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Dieting Tips for Vegan and Vegetarian Athletes

Recently, there has been a shift towards more plant based eating in the world of health and wellness. There are a host of benefits associated with eating less animal products and these include a reduction in body weight, aging, inflammation, and risk of disease. Eating more plant based also helps support a healthy microbiome and provides lots of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. At Made 2 Move, our physical therapists believe in the power of including more vegetables and plants in your diet but also recognize that there is no one size fits all approach for nutrition.

With the rise of plant based diets, there have been questions of whether this lifestyle is feasible for athletes. Can you get enough protein as a vegan or vegetarian? Can you build muscle without eating meat? Is it possible to get enough calories?

Below are a few tips for those who are trying to eat more plant based while also trying to maximize their athletic performance. These tips hold true for any athlete, but especially for vegans and vegetarians who may find it more challenging to balance their nutrition and performance. A reminder that we are not dietitians at Made 2 Move, and these are just suggestions based on our own research.

Tip #1: Make sure you’re eating enough overall calories

A cup of spinach is 25 calories while a cup of chicken is roughly 340 calories. This is why eating more fruits and vegetables aids in weight loss. However, if you are working out heavily and eat mostly plant based, you have to be sure that you are consuming enough calories to support muscle growth, endurance, and power. The work you are doing in the gym requires proper fuel!

Most people on a plant based diet are eating foods that are very nutrient dense but not very calorie dense. What does this mean?

  • Nutrient density refers to the food providing lots of nutrients with minimal calories.

  • Calorie density refers to a food providing lots of calories with minimal nutrients.

The nutrient density of plant based diets is great in the sense that you can ensure that you will be getting high amounts of vitamins and minerals. Fruits and vegetables are packed with micronutrients and would be what we’d call nutrient dense vs. calorically dense! You may feel full after your big salad for lunch, but did it provide enough carbs, fat, and protein to fuel your PM workout? Thus, it can be challenging to get enough calories as a vegan or vegetarian.