Vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming more common now for a number or health, cultural or moral reasons. For vegetarians, planning ahead and having variety is essential for proper nutrition and to meet all nutrient needs. This is even more vital if you are already or looking to start running or any other athletic endeavour. as proper nutrition will directly affect athletic performance.
A vegetarian/vegan diet must rely on a variety of plant foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dairy and eggs for some vegetarians. The vegetarian diet may lack adequate energy, protein, calcium, zinc, iron, B6, and B12. All can be obtained with proper planning.
Protein – It is crucial to obtain adequate carbohydrate for energy so protein is not used as an energy source. Protein is required for tissue repair, building muscle, building red blood cells, synthesizing hormones and enzymes. The protein requirements for a vegetarian are no different than a non-vegetarian, what is a concern is that vegetarian proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids that are required by the body. That is where proper food combining comes in. What one plant based protein is missing another will supply. So look for variety in your proteins everyday. Think beans and rice, nuts and seeds, corn and beans etc.
Note: soy protein is a complete protein, as are eggs and dairy if you choose to consume them.
Iron – All athletes, especially female athletes are at risk of iron deficiency. Iron loss is increased during heavy training. Iron is an essential part of red blood cells that helps transport oxygen to your muscles. The main symptoms of deficiency in an athlete are weakness and rapid fatigue upon exertion. Vegetarian sources of iron are less well absorbed than meat sources. Therefore, it is important to look for grains and cereals that have been fortified with iron and to consume them with vitamin C rich foods as they significantly improve iron absorption. Cooking in cast iron pots may also help increase the iron content of foods.
The following are a list of iron rich foods. Soybeans, lentils, oatmeal, broccoli, sunflower seeds, almonds, prunes, dates, eggs, blackstrap molasses.
Vitamin B12 – A deficiency in B12 can become a problem for strict vegans who ingest no animal products at all, as this vitamin is found only in meat and in animal derivatives such as dairy and eggs. Vegan runners should consume foods fortified with vitamin B12, or make sure to take a vitamin B12 supplement, as this vitamin is needed for red blood cell production.
QUICK AND EASY VEGETARIAN MEAL IDEAS
Breakfast: a) fortified wholegrain cereal like oatmeal with sunflower seeds, dates, and soymilk; b) sprouted whole grain bread with almond butter, honey, and raisins with soymilk and fresh fruit; and c) yogurt with berries, nuts, seeds, dried fruit and wheat germ.
Lunch: a) black beans in a whole grain tortilla with soy cheese, yogurt and fresh fruit; b) bean salads; c) grilled tofu with vegetables in a pita; and d) large mixed green salads with beans, nuts, seeds, avocado and brown rice.
Dinner: a) spaghetti sauce with lentils, chick peas, or “meatless meatballs” made from textured soy protein with a brown rice or whole wheat spaghetti, broccoli and large mixed green salad; b) veggie stir fry with tofu or tempeh, cashew and peanuts and brown rice; and c) homemade veggie burgers on a sprouted grain bun.
Snacks: nuts, seeds, dried fruits, fresh fruits, multigrain cereals, fruit smoothies made with fortified soymilk, rice milk, or almond milk, sports bars fortified with calcium and iron.
With proper planning, the vegetarian can have a healthy diet that meets nutrient needs for athletic performance as well as for disease prevention. Want more info? learn from someone who has done it, Brendan Brazier is a vegan triathlete and author of The Thrive Diet. http://www.brendanbrazier.com/
Christine is a yoga instructor, personal trainer and nutritionist who specializes in weight loss and womens health at Four Forty Fitness for Women in Burlington, Ontario. Check out the website at www.fourfortyfitness.ca