The Vegetarian Athlete

December 17, 2009 | Comments: None Yet - Post a Comment

Categories: Nutrition, Science, Wellness

A position paper by the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine, states that up to  4.8 million Americans follow some kind of vegetarian diet (ADA, DC & ACSM 2000).  Other sources put that number even higher.  Are all of theses people muscle-free, granola types?  No, they aren’t*.  Can you be a vegetarian and still get all of the nutrients you need, especially protein?  Yes you can, but you will need to pay special attention to eating a varied and balanced diet.  Here are some suggestions from Catherine Reade, MS, RD, owner of a nutrition consulting firm in Colorado.  Please note, these recommendations are for people who compete, your needs may be lower than those listed.

  1. Choosing Protein. In general, make protein at least 15% of your diet.  Plant protein does not digest as well as animal protein, so veg*ns have higher protein requirements: about 1.5 to 1.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight.  More if you are looking to really build muscle.
  2. Meeting Protein Needs.  If you are eating eggs and dairy, you are probably fine.  If not, consume more protein-rich plant foods.  Most plant proteins need to be combined to provide a complete protein, i.e. beans and rice, hummus and pita.
  3. Iron. Eat iron from sources like legumes, dark, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, raisins, whole and enriched grains.  Broccoli and bok choy are not only high in iron, but in vitamin C as well, which helps absorption of iron.
  4. Gaining and Losing Weight. If you lose too much weight on a vegetarian diet, add more beans, dried fruits, smoothies and starchy vegetables like potatoes, and increase healthy fats like avocados and nuts.  If you gain weight, decrease portion sizes of the calorie-dense foods above and eat more fruits and vegetables.  You are a vegetarian after all!
  5. Meeting Calorie Needs.  Just like an omnivore, eating small meals throughout the day is best for most people.  Your meals might look larger because of the volume of vegetables it takes to meet you calorie goals.
  6. Meeting Carbohydrate Needs.  As always, choose high-fiber carbs like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans.  Many experts recommend eating 5 to 10grams per kilogram of body weight per day – or 2.3 to 4.5grams per pound of body weight per day.

*Kara Lang, vegan,  plays forward for the Canadian soccer team and, at only 21, is already Canada’s 4th-leading all-time     international women’s goal scorer.
*Scott Jurek, Ultramarathoner and 7-time winner of the Western States 100-mile Endurance run and was selected as     UltraRunning Magazine’s North American Male Ultrarunner of the Year in 2003-2005 and 2007.
*Carl Lewis, 10-time Olympic track and field medal winner, was vegan during his best years.
*Brendan Brazier is a 2-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion and professional ironman and has been vegan for over 6 years

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