Fit Food
For Vegetarians

Giving up meat may give you a big health boost, but the lack of iron, protein, and other essential vitamins and minerals can cause you to fall flat while exercising. Here are some tips to keep your diet balanced and keep you fabulously fit!

Woman Shopping for VegetablesPerhaps you are an animal lover. Maybe you don't like the taste of meat, or perhaps you are vegetarian just for the health benefits. Whatever the reason you have opted to eliminate meat (or, in some cases, all animal products) from your diet, chances are you are reaping the benefits of vegetarian living. Many who choose to go meat-free say they feel great and have more energy than ever. However, if your vegetarian diet isn't delivering the right balance of nutrients, you could be feeling flat, especially if you are a vegetarian on the go.


While some studies find that vegetarians have lower rates of heart disease, live about three years longer than carnivores, and have a lower risk of nearly every type of cancer, cutting out meat could put you at risk of a less than optimal diet. You may not be getting a sufficient amount of protein, iron, or calcium, all of which your muscles need to heal and recover after exercise.

Keep in mind that a serving of steak has up to 30 grams of protein, which is nearly half the recommended amount for a 150-pound woman. And if you avoid eggs, cheese, or chicken, you could be missing out on as much as 42 grams of the muscle-mending good stuff. An unbalanced vegetarian diet that skimps on iron and calcium can also leave you lightheaded and lethargic, not to mention more injury-prone due to brittle bones.


The good news is that there are plenty of healthy and hearty substitutes for meat that can keep your protein, iron, and calcium levels up. For starters, you can get more than your fill of protein by eating whole grains, like brown rice or oatmeal. For an even better one-two protein punch, combine beans and grains (try adding vegetarian baked beans to brown rice, or mixing in lentils with spaghetti sauce served over whole-grain pasta).

To up your iron and calcium count, chow down on leafy green vegetables like kale and Swiss chard as well as broccoli and potatoes. Dark veggies contain both iron and calcium, so use them in a salad or steam them as a side dish. You should also consider goat cheese, which is rennet-free, easier to digest than cow milk cheeses, and a good source of calcium.

Lentils, mung beans, and kidney beans, are also excellent sources of both iron and protein. The same goes for soy products, which you can use as replacements for traditional meat-based dishes, like lasagna, or used to make vegetarian desserts. And because vitamin C significantly improves iron absorption, stock up on fruits and veggies like oranges, pineapples, strawberries, and green peppers.


Getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is just as important as making sure you consume other key nutrients, like protein, calcium, and iron. Your intake of omega-3's, which have anti-inflammatory capabilities, can help speed up the healing of exercise-induced muscle tears. If you are okay with eating fish, opt for the fattiest fish to make sure you get enough of these "good for you" fats. Go for coldwater sorts like salmon, herring, and mackerel, or load up on other omega-3-rich foods like walnuts, cantaloupe, grape leaves, or cauliflower. You can also opt to pop supplements like chia seeds, fish oil, or flaxseed oil.

And any time you make an abrupt change to your diet, it's important to check in with a nutritionist or your health care provider to make sure you are eating an adequate amount of all of the minerals and vitamins you need to stay healthy and strong.

For more details on vegetarian living and delicious meat-free recipes, check out these links:

A vegetarian can love a carnivore, but what will they eat?

Vegetarian recipes that satisfy

Grilled vegetarian recipes


Comments on "Smart food choices for vegetarians on the go"

Allen July 16, 2008 | 6:58 AM

While I appreciate the thought behind this article I don’t think it was very well researched. There is nothing lacking in a plant-based diet and vegan athletes easily outcompete their meat eating counterparts. Dr. Doug Graham, who has been coaching and training athletes for 35 years and has trained many Olympic-caliber athletes, says, "Every nutrient known to be essential for human health is available, in proper concentration, in plant foods. This is not so with animal-based foods, as there are many essential nutrients totally absent in them." Vegan meal plans have been used successfully in everything from bodybuilding to endurance sports. Plant-based foods are packed with protein to help build lean muscle mass, complex carbohydrates to fuel muscles before, during and after a workout and vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that help athletes maintain peak performance and health. A vegan diet provides athletes with all the protein, complex carbohydrates and other nutrients they need to get stronger and faster without the artery-clogging cholesterol and saturated fats found in meat, eggs and dairy products. More and more big name athletes, including Kansas City Chiefs’ tight end, Tony Gonzales; Ultimate Fighting champ, Mac Danzig; professional Ironman tri-athlete, Brendan Brazier; and ultra-marathon runner, Scott Jurek, have improved their health and their game by switching to plant-based diets. Many other professional athletes and Olympic superstars have touted the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets. Sports Illustrated "Olympian of the Century" Carl Lewis, four-time Mr. Universe Bill Pearl, six-time Ironwoman and USA track and field Master's Champion Ruth Heidrich, and powerlifting champion Bill Mannetti dominated their meat- eating competitors. These veggie-powered athletic superstars aren't alone â€" some of the strongest animals, such as apes, elephants and giraffes, are herbivores, too. Most athletes know that the more calories you burn, the more fuel your body needs. Nutritionists recommend that most of the calories athletes consume come from complex carbohydrates. While refined carbohydrates, like sugar and white bread, should be avoided, complex carbohydrates are critical for fueling your muscles with energy in a sustained way. Great choices are whole wheat breads and pastas, cereals, brown rice, quinoa, and fruits and vegetables. High levels of muscle-building protein are found in many plant-based foods, including beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, peas, whole grains, and soy products. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) are also abundant in plant-based foods. BCAAs are important fuel for muscles and can help with muscle recovery after a workout. Plant-based diets are usually high in essential fatty acids, including omega-3s, omega-6s and more. These fatty acids are crucial to keeping the immune system strong and maintaining healthy joints. A bit of fat in your diet is important too, and the fats in plant foods like avocados, vegetable and olive oils, nuts, and seeds tend to be much healthier than the artery-clogging fats found in most animal products. In addition to helping athletes outcompete their meat-eating competitors, there are many tremendous health benefits to adopting a vegan diet. People who follow plant-based diets have less body fat and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and are much less likely to be overweight or obese than their meat-eating counterparts. Those who avoid animal-based foods in favor of whole grains, fruits and vegetables also have lower rates of heart disease â€" the number one killer in the U.S. â€" and are less likely to develop cancers and other degenerative diseases. It doesn't matter if you're playing for fun or playing for championships, the best way to excel as an athlete is to train hard and follow a healthy, vegan diet.

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