Can I be a vegetarian athlete and remain competitive?

Lots of athletes are vegetarian or vegan and compete successfully. A balanced diet with the appropriate amount of calories, including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, provide the body with the necessary nutrients for performance. Some vegetarians find it difficult to get enough calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and B-complex vitamins in their diet. Speaking to a dietician or nutritionist will help you determine if you are getting enough of these nutrients.

This answer provided for NATA by the Appalachian State University Athletic Training Education Program.
Natalie Weiss
Nutrition & Dietetics
Yes, definitely. However, it may take a bit more planning than the average individual because athletes expend a lot more energy. Plant foods are naturally low calorie so as an athlete you need to make sure you are getting enough! Famous vegetarian athletes include Joe Namath, Martina Navratilova, Brendan Brazier, Tony Gonzalez. Consider checking out Brendan Brazier's book Thrive.
Shari Portnoy
Nutrition & Dietetics

Certainly! A vegetarian diet is the healthiest way to go if you want to remain competitive. You don't need meat, you need the right amount of food. Athletes stay competitive by training and eating healthy. Timing meals around training and knowing your body will determine how much eat. Kudos to you for living a healthy lifestyle as a vegetarian!

Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics

Good nutrition is a key component of your training, competing and success as an athlete. A vegetarian diet can adequately meet all your nutritional needs as an athlete. Enjoy a wide variety of foods including wholegrain breads, pasta, cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, dairy or dairy-alternatives. To ensure that you are meeting your specific nutritional needs, schedule a session with a registered dietitian specializing in vegetarian nutrition. 

Sure! There have been many highly competitive vegetarian athletes (six time Ironman triathlon champion Dave Scott, Heisman Trophy-winning Desmond Howard, and basketball center Robert Parish just to name a few).

Percentage-wise, carbohydrates should make up the bulk of any athletes calorie intake, but you also need to pay special attention to your protein intake since you have eliminated a common source of protein in animal products. As an athlete, you need slightly more protein (1.2 - 2.0 grams/kg) than the non-athlete (.8 - 1.0). You can get this additional protein from taking in adequate calories, and making sure that your foods sources (grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and soy) also contain some protein. If you are eating some animal products (eggs, dairy, etc.) you will have no trouble meeting your needs.

Continue Learning about Vegetarian Diets

Vegetarian Diets

When you look at vegetarian diets, it's hard to do so without understanding that many of the practitioners believe that it is not only healthful, but more to practice vegetarianism. This is true even if the diet may include occasi...

onal meats or fish as in the Macrobiotic diet with it's Zen beliefs, or the Indian Ayurvedic diet, which finds milk and dairy central to good health along with plants. Anyone considering a vegetarian diet should learn about the food values of different vegetables, and consider getting advice on whether or not to supplement the diet with vitamins and minerals, particularly if you have special nutritional needs like growing children or pregnant or lactating women.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.