“Vegetarian athlete” was once unfairly considered to be an oxymoron by people who thought adapting to high-level training by packing on muscle was something only meat eaters could do. Thankfully, this characterization of vegetarian athletes has been virtually eliminated, and it is now difficult to find a sport that doesn’t feature a world-class vegetarian competitor.
Even though vegetarians are wiping out performance stereotypes, Melissa Hehmann of the Meijer Healthy Living Team correctly points out that vegetarian athletes still have special hurdles to overcome when it comes to meeting their nutritional needs. Luckily for vegetarian competitors, Melissa has put together a list of five essential plant-based foods that taste great and will deliver essential nutrients like protein, calcium and iron to athletes.
1. Beans and Lentils
When it comes to maximizing the benefits of your food choices, few options are better for you than beans and lentils. Whether it comes to fueling your body or helping it recover, these superfoods are a no brainer when it comes the health the vegetarian competitors.
“Beans and Lentils are a must for any athlete, especially one who avoids meat,” Melissa said. “Not only do they provide energy in the form of carbohydrates, they also contain high amounts of protein for recovery and iron for oxygen delivery to working muscles.“
2. Nuts and Seeds
Food items like peanuts and sunflower seeds are often classified as summertime snacks to be enjoyed at the baseball diamond. According to Melissa, nuts and seeds would be of far greater value to the athletes playing the games than to the fans watching them.
“Nuts and Seeds are energy-dense for an athlete’s high caloric needs,” Melissa explained. “They are high in protein and minerals like zinc, iron, and even calcium, which is needed for strong bones but also for muscle contraction.”
3.Tofu and Tempeh
Soy products are usually among the first food items that vegetarians are introduced to, and tofu and tempeh are chief among them. Not only are they highly versatile in terms of the options for their preparation, but they also provide vegetarian athletes with key nutrients.
“Tofu and Tempeh are made from fermented soybeans and contain high levels of calcium and protein,” Michelle said. “They can be used in a variety of ways to please any athlete’s taste buds.”
4.Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)
Vegetarians commonly feel left out when their friends and teammates enjoy cookouts and other activities that typically involve ground beef or other meet products. However, products made of textured vegetable protein fulfill the twofold role of providing nutritious, muscle-building food choices and also helping vegetarians to feel less self-conscious about eating around their non-vegetarian associates.
“Textured vegetable protein is made from soybeans and is used just like meat in foods like spaghetti or tacos,” Melissa explained. “Vegetarians looking for a protein-rich and convenient meal alternative have to look no further than their grocer’s freezer with veggie burgers and many more foods made from TVP.“
5. Ancient Grains
Nutritionists regularly tout the virtues of whole grains and how advantageous it is to include them in your diet, but the term “whole grains” comprises a wide-ranging assortment of grains that influence the body differently. Melissa is quick to point out that some grains are better than others when you are a vegetarian athlete trying to get the most nutritional bang for your buck.
“Ancient Grains such as quinoa, amaranth, and freekeh are not only high in fiber, but contain more protein and iron than grains like rice and couscous,” Melissa insisted. “They are also high in antioxidants that combat oxidative stress from sports training.”
Melissa Hehmann, RD, CDE, ACE-CPT – Healthy Living Advisor for Meijer
The Meijer State Games of Michigan is a multi-sport, Olympic-style event(s) that welcome athletes regardless of age or ability level. The Games embody the values of participation, sportsmanship and healthy living.