Sports nutrition for vegetarians and vegans
Are you a ‘no meat’ athlete who's worried about health and performance? While nutritional deficiencies are easy to come by with these diets, consuming a wholesome diet rich in whole grains, legumes, soy products, nuts, seeds and, if desired, dairy and eggs, will help prevent nutritional deficiencies.
- B vitamins
- Regularly eating legumes and whole- or enriched-grain products helps meet the requirement for B vitamins. However, vegan athletes avoiding animal foods altogether should take a B12 supplement or eat B12-fortified foods (e.g., soy milk, tofu, and breakfast cereals).
- Calcium is a key component of healthy bones and strong muscles. While often associated with dairy products, calcium can also be found in calcium-fortified drinks (e.g., orange juice, soy milk and rice milk), dark leafy greens and dried figs.
- Iron carries oxygen in the blood to exercising muscles. Low iron levels can cause fatigue, cold intolerance and, eventually, anemia. Choose iron-rich foods, such as dark leafy greens, legumes and enriched grains. To boost iron absorption, consume these foods with a source of vitamin C, such as citrus fruit or bell peppers.
Tips for Proper Fueling
- Eliminating food groups can cause weakness and fatigue. Be sure that you are eating enough calories, so you don’t lose muscle mass or ruin performance.
- Consume lots of fruits and veggies to get essential nutrients. Pick fruits and veggies in a variety of colors to maximize your intake of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
- Choose your fuel wisely. For instance, quinoa is an ideal alternative to rice—quinoa is a great source of carbohydrates and a complete protein! And nuts are a healthy source of fat and protein, which will quickly boost calorie intake and provide energy.
- When necessary, add supplements, bars and powders to your diet to avoid deficiencies. Protein shakes are easy, vegan-friendly, high in protein, and calorie boosters.
Tara Gidus Collingwood is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition, fitness and health promotion. She is currently the nutrition consultant to the USTA National Campus with Andrews Institute and Nemours, the team dietitian for the Orlando Magic NBA team, the nutrition consultant to University of Central Florida Athletic Department and a nutrition and exercise executive coach at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute.