Sports Nutrition for Vegetarians and Vegans

August 15, 2017 , , , , ,

A healthy vegetarian or vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. And with careful planning, it can meet all your energy and nutrient needs to ensure you perform at your best.

However, certain nutrients require more thought and planning as they can be lacking in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Below are the most common ones.

Energy & Protein

Some vegetarians and vegans have difficulty meeting energy needs because of high fiber and/or low energy density of plant-based foods. Although this is favored for the general population, amateur and expert athletes have increased energy needs to compensate for their high level of physical activity. In this case, the individual must consume caloric, yet healthy foods, such as avocado, nuts and seeds, and granola.

Also important to take into account is the increased protein needs in vegetarians and vegans due to the lower digestibility of plant-based proteins. Plant proteins aren’t as well digested or as complete as animal proteins, so choosing a variety of different types of protein foods over the course of the day is essential to ensure you get all of your amino acids. Because of this, it is recommended that vegetarian athletes consume 1.3 to 1.8 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight daily, which is 10% more than recommendations for non-vegetarian athletes. Good plant-based sources of protein include soybeans and soy products, beans, lentils, quinoa, peas, nuts and seeds, and nut butters.


There are 2 types of iron in food; heme iron found in animal foods and non-heme iron in plant foods. Vegetarians need almost twice the iron of non-vegetarians because non-heme iron is poorly absorbed. Plus, training can increase your need for iron. If your iron levels are too low and have a deficiency, you may feel fatigued and have impaired performance. To make sure to get enough iron:

  • Eat foods high in iron like beans, lentils, seeds, soy, and whole grain or fortified cereals, breads and pastas every day;
  • Include a source of vitamin C at meals and snacks to help your body absorb the iron from plant foods. Foods high in vitamin C include citrus fruits, strawberries, bell peppers, and broccoli;
  • Don’t drink tea or coffee during meals because they can reduce iron absorption. Wait at least one hour after a meal to enjoy your tea or coffee.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal products. Unfortunately, a B12 deficiency leads to anemia and can cause symptoms like weakness, fatigue, light-headedness, rapid heartbeat, and rapid breathing, all of which will have a negative effect on performance. If you don’t eat eggs or dairy products, include foods fortified with vitamin B12 like soy beverages and meat substitutes, such as tofu dogs or veggie burgers. Nutritional yeast is also a great vegetarian source of vitamin B12.

Pages: 1 2


Zeina Khawam
Zeina is registered dietitian member of OPDQ and Dietitians of Canada. She consults a clientele that desires to change their lifestyle habits, whether it is to lose weight, increase muscle mass, increase energy levels, improve performance or simply live healthier.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This website uses cookies to give the best user experience, monitor the site performance, offer social networks features, or display advertisements. By clicking "ACCEPT", you consent to the use of cookies in accordance to our privacy policy.