Plant-based Nutrition for Athletes


A vegan diet can improve athletic performance

A dairy-free, plant-based diet provides all the energy and nutrients you need to up your game in training and competition.

Sharon McDowell Ironman Race Hawaii 2022


Athletes need protein to build and repair tissue in the body. Protein promotes muscle mass, improves metabolism, and speeds up recovery after exercise.

There are 9 essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own. While all plants contain all 20 amino acids, some are relatively lower in certain amino acids and may not be considered complete protein sources on their own for this reason. However, a varied diet can provide everything your body needs. The only way to not consume the complete spectrum of amino acids is by eating a very limited diet comprising just a handful of foods. The benefit of obtaining protein through plants is variety—and a varied diet, rich in whole foods, is the gold standard for human health and longevity. Of course, many plants have balanced amino acid profiles and are considered complete proteins by themselves:

Complete protein plant foods:

  • Quinoa
  • Soy
  • Hemp
  • Chia seeds
  • Buckwheat
  • Spirulina
  • Tempeh

High-protein plant foods:

  • Tempeh (20 grams/cup)
  • Lentils (18 grams/cup)
  • Edamame (19 grams/cup)
  • Hemp seeds (10 grams/ 3 tbsp)
  • Tofu (26 grams/ 3/4 cup)
  • Soy Milk (8 grams/cup)
  • Pea milk (8 grams/cup)
  • Quinoa (8 grams/cup)
  • Black Beans (15 grams/cup)
  • Peanut Butter (7 grams/2 tbsp)


A diet rich in carbohydrates increases both endurance and intermittent high-intensity performance because of the extra store of carbohydrates in the muscles and liver, called glycogen.

Sharon McDowell Ironman Race Hawaii 2022

For athletes, a high-carb diet sustains the daily demands of training and exercise. And while the needs will vary based on the individual and their sports, carbs should always be their main source of calories.

Carbohydrates are critical for maximum energy, speed, stamina, concentration, recovery, and better fluid balance.

Pro tip: The main sources of carbs are all plant foods: cereal grains, vegetables, and fruit.

Why choose a plant-based diet?

A standard American diet (SAD) is full of saturated fat, cholesterol, carcinogens, and inflammation-producing foods that can not only hamper your athletic performance, but also make your recovery and healing more challenging. Choosing anti-inflammatory, high-protein plant-based foods have been shown to increase blood flow, reduce recovery time, and improve respiratory function, among other performance benefits.

Recipes for Athletes

For nutrient-dense, performance-enhancing, plant-based meals any busy athlete can make at home, check out these delicious athlete recipes:

Nutrient-dense Athlete Recipes
6 Inflammation-fighting Foods (Plus Easy Meals)
Delicious Dairy-free Meals

If these meals make your mouth water, guess what? You can get even more plant-powered meal tips, functional nutrition information, science-based dietary guidance, and athlete-crafted meal plans by ordering a copy of our Plant-based Playbook below!

Sharon McDowell Ironman Race Hawaii 2022

Order our Playbook

If you’re an athlete, coach, or sports dietitian, looking for a complete guide to plant-based food, here it is!

From nutrition science to practical tips like meal planning and recipes, everything you need to try plant-based fuel is right here.

Sharon McDowell Ironman Race Hawaii 2022

Athlete testimonials

Olympic and elite athletes share their reasons for going dairy-free.

After I went vegan, I started repairing and recovering much faster. I could handle more load, out on the track and in the weight room. It made us a better team.

Dotsie Bausch, Olympic Medalist

Athletes should not drink cow’s milk. Dairy is not a health food. When I ditched dairy, I felt an almost immediate resurgence in energy and vitality that I was not expecting.

Rich Roll, Vegan Ultraman World Champion

After I went plant-based, I lost 4% body fat, I was stronger, and I was recovering faster. My body just became much more efficient.

Derrick Morgan, Tennessee Titans Linebacker

When I cut out dairy from my diet, my allergies and stomachaches completely went away. Telling kids cow’s milk is healthy is dangerous.

Rebeca Soni, Multiple Olympic Medalist

More resources

Power plate

Dairy Does a Body Bad

Delicious, easy recipes

Run Farther, For Longer: Study Finds Ditching Dairy Helps Endurance Athletes

Rick Scott

Plant Strong: Cycling Through Protein Myths

Blueberries are naturally filled with antioxidants

Antioxidants And Athletic Performance

Listen to our PODCAST

Dairy-Free Swaps Guide

Easy Anti-Inflammatory Meals, Recipes, and Tips

There are so many reasons to ditch dairy and eat more plants. We compiled this Swaps Guide to help you make dairy-free versions of staple dishes and snacks. Simple, nourishing, plant-based meals to add to your weekly rotation. Whether you are looking to improve your health, reduce inflammation, gain a competitive edge as an athlete, or reduce your carbon footprint, you can make the switch for good!

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