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It is normal for teens to show interest in a vegetarian lifestyle. Off-Season Athlete is here to help you learn more about vegetarian protein choices for teen athletes.

Vegetarian Protein Choices for Teen Athletes


It is normal for teens to show interest in a vegetarian lifestyle. Off-Season Athlete is here to help you learn more about vegetarian protein choices for teen athletes.

It is normal for teens to show interest in a vegetarian lifestyle. Off-Season Athlete is here to help you learn more about vegetarian protein choices for teen athletes.

Protein is often the center of the nutrition conversation with athletes. While everyone needs protein, teen athletes may need more in order to support their training AND growth. Protein is imperative for building and repairing muscle, producing hormones, replacing red blood cells, supporting immune function, and more. Since the body does not store protein, like it does carbohydrates and fat, it must be eaten daily to support all these critical jobs in the body. 

The term “protein” is often associated with animal products, but plants provide protein too. If your teen is interested in becoming a vegetarian athlete, it can most certainly be done well but does require some education. Whether your athlete is a vegetarian, a vegan, or is simply craving a plant-based meal, look to incorporate protein-packed plants.

Questions to Start a Conversation

A helpful first step to creating a protein-packed, vegetarian friendly meal or lifestyle is to decide which type of vegetarian your athlete is. Have an open conversation with your teen and listen to why they are interested in this new way of eating and what is the most important components to them. Here are questions you can ask to learn more about your teen’s desires:

  1. What has led you to make the decision to eat in a vegetarian style?
  2. What foods are you thinking of eliminating and why is that important to you?
  3. What foods are interested in including more of now?
  4. How can I support you with this new endeavor?

Types of Vegetarians

The term “vegetarian” can mean a lot of different things and can also be a very flexible lifestyle.  Here are the 5 classic definitions of vegetarians:

Flexitarian – Someone who chooses less animal products but may enjoy them occasionally. Nothing is necessarily off-limits but plant foods are emphasized over animal based foods.

Lacto-ovo vegetarian – A vegetarian that consumes milk, dairy products, eggs, grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and needs, but abstains from meat, fish, and poultry.

Lacto-vegetarian – A vegetarian that consumes milk, dairy products, grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, but abstains from meat, fish, and poultry. This vegetarian does may or may not eat eggs.

Pescatarian – A vegetarian who abstains from animal products but does include seafood.

Vegan – A vegetarian that abstains from animal products entirely, including eggs, milk and dairy products, gelatin, and foods with ingredients from animals.

Choosing Plant based Proteins

Once your athlete has decided his/her vegetarian style, identify quality foods that are protein rich, and seek opportunities to include them. Aim to include a variety of plant protein foods because not all plant proteins are created equal. Each plant protein has a unique amount of protein and provides unique amino acids (building blocks of protein).

Try adding peanut butter to a smoothie, boiled eggs to a salad, black beans to spaghetti sauce, tofu to stir-fry, or cottage cheese to a fruit snack. When choosing a nut milk to replace tradition milk, be sure to read the food labels. Many nut milks are actually low in protein. Choose a brand with low sugar and at least 8 grams of protein per cup or 8 oz.

Use the chart below to help choose more plant-proteins.   

Food Portion Protein (grams)
Tofu, firm 1 cup 20 grams
Cottage cheese ½ cup 16
Tempeh ½ cup 15
Vegetarian “burgers” 1 patty 6-16
Vegetarian “chicken” 1 patty 9-12
Vegetarian “dogs” 1 dog 9-12
Tofu, soft 1 cup 10
Yogurt, most types 1 cup 8-10
Milk (soy or dairy) 1 cup 8
Cheese 1 oz 7
Egg 1 7
Nuts, most types 2 tbsp 7
Nut butter 2 tbsp 7
Most beans, peas, and lentils ½ cup 7
Quinoa 1 cup 8
Vegetables, most ½ cup 2-3
High Protein Pasta 2 oz 8-10
Most breads 1 slice 2-3
Vegetarian protein powder 1 scoop 8-10

Have a question about plant proteins? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on the OSA Facebook Page.It is normal for teens to show interest in a vegetarian lifestyle. Off-Season Athlete is here to help you learn more about vegetarian protein choices for teen athletes.

Written by: Jenna Braddock, MSH, RDN, CSSD and Alyssa Fernandez, Dietetic Intern

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