fats. Luckily, this diet enables you to consume healthy fats.
Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe for Children Athletes?
Yes, it definitely is. All kids are active, and if your practices any kind of sport professionally, you’ll need to discuss their specific nutrition needs with a doctor, trainer, and nutritionist. Note that the meal plan will need to change as your kid grows.
In general, vegetarian diet for children is not only perfectly safe but also conductive to the development of a healthier and stronger body. Studies indicate that these kids have a lower risk of developing obesity and a variety of chronic diseases.
It’s safe to introduce this diet from the first months of life. In fact, this would be the best approach as it will form a healthy eating habit in the child.
Get the Best Results with a Smart Vegetarian Diet for Athletes
The number of vegetarian athletes increases with every passing year and their results definitely prove that this meal plan can improve your performance. Yes, it’s true that it might carry specific deficiencies risks, but so does any diet.
As long as you eat well-balanced meals that meet the needs of your training regimen, you would be able to show great results and enjoy your healthy and fit body.