Best CAVA Vegetarian Options for Athletes
It can be helpful for athletes following a plant-based diet to know the best options to eat when dining out. CAVA is a popular Mediterranean restaurant chain that has a variety of vegetarian menu items that can support an athlete’s sports nutrition needs.
Let’s take a look at the different types of plant-based diets that athletes may follow. Then we will explore the best CAVA vegetarian options for athletes.
What is a Vegetarian Diet?
Athletes following a vegetarian diet may differ in the types of animal-based products they will include in their meal plan. Thus, it is important to understand the different types of vegetarian diets.
Common terminology used to describe different varieties of plant-based diets include (1):
- Vegetarian – Individual avoids all animal and seafood flesh foods (meat, poultry, pork, seafood), may or may not consume dairy or egg products.
- Lacto-vegetarian – Individual follows a vegetarian diet, will consume dairy products, but not eggs or egg products.
- Ovo-vegetarian – Individual follows a vegetarian diet, will consume eggs and egg products, but not dairy products.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian – Individual follows a vegetarian diet, will consume dairy and egg products.
- Vegan – Individual will not consume any animal-based products, including eggs, dairy, and sometimes honey.
What is CAVA?
CAVA is a fast-casual restaurant chain that focuses on providing healthy Mediterranean-inspired food. Their menu features a variety of whole grains, fresh vegetables, healthy fats, as well as protein options.
CAVA Vegetarian Options for Athletes
There are a variety of vegetarian options at CAVA that athletes can enjoy. On their website, CAVA provides a downloadable allergen and nutrition guide. This guide indicates the items on the CAVA menu that are vegetarian and/or vegan.
Note: All the nutrition information included in this article comes from the CAVA website. Menu options and nutrition information may change as products are updated. For the most current nutrition information, refer to the CAVA website.
CAVA Vegetarian Protein Options
Consuming protein throughout the day with meals and snacks is important for athletes (2). Protein provides the building blocks to support athletes with building and maintaining lean muscle mass.
At CAVA there are a variety of ways athletes following a vegetarian diet can add protein to their bowls and wraps to help meet their protein needs.
Falafel: Plant-Based Protein Option at CAVA
Athletes following a vegetarian diet can add falafel to their meals at CAVA. The CAVA falafel is made with a blend of chickpeas and herbs and provides 6 grams of protein per serving. CAVA offers both an original and spicy falafel option for individuals to choose from.
Athletes following a gluten-free diet should be aware the falafel at CAVA contains gluten. Thus, athletes with gluten sensitivity will want to choose a different way to add protein to their meals.
RightRice® – Vegetarian Option at CAVA
In addition to the falafel, CAVA offers RightRice® as a vegetarian grain option on their menu. RightRice® is a plant-based rice made with lentils, chickpeas, peas, and rice. Adding a serving of RightRice® to your CAVA meal will add 18 grams of protein, 53 grams of carbohydrates, and 9 grams of fiber.
Another great way to boost the protein content of a meal at CAVA is by adding black lentils to bowls and wraps. A serving of black lentils provides 17 grams of protein, 37 grams of carbohydrates, and 15 grams of fiber.
CAVA Vegetarian Bowl Options for Athletes
A popular item that CAVA features on their menu is the CAVA bowl. The bowl is made of a combination of grains, leafy greens, a selection of protein and vegetable toppings, as well as a variety of sauces.
Athletes have the option at CAVA to order a pre-made (curated) bowl or to create a customized bowl, similar in concept to building a burrito bowl at Chipotle®.
Market Spice Vegetarian CAVA Bowl
Currently the Market Spice bowl is the only curated vegetarian bowl on the CAVA menu. This bowl contains spicy falafel for protein, which is served on top of romaine lettuce and Basmati rice. The bowl also contains a variety of vegetable toppings.
The Market Spice bowl provides 68 grams of carbohydrates as well as 16 grams of protein. To boost the protein content of the bowl, I would encourage athletes to substitute RightRice® for the Basmati rice or to add black lentils to the bowl.
Build-Your-Own CAVA Vegetarian Bowl
Athletes looking to build a healthy CAVA bowl should focus on including ingredients that provide a good source of carbohydrates and a moderate amount of lean protein, as well as healthy, unsaturated fats.
For the base of the bowl, CAVA offers a variety of grains, lentils, and greens. Athletes can select the type of base for their bowl from the following options:
- Greens + Grains Bowl
- Grains Bowl
- Salad Bowl
Since carbohydrates should be at the foundation of an athlete’s training diet, I encourage athletes to include grains and/or lentils in their CAVA bowl.
CAVA Grains & Lentils
The following grains and lentil options are all great ways for athletes to add carbohydrates and protein to their CAVA bowl:
- Brown rice: 48 g carbohydrates, 8 g protein per serving
- Saffron basmati rice: 54 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams protein per serving
- RightRice®: 53 grams of carbohydrates, 18 g protein per serving
- Black lentils: 37 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams protein per serving
CAVA Bowl Greens
In addition to grains and lentils, athletes can add a variety of leafy greens to their vegetarian CAVA bowl. Dark green leafy vegetables are packed full of nutrition containing many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
CAVA offers baby spinach, arugula, romaine lettuce, SuperGreens, and a SplendidGreens variety.
- SuperGreens: Blend of cabbage, chicory, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kale
- SplendidGreens: Blend of romaine lettuce, radicchio, escarole, chicory, and endive
CAVA Bowl Vegetable Toppings and Sides
Adding a wide variety of vegetable toppings can help further increase the nutrient content of an athlete’s CAVA bowl.
Great vegetable choices at CAVA include: Roasted vegetables, Persian cucumbers, tomatoes and cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, cabbage slaw, pickled onions, fire roasted corn, and lentil tabbouleh.
To add healthy, unsaturated fats to their CAVA bowl, athletes can include avocado and kalamata olives as toppings on their bowl.
CAVA Bowl: Dressings, Dips, & Spreads
There are a variety of dressings and dips athletes can order with their vegetarian CAVA bowl. Athletes should request the dressings be served on the side so they can control the amount added to the bowl.
Healthy dressing choices at CAVA include:
- Yogurt dill
- Lemon-herb tahini
- Tahini Caesar
- Hot harissa vinaigrette
* Each of the dressings above contains ≤1 gram of saturated fat per serving
Hummus is a nutritious, plant-based food that is made with chickpeas. CAVA offers two different types of hummus on their menu, regular hummus and red pepper hummus.
Either of the hummus options can be a healthy addition to an athlete’s vegetarian bowl. One serving of hummus provides 4 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of protein, 1 gram of fiber, and no saturated fat.
Other CAVA Vegetarian Spreads
Other vegetarian spreads athletes may consider adding to their CAVA bowl include the roasted eggplant spread and the harissa spread. These spreads both contain ≤1 gram of saturated fat per serving, making them a healthy topping choice for your bowl.
If athletes like spice, they can also try adding the harissa spread as a topping in their bowl. Harissa is a traditional North African spicy chili sauce made from tomatoes, peppers, and spices. The CAVA version has a Greek twist with the addition of garlic, parsley, and Greek seasonings.
CAVA Vegetarian Sides
Finally, athletes can order pita bread or pita chips as a side with the bowl. Enjoying pita bread or pita chips with hummus is an easy way for athletes to further boost the carbohydrate content of their meal.
CAVA Vegetarian Pita Options for Athletes
Similar to the bowls, CAVA also offers an assortment of pre-made pita combinations on their menu. In addition, they provide the opportunity to build-your-own pita with your favorite protein fillings, vegetable toppings, dips, and spreads.
The Crispy Falafel pita is a vegetarian pita option on the CAVA menu, providing 88 grams of carbohydrates and 22 grams of protein. It contains falafel, roasted eggplant, hummus, and a variety of veggie toppings.
When ordering this pita, athletes should consider ordering the garlic dressing on the side so they can control the amount added to their pita sandwich.
Build Your Own CAVA Vegetarian Pita
Similar to the build your own CAVA bowl, athletes can select the ingredients they want to include in a vegetarian pita.
To build a nutrient-dense vegetarian pita at CAVA, athletes can include the following:
- Select one of the hummus spreads for the pita
- Add on protein with falafel, black lentils, and crumbled feta cheese
- Pile on a wide variety of vegetable toppings
- Add healthy fats with avocado and kalamata olives
- Select a healthy dressing for added flavor and spice
Vegetarian Post-Workout Meal at CAVA
Following a workout, athletes following a vegetarian diet can easily find a meal at CAVA to help with meeting their recovery nutrition needs. When building a post-workout vegetarian meal, athletes should make sure it includes the following key nutrients:
- Fluid and Electrolytes: Rehydrate to replace sweat losses
- Carbohydrates: Refill energy stores used during the activity
- Protein: Build and repair lean muscle mass
A CAVA grains bowl made with the RightRice® and topped with falafel, black lentils, as well as a variety of vegetable toppings can be a nutrient-dense post-workout meal for an athlete.
Similarly, a CAVA falafel pita, enjoyed with a side of pita chips and hummus, and low-fat milk is a great vegetarian meal option to support an athlete with meeting their recovery nutrition needs.
Vegan Menu Options at CAVA
Athletes following a vegan diet, which includes no animal or animal-based products, can also enjoy a healthy meal at CAVA. The falafel, grains, greens, and vegetable toppings discussed previously are vegan options that athletes can enjoy.
Athletes following a vegan diet will want to avoid the CAVA menu items listed below:
- Yogurt dill dressing
- Market Spice bowl (contains yogurt dill dressing)
- Crumbled feta
- Crazy Feta® dip
- Tzatziki dip
CAVA Vegetarian Options for Athletes
You are now set with a variety of CAVA vegetarian options that athletes can order to help with meeting their sports nutrition needs.
If you are interested in additional sports nutrition tips for athletes following a plant-based diet, check out my blog on the best vegan pantry staples for athletes.
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About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.