Vegetarianism: A Path to Better Fitness

Woman lifts a broccoli in the shape of a dumbbell

Key Points

  • Eating a vegetarian diet reduces your risk of developing chronic illnesses and health conditions.

  • Those who incorporate vegetarian options into weekly meal planning notice significant positive changes to their health.

  • Optimize your workouts with a vegetarian diet that aligns with your fitness goals.

Eating well is something most people desire to master, but many fall short of making the process easy, fun, and delicious. As you contemplate your current physique and compare it to where you want to go, you likely realize that proper nutrition is vital to the fitness puzzle. A vegetarian diet is a nutritious and tasty way to heal your body.

Good nutrition benefits both men and women, providing the necessary fuel for the body to function properly. Changing to a vegetarian diet is an easy way to ensure your body is operating on clean, natural fuel.

Achieving a better fitness level requires regular exercise and a commitment to fresh, whole foods. With a steady diet of junk food and processed, packaged materials, your body struggles to build muscle, repair tissues, and maintain energy levels. Substandard food sabotages your fitness goals in — and out of — the gym.

Vegetarian eating prevents chronic diseases and promotes better mental and physical well-being. With all the benefits of vegetarianism, you’d think many more people would be on the wellness train, right?

Which Diet Is Right for Me?

Paleo, keto, pescatarian, fruitarian: Which diet provides you with the right combination of calories and nutrients for optimal health and fitness? Every diet trend has pros and cons, but some tried-and-true ways of clean eating do the job consistently.

Have you considered removing meat in favor of plant-based nutrition?

Two people eat healthy salads at the gym

What About Vegetarianism?

For many people, meat is a star attraction for any meal. Cutting back on meat consumption — or perhaps cutting it out completely — could help you become a healthier version of yourself. 

A vegetarian lifestyle embraces the concept of primarily plant-based nutrition, though some vegetarians consume dairy products and eggs as additional protein sources. The vegetarian diet has several variations, and the decision to adhere to any of these protocols is up to you. 

  • Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Includes dairy products and eggs, no meat

  • Lacto-vegetarian: Includes dairy but excludes eggs and meat

  • Ovo-vegetarian: Includes eggs but excludes all meat and dairy products

  • Vegan: Excludes all animal products and byproducts

Some people choose to adopt a version of vegetarianism for health reasons, while others do it for ethical, cultural, or environmental passion. Regardless of the reason, many report the mental and physical benefits of eating lean and clean.

Improved Heart Health

Numerous studies reveal that a vegetarian diet improves heart health in several ways. Reducing blood pressure, lowering your risk for heart disease, and decreasing bad cholesterol levels are just a few ways vegetarian eating protects cardiovascular health. 

Several vegetarian foods have high fiber and unsaturated fat content, which effectively lower and help regulate cholesterol levels. At the same time, abstaining from meat naturally reduces saturated fat intake, which is an integral part of protecting your heart.

Environmentally Responsible

Rearing livestock results in greenhouse gas emissions that surpass those of vegetables or grains. In fact, meat-based diets contribute two and a half times more carbon emissions than plant-based ones.

Animal farming requires significant resources; a single chicken breast requires an astonishing 140 gallons of water to complete! Put down that chicken sandwich as you digest the stats from the European Commission, which found that vegetarianism could reduce water consumption by 27 to 41 percent. 

Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Opting for veggies over filet mignon decreases your likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. Research indicates that adhering to a plant-based diet correlates with a 53 percent lower risk of diabetes.

Plant-based foods aid in reducing your risk of diabetes by addressing critical risk factors like obesity and body fat distribution. The presence of fatty tissue in the body leads to insulin resistance, a precursor to more chronic diabetic conditions. Plant-based diets are typically low in saturated fats and cholesterol, decreasing fatty tissue levels. 

Efficient Weight Management

Plant-based diets are a great way to manage your weight efficiently. While it may not necessarily lead to significant weight loss, vegetarianism reduces your consumption of empty calories and fat, ultimately leading to a healthier weight.

An uncontrolled vegetarian diet can lead to weight gain if you overeat high-calorie or high-fat foods and consume larger portions. A potato chip sandwich is technically a vegetarian option, but it’s not necessarily the best or healthiest choice.

Choosing your foods to meet daily nutrition requirements is the best recipe for a healthy diet.

Improved Brain Function

A vegetarian diet has connections to improved brain health. Research indicates that a higher intake of plant-based foods may reduce the following:

  • Cognitive impairment

  • Dementia

  • Alzheimer’s disease

Scientists attribute this improved brain function to abundant polyphenols found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These nutritious foods slow down the advancement of neurodegenerative conditions and enhance cognitive function.

Reduced Risk of Cancer

Going plant-based has the potential to decrease your risk of cancer. Powerhouse phytochemicals found in many plants help safeguard your cells from harm, while the abundance of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals helps maintain your good health. 

Processed meat consumption may elevate the chances of specific kinds of cancer, such as colon, rectal, prostate, pancreatic, and stomach. Reducing and eliminating these toxic substances from your diet allows you to reclaim your health and rebalance your pH, lowering your risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.

Reduced Risk of Food-Borne Illnesses

If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you probably promised yourself that you’d try to avoid it in the future. Eating veggies may not eliminate your risk of food poisoning and other food-borne illnesses, but it significantly reduces the risk of contamination. 

Most cases of food poisoning result from contact with contaminated meat, poultry, seafood, or fish because animal flesh is teeming with bacteria that quickly wreak havoc on your digestive and immune systems. Reduce your meat consumption to safeguard your health and that of your loved ones.

Healthy woman eats salad in workout clothing

Gearing Up for Vegetarian

Even if you’ve been mostly vegetarian for a while, you likely remember an adjustment period during which you retrained both your taste buds and thoughts around food. Many people have certain beliefs about what a typical meal should look like.

Most Americans tend to think meals should include meat, veggies, and some simple or complex carbs. As you contemplate what your plate looks like without meat, reframe what a meal looks like based on the nutrition your body needs. Take these tips to heart as you reframe your brain around “going green.”

Does going vegetarianism have a significant impact on health and fitness? One only has to look at Pamela Anderson to see that eating clean does a body good. "Good Viking genes and having rowdy dogs and kids keep me in shape. By far, not eating meat gives me the energy I need to keep up with work, family, and travel."

If only Pamela's famous figure were a guarantee for eating as she does.

Create Transition Rules

If you’ve been primarily meat-based for most of your life, going slow and steady is how to approach lasting changes in your diet. Add one vegetarian meal a week, then try one daily, and gradually add more vegetarian and plant-based foods until your transition is complete.

Don’t beat yourself up if you experience cravings and “cheat” meals — it’s okay. Having a realistic plan for change and getting back on track once you’ve fallen off is crucial to building long-term consistency and success.

Whatever your initial reasons for becoming a vegetarian, keep educating yourself on the health benefits and environmental impact you make with daily diet choices.

Eat Soup

Soup is a fantastic transition food because it looks the same regardless of whether it contains meat. Hundreds of flavorful soup recipes are so tasty you won’t miss the meat. Add your favorite crusty bread for a filling and delicious meal.

Add Beans

Beans pack a punch with protein and fiber, and they taste delicious. Adding beans to a dish adds depth, flavor, and satiety. Layer your soups, salads, and dishes with savory bean options.

Pile on the Veggies

Focus on eating more vegetables as you transition to a vegetarian diet. Include them in soups and salads, or roast them for a delicious and crispy option. Add them to your plate as a side while you transition or even as the main course.

A variety of veggies, fruits, and nuts

Create Vegetarian Grocery Lists

Coming up with tasty vegetarian dishes that will inspire you to maintain your new lifestyle is challenging. Deciding which groceries to purchase and meals to cook takes time, commitment, and pre-planning to be successful.

Choosing recipes you want to try and crafting your grocery list around those meals helps you stay on track. Make sure you plan a few snacks to keep you from straying from your new plan.

Incorporate at Least One New Recipe per Week

Seek vegetarian inspiration and delicious recipes to add to your veggie arsenal. Websites like Instagram, Pinterest, and Food Network have many delicious, simple meals you can add to your new recipe collection.

It takes time for tastebuds to adjust to new flavors and textures. Be patient with yourself, try new foods slowly, and keep moving forward as you learn new habits and create a healthier lifestyle.

Vegetarianism for Better Fitness

Well-planned vegetarian diets that contain a variety of foods and meet energy requirements provide adequate protein for optimal health and fitness. Athletes and people wishing to improve their physical fitness must eat sufficient calories and various proteins throughout each day. 

Amino Acids

Amino acids comprise most of the protein needed for muscle growth and repair. Eggs, meat, and dairy are the most highly sought-after sources of protein by most because they contain all nine amino acids the body requires for optimal health and function. 

Most plant-based proteins lack at least one of the nine essential amino acids, with soy and quinoa being two exceptions to this rule. Including various plant-based proteins will ensure you meet daily amino acid requirements.

Eating Protein Throughout the Day

Incorporating high-quality protein sources in meals and snacks is essential for your continued good health. Consume five or six small meals with protein-rich foods, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Ensure that over half your daily caloric intake comes from quality complex carbs that provide energy to muscles. 

Opt for heart-healthy fats such as almonds, walnuts, avocados, and olive oil to boost your metabolic function. Consult a registered dietician to help you create personalized vegetarian meal options that fit your tastes, style, and budget. 

Salad, grains, and an egg bowl

Missing Pieces of Your Fitness Puzzle

Even a meticulous, well-planned vegetarian diet can miss critical nutrients. These nutrients are abundant in animal products but may be harder to come by in plant-based sources. Consider supplements to make sure you get enough of the following nutrients:

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is crucial for DNA synthesis and a healthy nervous system. Unfortunately, it’s found mainly in animal products, and this vitamin deficiency leads to megaloblastic anemia, fatigue, and nerve damage.

Vegetarians consuming seafood and dairy probably obtain sufficient levels of B12. If you still need more, consider adding fortified foods such as nutritional yeast and enriched breakfast cereals to your diet.


Milk, yogurt, and other dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, but several plant-based foods provide this essential mineral. Leafy greens like kale and spinach, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, dried figs, and broccoli all contain impressive calcium concentrations.

Dairy-free alternatives, like soy, oat, and almond milk, are also fortified with calcium, making it easier than ever to achieve your daily required intake.

Vitamin D

The sunshine vitamin is essential for the nervous system and brain health. While primarily found in egg yolks, milk, and fatty fish, you can also obtain vitamin D from plant-based dairy, mushrooms, orange juice, and tofu. Spend time outdoors — on sunny days — to boost your vitamin D levels.

Ask a doctor for bloodwork to see if you need to supplement.

Yogurt, granola, and berries


Iron is available in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron comes from meat, poultry, and fish, and the body more readily absorbs it. You find non-heme iron in plant-based foods like veggies, fruits, grains, and nuts.

Unfortunately, your body can’t absorb non-heme as easily as heme iron. Cooking and food preparation techniques like soaking and sprouting improve iron absorption. Eating lentils, tofu, whole grains, raisins, figs, and pumpkin naturally improves iron levels.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids improve brain function, the nervous system, and cell membranes. They also improve vision and skin health and possess potent anti-inflammatory properties. The best sources come from fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and anchovies. 

Flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, leafy greens, soybeans, and wheat germ are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids that boost brain and heart health.


Animal products and fortified cereals are the primary dietary sources of zinc. To ensure sufficient zinc intake, consume foods like tofu, tempeh, pumpkin, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, oatmeal, tahini, and cashews for immune system health.

Three-Day Plant-Based Meal Plan for Beginners

Whether you’re swapping out meat to improve your health, support animal welfare, or preserve the environment, these meals will satisfy and fortify your nutrition in wonderful ways. Try this three-day ultimate vegetarian diet plan.

Day One Breakfast

  • Plain oatmeal 

  • Walnuts

  • Berries

  • Almond milk

Day One Lunch

  • Lentil tacos 

  • Greens salad, balsamic vinaigrette

Day One Dinner

  • Italian-style zucchini and chickpea sauté

Day Two Breakfast

  • Quinoa

  • Raisins and cinnamon

  • Soy milk

Day Two Lunch

  • Stir fry with veggies and tofu

Day Two Dinner

  • Vegetarian chili 

  • Spinach-orzo salad

Day Three Breakfast

  • Tofu scramble with eggs

Day Three Lunch

  • Pasta with marinara sauce

  • Salad

  • Roasted veggies

Day Three Dinner

  • Vegetarian pizza

  • Tomato soup

  • Garlic butter bread

Woman makes orange juice in a blender

Vegetarian Snack Ideas

As delicious and filling as these meal options are, hunger still may crop up between meals. Here are some quick and easy snacks that will make staying on the veggie track much more manageable.

  • Fruit slices with your favorite nut butter

  • Cheese sticks or string cheese

  • Bell pepper slices and hummus

  • Roasted chickpeas

  • Popcorn

  • Nuts

  • Yogurt and fruit or granola

  • Kale chips

  • Cottage cheese

  • Green smoothies

  • Roasted edamame

  • Trail mix

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Oatmeal

  • Hard-boiled eggs

  • Guacamole and veggie chips or slices

  • Homemade fat bombs or energy balls

Start Eating Cleaner Today

Getting on — and staying on — the vegetarian diet is simpler than you think. Careful planning, meal preparation, and conscious snacking will help reduce temptations and satisfy you.

Embrace this new eating style and see how it significantly improves your health and fitness. Bon Appétit!

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