OWW Blog

From licensed healthcare providers who are experts in their field

4 Steps to Start a Plant Based Diet for Athletes

Nov 30, 2023

Written By: Lauren MacLeod, Registered Dietitian


Have you considered trying a plant-based diet?

“Plant-based diet” can mean anything from a typical omnivore eating a bit less meat to a full on vegan diet. Many athletes are turning to a plant-based diet for a variety of reasons–decreased environmental impact, health benefits, animal welfare, religion, and more. While a plant-based diet does confer many nutritional benefits, athletes need to be aware that a balanced plant-based diet requires planning and preparation. If you’re an athlete leaning towards veganism or vegetarianism, check out these tips to get started!


1. Pick plant-based proteins

Plant–based athletes remove or decrease meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products from their diets, so it’s critical to make a plan to meet protein needs. The average protein needs for an athlete is 20-30g per meal. Here are a few of the top plant-based protein sources:

  • Tofu - 20 grams per 1 cup

  • Legumes - 7 grams per ½ cup

  • Tempeh - 15 grams per ½ cup

  • Quinoa - 4 grams per ½ cup

  • Nut butters - 7 grams per 2 tbsp

  • Nuts - 7 grams per ¼ cup

  • Hemp seeds - 7 grams per 2 tbsp

  • Plant-based protein powder - varies


2. Combine foods to make a complete protein

Proteins are made up of 20 amino acids, all of which are necessary to build and maintain your entire body. Some of these amino acids are “essential,” meaning they can’t be made in the body and have to come from food. Most plant–based proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids needed to make a full protein. You can overcome this by combining plant based proteins that contain different amino acids. Here are some common examples:

Grains and Legumes

  • Lentil soup and crackers

  • Black beans and rice

  • Pasta and peas or beans

  • Whole grain bread and peanut butter

Nuts and Seeds Plus Legumes

  • Hummus (chickpeas and tahini)

  • Roasted nuts, seeds, and peanuts

Some plant proteins, such as soy, already contain all the essential amino acids. This is why soymilk is the closest replacement for dairy milk in a plant-based diet.


3. Eat a variety of foods

It can be easy to get stuck eating the same meals over and over again to meet your needs as a plant-based athlete. Try these tips to prevent boredom:

  • Keep a variety of proteins available

  • Invest in an Instant Pot to make flavorful soups and one-pot meals

  • Explore different cultural foods. Asian and Indian cuisine are very vegan and vegetarian-friendly, utilizing tofu, rice, and beans

  • Get to know your sauces and seasonings. Rice, beans, and veggies get a lot tastier when you add a garlic tahini drizzle!


4. Supplement

For a plant-based (especially vegan) athlete, it can be difficult to get all the vitamins and minerals you need. This places athletes at increased risk of micronutrient deficiencies, which decrease performance and increase risk of injury. It is recommended to supplement with Vitamin B12, Calcium, Iron, and Vitamin D, since these nutrients are primarily found in animal products. Make sure to get regular blood work to ensure you aren’t deficient or over-supplementing. 

Outdoor Women's Wellness 

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