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Sports Nutrition Advice for Vegan, Vegetarian High School Athletes

By D. Enette Larson-Meyer, Ph.D., National Federation of State High School Associations, 03/07/19, 12:00PM CST

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Daily energy needs vary among girls and boys, and further depend on the athlete’s body size, body composition, training regimen, growth and general activity pattern.

High school students elect to follow vegetarian and vegan diets for many reasons, such as compassion toward animals, desire to protect the environment and desire to optimize health and/or performance. According to a national poll in 2014, about five percent of high school students in grades 9-12 are vegetarian (never eat meat, fish, seafood or poultry), which includes about one percent who are vegan (never eat eggs, dairy or flesh foods). By comparison, a similar poll revealed that 3.3 percent of American adults are vegetarian or vegan.

Although coaches and parents of new vegetarians may be concerned about the adequacy of vegetarian and vegan diets for athletes, health experts in the United States, Canada and across the globe agree that a well-balanced vegetarian diet – which contains whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds – supports the training demands of athletes and provides health benefits as well.