Vegetarian Athletes Diet Nutrition For Vegetarian And Vegan Athletes

So, you’ve recently discovered a passion for long distance running, but you’ve been told that you may have to give up your vegetarian eating habits if you want to continue to run. How can you meet your nutritional needs without adding meat to your diet? What do vegetarian and vegan athletes eat?

The Vegetarian Athletes’ Diet

For the vegetarian athlete, protein is a primary concern. This is especially important for long distance or endurance athletes who are engaged in periods of exertion that extend beyond two hours. At that point, your body often turns to amino acids–the building blocks of protein–for energy, and if you don’t have enough protein in your diet, this energy can be drawn from your own muscles.

Adequate nutrition for vegetarian athletes should focus on getting enough protein and nutrients such as iron, calcium and phosphorus, which are generally plentiful in a meat-eaters diet. Plenty of excellent non-animal protein sources are available for vegetarian athletes, many of which are actually superior to meat in terms of efficiency. The main concern for vegetarian and vegan athletes is making the extra effort to seek out these protein sources and take protein needs seriously. If you don’t do this, your performance may suffer and you may also find yourself at increased risk of injury and health problems.
Protein and nutrition for vegetarian and vegan athletes should include:

  • High oil seeds, like sunflower seeds and sesame seeds, which can be found in sesame seed flour
  • Nuts and legumes, especially kidney beans
  • Peas and white mushrooms, which provide vital amino acids like valine.
  • Plenty of soy protein
  • Watercress, spinach and chard.

If your diet permits (non-vegan athletes), you may also want to make an effort to raise your intake of eggs, especially egg whites, fish, shellfish and cottage cheese. Milk is an excellent source of both calcium and protein.

Speak with a registered dietitian to determine what vital nutrients you need. Important nutrients like vitamin B12 and iron, which are essential for energy and carrying oxygen throughout your body, are deficient in a vegetarian and vegan diet and may require vitamin supplementation.

Resources

Clark, K. (2006). How healthy are vegetarian athletes? Retrieved May 15, 2011, from http://www.rps.psu.edu/probing/vegetarian.html

Larson, E. (2006). Eating to exercise and compete. Retrieved May 15, 2011, from http://www.vrg.org/nutshell/athletes.htm

No Meat Athlete. (2011). Vegetarian protein foods. Retrieved May 15, 2011, from http://www.nomeatathlete.com/vegetarian-protein/