Vegetarian Athletes?

A few weeks back I gave you some affordable vegetarian recipes. Many people ask me if athletes can be vegetarian too and this is what I say… Vegetarian athletes can eat enough protein to satisfy their bodies’ needs if they wisely choose plant proteins. Lacto-ovo vegetarians (who eat eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, and other dairy foods but no meat) can most easily consume adequate protein because these foods are excellent sources of life-sustaining protein and contain all the essential amino acids.

The key for total vegetarians, or vegans (who eat no milk, eggs or other animal proteins), is to eat a variety of grains that have complementary amino acids. For example, beans and rice is an example of mixing legumes (peas and beans) and grains. Also, tofu is an excellent addition to a vegetarian diet. Tofu has made headlines because it is a high quality plant protein that contains all essential amino acids and offers the bonus of phytochemicals that protect against heart disease and cancer.

Per pound of body weight, bodybuilders actually need less protein than endurance athletes such as runners. That’s because protein, more precisely the amino acids that are the building-blocks of protein, is actually used for fuel during intense exercise, particularly when carbohydrates are not available. Protein can provide up to 10% of energy during exercise when a person is carbohydrate depleted. But here’s the catch: Even though endurance athletes may need more protein per pound of body weight, they tend to need a smaller total intake of protein because they often weigh less than bodybuilders. For example, a 200-pound bodybuilder may need about 140 g of protein a day (0.7 g of protein per pound), whereas a 150-pound marathoner may need about 120 g of protein per day (0.8 g of protein per pound). Most people can get enough protein through their diet, eliminating the need for protein supplements.

Vegetarian athletes can consume adequate protein from their diet, they have to be willing to eat large amounts of plant proteins. This is often easier for men with hearty appetites than for weight-conscious women. If you are eating a vegetarian diet that consists primarily of grains, fruits, and vegetables, you are probably eating an unbalanced diet

Per pound of body weight, bodybuilders actually need less protein than endurance athletes such as runners. That’s because protein, more precisely the amino acids that are the building-blocks of protein, is actually used for fuel during intense exercise, particularly when carbohydrates are not available. Protein can provide up to 10% of energy during exercise when a person is carbohydrate depleted. But here’s the catch: Even though endurance athletes may need more protein per pound of body weight, they tend to need a smaller total intake of protein because they often weigh less than bodybuilders. For example, a 200-pound bodybuilder may need about 140 g of protein a day (0.7 g of protein per pound), whereas a 150-pound marathoner may need about 120 g of protein per day (0.8 g of protein per pound). Most people can get enough protein through their diet, eliminating the need for protein supplements.

This information comes from the writing of Nancy Clark, RD, one of the nation’s leading experts on sports nutrition.