Perform as a Vegetarian Athlete

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Vegetarian diets can be high in fiber, loaded with antioxidants and packed with unprocessed carbohydrate rich foods that power exercise. But vegetarians struggle with all the challenges that our fast-paced, time-crunched lifestyle affords us.  A vegetarian diet can be among the most nutritionally complete diets in the world—or it can fall short in important nutrients, which negatively affects health and impairs exercise performance.

Important Terminology

There are multiple terms used to describe vegetarian diets. These terms precede the word 'vegetarian' and are used to describe what the diet includes and excludes.

  • Ovo: Includes eggs, excludes all other animal products
  • Lacto: Includes dairy, excludes all other animal products
  • Pesco: Includes fish, dairy and egg, excludes all other animal products
  •  Vegan: Excludes all animal products

More: Try a Plant-Based Diet for Weight Loss

Common Nutrient Deficiencies

It takes knowledge and focus to obtain all essential nutrients through food alone on a vegetarian diet, but with the guidance of a sports dietitian it is entirely possible to meet your nutrient needs for an active lifestyle without supplements. However, when necessary, supplements, including fortified foods, are helpful to fill gaps in a vegetarian diet to ensure that needs for all essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids are met.

The most common nutrients to be low in vegetarian athletes' diets are listed below. The best food sources for each nutrient are listed; fish and dairy are included on the lists. Which foods fit into your vegetarian diet? Which foods should you eat more often? Which nutrients should you consider supplementing?

More: Top 3 Nutrients for Female Athletes

Calcium:

  • Yogurt
  • Sardines
  • Sesame seeds
  • Goat's and cow's milk
  • Spinach, cooked
  • Collard and turnip greens, cooked
  • Blackstrap molasses

Iodine:

  • Seaweed
  • Iodized salt

Iron:

  • Edamame
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Tofu
  • Sesame seeds
  • Kidney and garbanzo beans

Magnesium:

  • Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds
  • Spinach, cooked
  • Swiss chard, cooked
  • Edamame
  • Salmon, halibut
  • Black and navy beans

More: 5 Heart-Healthy Nutrients for Athletes

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