According to conventional wisdom, athletes need high-meat, protein-rich diets to fuel their active lifestyles and maintain muscle mass.
Not so fast, sophomore vegetarian lightweight rower Stephanie Hill says.
"First of all, the whole protein thing is overhyped," Hill said.
"Second of all, there are many, many sources of protein, soy being one of them and dairy products being a huge one."
Hill is part of a growing wave of athletes at Princeton and across the country who are eschewing beef and chicken in favor of salad and tofu. Professional vegetarian athletes include NBA shooting guard Salim Stoudamire, Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams and cage fighter Mac Danzig.
Indeed, new research suggests that vegetarianism is a viable, and some say healthier, alternative to more traditional meat-based diets -- even for athletes. The small but increasing movement toward vegetarianism in the sports world comes on the heels of the publication of several influential pro-vegetarian books, including 2001's best-selling "Fast Food Nation" by journalist Eric Schlosser. The book, which chronicles the American meat industry's production and distribution practices, helped convert junior long-distance runner Jolee VanLeuven from carnivore to herbivore.
"I read 'Fast Food Nation' in seventh grade," VanLeuven said. "And that's when I really became concerned with the environment and that eating meat and the production of meat had a really negative effect on the environment."
Nevertheless, vegetarians -- vegetarian athletes in particular -- run the considerable risk of developing mineral deficiencies as a result of their dietary restrictions. Meat is an important source of iron, vitamin D and long-chain fatty acids -- like Omega 3, 6 and 9 -- as well as protein.
Princeton's plant-eating athletes, however, emphasize that these problems can be overcome by eating copious amounts of seeds, nuts, beans and soy. The larger problem may be that vegetarian athletes often have to contend with the skepticism of coaches, teammates and family members.