Many professional athletes follow vegetarian or vegan diets. While such diets present certain challenges, with proper planning, vegetarian athletes can meet their nutrition needs.
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When you give up meat and fish—and in the case of vegans, also dairy and eggs—finding alternate protein sources is key. Athletes have higher protein needs than people who are sedentary, especially at the peak of training or when they are attempting to build lean muscle.
When consuming protein, athletes should consider not only their total needs for the day, but also their needs for each individual meal and the quality of the protein they are consuming.
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Dairy, eggs and soy, like meat and fish, are complete forms of protein, meaning they provide all the essential and non-essential amino acids. Complete proteins help maximize muscle protein synthesis, which is a key factor in muscle growth and recovery.
Although they provide significant amounts of protein, many vegetarian options—e.g., grains, beans, lentils and vegetables—are incomplete protein sources. Thus, vegetarian athletes may need even more protein in their diets than non-vegetarians.
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When possible, you should consume at least one serving of dairy, eggs, beans, lentils or soy with each meal. Adding vegetables and grains to the meal provides additional protein. Depending on your size and goals, you should consume approximately 10 to 30 grams of protein with each meal and snack. Below is a chart listing various foods generally acceptable to vegetarians, with the amount of protein they provide per serving.