The Vegetarian Athlete: An Oxymoron?

There are a rising number of Vegetarian Athletes competing today.  I have coached a number of them myself.   The Olympic Coach magazine attempts to  deal with the pro’s and con’s and what a coach can do to maximize an athletes performance in light of their dietary choices.

Optimal performance comes with good health. Athletes who follow any type of vegetarian eating program seem to have a lower risk of developing diseases such as diabetes and heart disease in later years of life. Unfortunately, much of the scientific research is focused on health effects of vegetarianism and not specifically on performance. However, it is easy to infer that vegetarian eating plans could lead to increased performance since carbohydrates are plentiful and carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy during moderate to high intensity training.

Of course, many athletes who develop diabetes and other diseases later in life after their competitive days are over are likely becoming so unhealthy because they’ve stopped training all together.  It is rediculously common for competitive athletes to cease ALL training of any kind once they’ve ended their careers.  If athletes continued training (at a more moderate level than they did when they were competing) they would also be far less likely to develop these diseases.

The bottom line is that being a vegetarian is not going to hurt ones athletic performance.  But, it can make it harder to get adequate protein.  No athlete (particularly no strength athletes) can get away with a low protein diet.  Here are some meat (and milk) substitutes recomended in the article (albeit some are better than others):

  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • Edamame
  • Quinoa (a grain that is relatively in protein)
  • Walnuts, almonds
  • Kidney and black beans
  • Tempeh
  • Hummus
  • Peanut, soynut or almond butter

Eat up, athletes.  Your performance depends on it.

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