We Asked a Dietitian: How to Build the Ultimate Plant-Based Meal Plan for Athletes (Exclusive)

Regardless of age and experience, vegan athletes can get all their nutrients from a fully plant-powered diet.

Jamie Bichelman - Author

May 29 2024, Published 12:18 p.m. ET

A smiling vegan athlete prepares a fruit and vegetable meal in the kitchen.
Source: iStock

We believe in Nike founder Phil Knight's famous declaration that "if you have a body, you are an athlete." That's why people should fuel their bodies through plant-based nutrition to sustain their well-being and live a longer, healthier life.

Unfortunately, myths and misinformation about soy and protein intake has discouraged some meat-eating athletes from making the best choices for their performance and health.

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To combat these myths, we sought guidance from David Goldman, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS, a sports dietitian, strength and conditioning specialist, and visiting researcher with the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki.

Goldman, Chief Science Advisor for the Netflix documentary The Game Changers, shared insight into illuminating research, as well as some ideas for what a day of plant-based eating might look like.

That said, this article is not medical advice; so to supplement Goldman's guidance, consult with your medical provider.

Two vegan athletes share a meal together in a park after exercising outdoors.
Source: iStock

The vegan athlete meal plan explained:

To maximize the impact of your meals, you should adjust what you eat based on factors like your age and sport, according to Goldman, whose scientific research revealed no hormonal difference between men who drank cow's milk or soy milk after exercising.

"Endurance athletes need less protein than strength-sport athletes," he tells Green Lovers exclusively. "They all need more protein than current recommendations if they want to maximize muscle and strength gains."

As Goldman explained in a modeling paper, which he published in Nutrients in 2024, which concluded that a plant-based diet supplies bodybuilders with ample nutrition to maximize their gains, older athletes seeking to maximize strength require more protein than younger athletes. In general, he said, older athletes require more vitamin B12, too.

While carbohydrates are a macronutrient ubiquitous to vegan meals, we asked Goldman what athletes should prioritize in a fat loss plan.

"Heavier athletes trying to lower body fat while maintaining or increasing performance should lose weight slowly," Goldman cautioned. This ensures excessive carbohydrate reduction doesn't lead to poor performance; lower protein intake doesn't lead to muscle loss; and the fat loss journey is sustainable.

David Goldman recommends this meal plan for vegan athletes, which starts the day with tofu scramble.

A smiling vegan athlete holds a salad bowl with bright vegetables while standing in a gym.
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Many plant-based athletes treat Sunday as a prep day that sets the tone for the coming week. In one study Goldman published, a sample plant-based meal plan includes:

  • Breakfast: tofu scramble with broccoli and brown rice
  • Lunch: sweet potato, beans, greens, and avocado
  • Dinner: lentil pasta with spinach, mushrooms, and sunflower seeds
  • Snack: banana-berry smoothie.

This meal plan from The Game Changers also includes several options to provide plant-based athletes plenty of variety.

This sample day of vegan eating for athletes from PCRM allows for lots of snacks.

A smiling vegan athlete prepares a juiced meal in her kitchen.
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In a sample meal plan for plant-based ultra-athletes, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) recommends a whole wheat bagel with peanut butter, jelly, scrambled tofu, and soy milk for breakfast. For lunch, black beans, corn, salad and veggies, and whole grain bread are on the menu.

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For dinner, chickpeas, tofu, rice, and fruit supply the nutrients to finish the day strong. With snacks like bananas, almonds, dried fruit, and peanut butter, and soy milk, plant-based athletes have many attractive options to sustain their energy between meals.

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This meal plan for vegan athletes is protein-packed thanks to edamame, lentils, and protein powder.

A smiling vegan athlete holds a container of salad with veggies inside it while holding a fork in her other hand.
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Experts at Nutritional Revolution recommend overnight oats with vanilla protein, followed by a banana to start the day. Snacks include chickpeas, black bean dip, and tortilla chips.

Lunch features slow cooker lentil chili and brown rice, and dinner boasts lentils, edamame, and mashed potatoes to round out remaining nutritional needs.

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This plant-based meal plan for athletes will keep you full all day.

A smiling older vegan athlete rides an exercise bike in a fitness class with other smiling adults.
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Nutritional Revolution recommends a protein-packed blueberry smoothie and rice cakes with almond butter and a banana for breakfast.

Snacks include chips and salsa and peach overnight oats. Lunch includes Mexican black bean salad or a roasted veggie and quinoa bowl, and dinner features Swiss chard, lentils, and rice with baked potato wedges.

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This vegan meal plan includes a Beyond burger.

A smiling vegan man chops vegetables in the kitchen for dinner.
Source: iStock

According to Men's Journal, some plant-based athletes, like bodybuilder Torre Washington, maintain an unvarying diet for weeks prior to competition.

Some ideas include a combination of overnight oats, tofu, sweet potato, leafy greens, whole grain cereal with plant-based milk, and a Beyond burger with veggies.

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