Vegan Teen Athlete

vegan snack for a teen athleteBeing a vegan teen athlete is not complicated. It is easy for teens to receive proper nutrition for sporting events by eating a variety of foods. In general, teen athletes should receive the majority of their calories from complex carbohydrates, a moderate amount from protein, and a moderate to low amount from fat.  The bulk of these calories should be nutritionally dense, meaning they provide substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals. For example, nutritionally dense carbohydrates include whole grain breads and pastas, brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain flour. Most fruits and vegetables are nutritionally dense as are vegetarian proteins.

Protein is a key macro- nutrient that many athletes focus on.  Athletes should receive 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound. It is easy to meet these requirements on a vegan diet. A good tip is to include a protein food with every meal. This can be as simple as putting peanut butter on your morning bagel, adding nuts to your salad, cooking with beans, and drinking a high-protein milk alternative, like soymilk. Vegetable proteins like tofu, tempeh, seitan, and meat analogs are protein packed. Read labels to find the meat analogs also fortified with vitamins and minerals. Vitamin B12 and iron,  are two nutrients that vegans need to monitor. Vitamin B12 can be found in fortified foods, including soymilk, cereals, and nutritional yeast. Check the label to verify that the choice you make contains B12.  Foods high in iron include dark green leafy vegetables, soybeans, tofu, lentils and other dried beans, quinoa, fortified cereal, and raisins. To  maximize absorption include a food high in vitamin C—such as orange juice, tomato sauce, or broccoli—when consuming foods high in iron.

Increased exercise means increased calorie needs to maintain body weight. Because a lot of vegan foods are low in calories, it may be important to increase calorie intake especially if you are participating in a strenuous sport. One way to add calories is to eat extra snacks throughout the day and increase the calories in your meals.  The table below provides a list of quick and easy 200-400 calorie snacks to add to your diet.

200-Calorie Snacks* 400-Calorie Snacks*
1 crunchy granola bar ½ cup guacamole dip with 1 cup corn chips
1 banana with 1 TB peanut butter 8 whole wheat crackers with ¼ cup hummus
6 ounces soy yogurt with fruit 1 bagel and 2 TB peanut butter
¼ cup mixed nuts ½ cup trail mix
1 ounce hard pretzels with ½ cup fruit juice 2 cups calcium-fortified orange juice and a granola bar

Add calories to your meals using these easy ideas!

  • Use oils or margarine on vegetables, rice, and pasta, add vegan cheese.
  • Add a commercial vegan sandwich spread like Veganaise® to your sandwiches.
  • Put slices of avocado on your salad.
  • Bulk up your breakfast-cereal with fruit, nuts, and raisins.

Adding calories is fun – be creative! However, if it is becoming difficult to maintain body weight, consider talking to a registered dietitian.

In conclusion, receiving proper nutrition for the vegan athlete is easy. Eating a variety of foods and taking in more calories during times of increased exercise are important.  Teen athletes are able to receive everything they need from a vegan diet to perform at their maximum potential.

For additional information check out our Sports Nutrition for Vegetarians resource.

*Used by permission from the Vegetarian Resource Group.

About Julia Driggers RD LDN

Julia Driggers RD, LDN is a Pediatric Dietitian at The Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia. She is very interested in Vegetarian and Vegan nutrition and regularly contributes to the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) Magazine/Website. Her most recent works include "The Vegan Teen Athlete", "Nutrition Blog-Line: Milk Alternatives", and "The Vegetarian Asian Kitchen". In addition, she also creates original Vegan recipes for VRG. In the future, Julia hopes to earn an advanced degree in Nutrition/Education and would like to one day become a college professor. Outside of work Julia enjoys running, cooking, and spending time with friends.

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8 Responses to Vegan Teen Athlete

  1. Rhiannon says:

    The ratio should be .8 grams per kg not per pound as stated in the article

  2. Julia Driggers RD LDN Julia Driggers RD CNSC LDN says:

    The RDA for protein for males and females 11-18 yrs old is 0.85gm/kg or 0.4gm/lb. Vegetarians and athletes both have increased protein needs. The ADA Position Paper on Nutrition and Athletic Performance recommends Vegtarian Athletes receive 1.3 to 1.8 gm/kg/day or 0.6 to 0.8 gm/ lb.

  3. Mary Dutcher says:

    I would like any references that you can share for vegetarian teens that are overweight but still want to maintain the vegetarian life.

  4. Download the “Vegetarian Teens” file in our Resources under Frequently Asked Questions for information on healthy vegetarian meals for teens. If you would like to discuss vegetarian diets and teens, please use the “Find an Registered Dietitian” service provided by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A link to that service is available on this webpage in the top right corner, look for “Find an RD”.

  5. Ellen Edwards RD CNSC LDN says:

    Hi I am preparing a lecture for our pediatric residents on pedatrics and adolescents titled “Dietary Deficiencies in Children on Vegan and Vegetarian Diets ” if you have any updates for new references for me I would appreciate it.

  6. Louise James says:

    Great article and have read many like it, I have been a distance runner for years, my father a distance runner and MMA fighter for decades, myself and my father both run 13-20 miles daily, we both have never had a day off work or any kind of serious injury, I have been vegan from birth and my dad for over 25 years. My point being we never go into any detail on what we eat in terms of grams per kg, who does?

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