3 Nutrition Tips for the Vegetarian Athlete

vegetarian athlete

Being an athlete requires more work than meets the eye.

Most people who want to train for a triathlon or just become healthier in general understand they need to make the time to be in the gym on a regular basis. But, what they fail to see is the amount of mental strength, the dedication, and the other sacrifices that go into training.

Not to mention, most of an athlete’s efforts are made in the kitchen. No matter how hard you train your muscles, you have to put even more effort into fixing your diet.

This is especially true for a vegetarian athlete.

If you’re already an athlete and thinking of becoming a vegetarian, or you’re currently a vegetarian but not an athlete, keep reading. The following is your ultimate guide to training without eating meat.

1. Know Your Macros and Essential Nutrients

Let’s assume you have done some sort of athletic training before and that you’ve worked with macros. This is a term that is short for “macronutrients” – as in carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Macros are the fundamental parts of our diets.

Whether you eat meat with every single meal or you’re a raw vegan, your body needs a healthy balance of macros to function properly. For athletes, the balance of each macro is crucial to reaching the performance level you’re looking for.

A vegetarian athlete, though, has a few more things to be conscious of.

When a person removes meat from their diet, they’re potentially taking away a hefty amount of nutrients that come with such food products. Thus, to go vegetarian successfully and maintain your training levels, you need a basic understanding of the items below.

Calorie Count

Most runners (and other athletes) understand the value of watching their calories. This is how the body gets its fuel to train, after all.

The thing about becoming a vegetarian, though, is that these diets tend to be less calorie-dense than traditional, meat-eating habits. When transitioning into vegetarianism, you have to be careful not to drop too low in your calories.

An extreme drop can make you feel tired throughout the day and weak when doing your workouts. Not to mention, it can slow down your metabolism and affect how your muscles recover, too.

To keep this from happening, try to maintain your standard calorie intake as much as possible. Figuring out your macros can help you since these are the main components that determine how many calories are in a meal. Remember to balance your carbs, fats, and proteins for the best results as a vegetarian athlete.


Carbs and fats are pretty easy to come by as a vegetarian.

Many of the best resources for these foods aren’t meat-based, to begin with. But, when most people think of the protein on a traditional plate of food, they think of the meat.

As such, protein should be your main focus when becoming a vegetarian. This is something your body can’t afford to lose – since proteins affect your energy during a workout, muscle recovery and growth, hunger control, and even regular hormone production.

The kicker? There are 20 amino acids needed to make one complete protein, and the body doesn’t produce 9 of them, which are referred to as essential aminos. This means you can’t just eat a bunch of nuts to substitute the protein you were getting as a meat-eater.

Every vegetarian athlete needs to pay close attention to how they pair their foods in order to get a substantial amount of complete proteins. Without meat, these are called complementary proteins – combining two groups of amino acids in your meals that make a complete protein in the body.

Some examples of this are:

  • bread and peanut butter
  • rice and beans
  • hummus and pita

See what we mean? Carbs and fats – easy to come by as a vegetarian. For enough protein, though, you have to get creative about how you pair your foods.

2. Think About Nutrition for Your Entire Day

Speaking of being creative with your food pairings, keep in mind that just as vegetarianism is a lifestyle, so is athletic training. You can’t just be conscious of your protein intake after you finish a workout then eat whatever you want the rest of the day.

For the best performance and maintenance of body energy, think about proper eating habits throughout the day.

Pre-Workout and Post-Workout

As much as what you eat from the moment you wake up until your last meal of the day matters, admittedly, some meals matter more than others. For instance, what you eat right before and right after your workout should be focused on the physical efforts you’re about to do (or just did).

Some great, meat-free pre-workout options are:

  • a banana with either peanut butter or a handful of nuts
  • oatmeal with fruit and nuts
  • trail mix

These are light enough to make you feel free and nimble while running, swimming, biking – or all three. But, they give you the boost you need to properly take on your workout plan for the day.

After you finish exercising, try eating something like:

  • a loaded sweet potato
  • cottage cheese
  • hummus and pita
  • an egg sandwich

Some of the choices mentioned may not be fit for you, depending on the kind of vegetarian you are. Lacto-ovo-vegetarians, for example, consume eggs as well as dairy, while Lacto-vegetarians don’t eat eggs but are okay with dairy.

Meal Planning and Prepping

Whatever time of day you eat your meals and do your workouts, the best way to ensure you’re getting the proper nutrition is to meal plan. You don’t always have to prep every single meal, but you should at least know what you’re going to have if you’re grabbing a quick lunch at the office or going to a smoothie shop after the gym.

Meal planning allows you to take a closer look at your macro and micronutrients. Such efforts take your total count of required foods in a day and make them easier to take on by breaking them down into every meal.

3. Plan Ahead and Be Mindful of Your Needs

Whether you’re a long-time athlete who has decided to try being a vegetarian, or a vegetarian who hasn’t worked out in years, get ready to practice patience. Your body is going to need some time to adjust to its new diet and energy levels.

Don’t force what doesn’t feel right, and don’t hesitate to eat a little more than you might have expected you needed. The more you listen to your body, the better you can align your workout and diet goals with your desired performance and energy levels.

Training as a Vegetarian Athlete

Although what you eat throughout the day is going to change when you go vegetarian, your workouts don’t really have to! It’s just a matter of making sure you have enough fuel to keep doing the routine you enjoy.

Keep this in mind as you continue the workouts you’ve been doing or try something new. For training tips and ideas, click here.