Healthy Eating for Vegetarian Athletes

Healthy Eating for Vegetarian Athletes

Being an athlete and a vegetarian means a bit more planning in order to get the right amount of protein that is needed for muscle building and training.  Vegetarians also need to ensure that they eat correctly to maintain their levels of iron, zinc and vitamin B12.

In order to get enough protein, vegetarian athletes can include things like low fat dairy foods and protein rich foods like soya in their eating plan.  Sources of protein may include milk, tofu, yogurt, cheese and peanut butter.  Protein is important and is a building block in the body, and not having enough protein can hinder recovery after injuries for example. Athletes need to power their body sufficiently as they are not just sitting around enjoying the online pokies NZ has to offer all day, they are putting their body to the test, on an on going basis.

Iron Rich Sources

Heme iron or haem is a type of iron that is only found in meat, poultry, seafood and fish.  This kind of iron comes from animal sources and for vegetarians this type of iron will be lacking in a diet and will need to come from a different source.  Non-heme iron on the other hand is found in plant-based foods such as beans, vegetables, nuts and fruit.  Non-heme iron is not as easily absorbed by the body as heme iron.  Good sources of iron include dried beans, figs, lentils and good quality wholegrain cereals and leafy green vegetables.  Iron is a very important mineral that it found in the cells of the body and it transports oxygen to the tissues.  Iron makes sure that muscles are working as they should and it also assists in converting carbohydrates in energy while exercising.

There are some foods that inhibit the absorption of iron such as tea and coffee and whole grains.  Healthcare practitioners recommend having tea or coffee two hours an iron supplement has been taken.

Getting Enough Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an important component of a vegetarian diet as it helps the body absorb non-heme iron.  Athletes should try to eat foods rich in vitamin C to help the body absorb the iron.  Foods that are rich in vitamin C include strawberries, broccoli, pineapple, Brussels sprouts, kiwi fruit, bell peppers, citrus fruits and spinach.

Importance of Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is an important vitamin and converts protein and carbohydrates to energy.  The B vitamins assist the body with production and repairing cells. B12 specifically assists with red cell production and maintains the central nervous system.   It has been noted that a deficiency in Vitamin B can decrease an athlete’s performance at optimal levels and slow repairs to muscles after training or injuries.  Vegetarians will only get small amounts of Vitamin B from their diet from foods like eggs, milk and dairy products.  Other sources are meat, poultry and shellfish.  A good source for vegetarians is fortified cereals and milk substitutes like almond, rice and soymilk.

A balanced diet is very important for a vegetarian athlete, but supplements may be needed to make up for vitamins or minerals.  It is important for athletes to always consult with their doctor or nutritionist about which supplements are needed.