Page: Vegetarian Athletes

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Since meat is associated with protein, it is thought that athletes need to eat meat in order to stay in shape. However, there are plenty of vegetarian athletes who consistently prove this misconception wrong. Just look at the likes of baseball player Prince Fielder, NFL player Ricky Williams, and ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier. Not only are they able to stay in shape on a meatless diet, but they can also experience a slew of benefits which help them stay healthy for their sport.

How Much Protein Do Athletes Need Anyway?

The average person needs about .0.4 to 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Any more than this, and you could actually tax your kidneys and cause problems with calcium absorption. Not to mention that excess protein is just going to get stored as fat. Of course, athletes are going to need a lot more protein than the average adult. The recommendations for athletes building muscle mass are 0.6 to 0.9 grams per pound of body weight (source).

Based on these requirements, a big brawny guy like Milwaukee Brewers slugger Prince Fielder (who weighs in at 275 pounds will need about 165 to 247 grams of protein per day.


How is it even possible to get that much protein?

On a vegetarian diet:
• 5 cups of tofu (100 grams)
• 1 package Beyond Meat Grilled Chicken-Free Strips (80 grams)
• 8 tbsp peanut butter (32 grams)
=202 grams of protein

On an omnivore diet
• 1 pound of steak (107 grams)
• 1 cup chopped chicken (35 grams)
• 5 eggs (65 grams)
=202 grams of protein

vegetarian athleteMeat May Not Be the Best Source of Protein for Athletes
Okay, a lot of athletes probably aren’t going to eat that much food to get their protein. They often resort to protein supplements instead. However, based on the figures above, it is pretty obvious that it is easier to get mass amounts of protein by eating meat. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean that meat is the best way for athletes to get their protein.

If you are eating a pound of steak per day, you are also immediately going over the RDA for cholesterol (1lb steak has 104% RDA for cholesterol!). You are also getting a lot of sodium and saturated fat too. Over time, this can lead to health problems. With this in mind, it is no surprise that a study found that large-sized athletes are at a greater risk of cardiometabolic syndrome. And what about the link between football and cognitive problems we’ve been hearing so much about lately? A study found that former football players on a high fat diet had worse cognitive problems than those who were on a lower fat diet.

It Isn’t Just About Protein
As long-distance runner Matt Frazier points out at the site No Meat Athlete, “a vegetarian diet for endurance athletes is really not all the different from a normal healthy diet, with the exception, of course, of the meat.”

Today’s athletes are becoming increasingly aware of how important it is for them to keep up a healthy diet. Why do you think sports teams hire professional nutritionists for their players? Yes, athletes do have to worry about getting enough protein in their diet. But, with so many great meat-free sources of protein available, there is no reason they’ve got to eat meat to get it.


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