The vegetarian or vegan (top) athlete

When certain foods are not consumed, it affects the intake of the nutrients. In vegetarian diets certain food items are not being used. There are different types of vegetarians. The most common vegetarian is the lacto-ovo vegetarian. They do not eat meat or fish, but they do eat dairy and eggs. Variants are also possible within this group, such as the ovo-vegetarian (with egg, no dairy) and the lacto-vegetarian (with dairy, no egg). Vegans do not eat animal products at all, including dairy or egg. There is also another group that does not eat meat but does eat fish: called pescatarians or semitarians.


The consequences of omitting certain food categories.


Not using certain foods does not have to be a problem and you can still perform optimally as an athlete. Your diet just looks different. The amount and variation is an issue. Vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians or semitarians must therefore get their proteins through vegetable food and not or hardly through animal products. In order not to get a shortage of proteins, iron and B12 (which are many in animal proteins) it is important to take more of good alternatives.


Proteins are an important point of attention.


Vegetable proteins are more difficult for the body to absorb than animal proteins. It is therefore important for vegans to get 25% more protein from vegetable proteins than those who do consume animal proteins. One way to get enough essential amino acids (these are mainly in animal proteins) is to vary daily with different vegetable proteins. Combining different vegetable proteins is therefore a must.


So eat a lot of protein-rich vegetable products.


Such as lentils, brown or white beans, chickpeas, capuchins, kidney beans, whole grain cereals, brown rice, whole grain pasta, nuts, soy (for example tofu, tempeh, soy drink, soy yogurt), quinoa, seeds and nuts. Keep an online food diary, in which you can see and keep track of exactly how much protein you consume each time or day.


Watch your iron intake.


Iron is less well absorbed from vegetable products. By taking vitamin C (for example citrus fruit) with meals, iron is better absorbed. Iron is also found in eggs (for the vegetarian), whole grain products, grains (especially the ancient grain teff), legumes, green vegetables and apple syrup. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal foods, such as dairy products and eggs. Do you eat egg, meat substitutes and dairy? Then you will most likely get enough vitamin B12. If not, a vitamin B12 supplement is required. Vegans should therefore take extra B12 as a supplement to avoid deficiencies.




With a vegetarian or vegan diet you can still perform optimally as a (top) athlete. The amount of vegetable proteins and variation therein are points of attention. An extra blood check with the doctor for vitamins B12, D and iron is recommended. If you exercise a lot or you are a top athlete, it would be wise to discuss your diet with an expert to guide you in your diet.