So you want to be a Vegetarian Runner…
Nutrition facts you need to know
Every runner can maintain or improve athletic performance on a well planned vegetarian diet. Choosing the right nutrient-dense plant foods can help you reach your peak performance. Here’s what you need to know:
Calories = Energy
The energy needs of a vegetarian athlete depend on body weight and composition, gender and training level. Vegetarians may need to eat 10-15 per cent more calories because of the reduced digestibility of high-fibre whole foods. If you train more than three times a week, energy requirements can be as high as 6,000 calories a day. If you find it hard to maintain weight during training, you may need to eat more frequently and consume more high-energy foods, such as nuts, oils and avocados. Eating the right foods will replenish your glycogen stores, add protein to build and repair muscle tissue and provide essential fatty acids to transport fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K. Not meeting energy needs can impair performance, immunity, healing and increase your risk of injury.
Carbohydrates = Fuel of Choice
Carbohydrate-rich food helps a vegetarian athlete exercise longer and with more intensity. Consume a wide variety of whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds to provide high-energy fuel.
Protein = Fuel for the Machine
Vegetarian athletes should consume more protein than non-vegetarians; 1.3—1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. This is 10-15 per cent more than for a non-vegetarian, particularly in the early stages of training.
Mindful Minerals and B12
A vegetarian athlete’s mineral status can have a profound affect on performance. Vegetarians need almost twice the iron of non-vegetarians because non-heme iron from plant foods is not as well absorbed and physical activity can induce iron loss through sweat and destruction of red blood cells. Iron deficiency leads to fatigue and may impair your performance. Sprouting legumes, grains and lentils break down phytates and makes iron more available. Zinc is necessary for metabolism of nutrients and for healing injuries. Zinc needs also increase with intense exercise, as the mineral can be lost in perspiration.
If you avoid dairy, include other foods rich in calcium, such as almonds, figs, legumes, tahini, tofu set with calcium, turnip greens, white and navy beans, broccoli. Be sure to check nutrition labels on a regular basis. If insufficient B vitamins are consumed it can impair aerobic power by reducing breakdown of lactic acid and processing amino acids. Vitamin B12 is found naturally only in animal products, so if you don’t eat eggs or dairy, include foods fortified with B12.
4 Steps to a Vegetarian Performance Diet
Eat More whole grains
Try millet, sorghum, amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa, pot barley and teff.
Cook with Asian, root and exotic vegetables. Try Chinese cabbage, kalettes, okra, Swiss chard and turnips. Turn zucchini, beets or carrots into noodles using a spiralizer. Add pureed sweet potato to soups.
Build with Iron-Rich foods
Tofu, legumes, dried fruits, dark greens and pumpkin seeds are high in iron. Include vitamin C to help your body absorb the non-heme iron. Citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli will boost iron absorption. Tea and coffee during meals inhibit iron absorption.
Try new proteins
Eat extra firm tofu, pumpkin and hemp seeds, lentils, chickpeas, soybeans, kidney and black beans, nut butters, almonds, fortified soy beverages, whole grains and legumes.