Since we are a community of athletes, and eating the right foods, which includes getting enough protein to support our active lifestyles is certainly a concern, I thought some information on going meatless and staying in peak athletic performance, whether as a serious runner, weight-lifter, bike rider, weekend warrior, or Boot Camp god or goddess might be helpful.
Did you know that Carl Lewis, one of the top athletes of our time, is a vegetarian?
So is Dave Scott, who won six, yes, six, Iron Man competitions (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and 26.2 mile run) while eating a vegetarian diet.
Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King are vegetarian athletes. So is Koya Webb, who is a triathlete and personal trainer. She looks like one fierce vegetarian.
There are many more vegetarian athletes who could be added to this list, but let’s focus on the all-important question. Is it possible to get adequate protein (because this is the question I always get) from a vegetarian diet?
According to ACE (American Council on Exercise) Fitness:
In response to increased levels of cholesterol and a greater risk of heart disease, many Americans are making the switch from a diet dominated by hamburgers and hotdogs to one of veggieburgers and tofu. But is this type of diet a wise choice for athletes who need to maintain their strength and stamina?
The answer to that question is a qualified “yes.” Whether you are an athlete or moderately active, you must be aware of the nutritional implications of vegetarianism, and choose foods that will provide you with enough calories and nutrients to keep you healthy and strong.
You can read the entire article at: Vegetarianism and Athletes – Nutrition – FitFacts – American Council On Exercise(ACE).
Depending on what kind of vegetarian diet you eat, getting enough protein may take some planning, but so so does eating a well-balanced diet.
GoVeg.com posted a great article about Olympic athletes, like Carl Lewis, and Ultra Fighting Champion, Mike Danzig, who both eat vegetarian diets and excel at their sports. Here is an excerpt from that article, Vegetarianism: A Winning Formula for Athletes, with suggestions for getting the right balance of proteins and food for athletes:
Nutritionists recommend that most of the calories athletes consume come from complex carbohydrates. While refined carbohydrates like sugar and white bread should be avoided, complex carbs are critical for fueling your muscles with energy in a sustained way. Great choices are whole-wheat breads and pastas, cereals, brown rice, quinoa, and fruits and vegetables.
Protein can be found in abundance in foods like beans, nuts, tofu, whole grains, veggie burgers, Gardenburger’s meatless barbecue ribs, Boca’s Chik’n Nuggets, and other meat substitutes. Although vegetarians can easily get plenty of protein through these foods, if you’re looking for a post-workout boost, put some frozen fruit and a vegan protein supplement into a blender for a delicious smoothie, mix up a Vega drink, or grab a tasty Clif “builder bar” (weighing in at 20 grams of protein) from your local supermarket.
A bit of fat in your diet is important, and the fats in plant foods like avocados, vegetable and olive oils, nuts, and seeds tend to be much healthier than the artery-clogging fats found in most animal products. Take a pass on deep-fried foods.
Adding a multivitamin and a vitamin B12 supplement to your daily diet is a good idea for all athletes.
Any trainer will tell you that the more calories you burn, the more fuel you need. Vegetarian foods tend to be very nutrient-dense, but they are somewhat less calorie-dense than animal products. So eat plenty of your favorite vegetarian dishes.
This is all good information, but I like “hard” numbers. Elizabeth Quinn, an exercise physiologist and fitness consultant, provides some concrete information (Nutrition Tips for Vegetarian Athletes):
The current protein recommendations for optimal muscle building in a strength athlete is 1.6 to 1.7 gram protein per kilogram of body weight (0.73 grams per pound). For a 200-pound athlete, that is a total of 145 to 154 grams of protein a day. There is no scientific evidence that more than 2.0 grams of protein per kg of body weight has any additional benefit in muscle strength or size.
You can get enough protein by including plenty of low-fat dairy products and protein-rich plant sources, like soy, in your diet. The following protein sources may work for vegetarians:
Milk, 8 oz, 8 grams
Tofu, 3 oz, 15 grams
Yogurt, 8 oz, 8 grams
Cheese, 3 oz, 21 grams
Peanut butter, 2 tbsp, 8 grams
How to Get Adequate Iron in Your Diet
Heme iron is a type of easily absorbed iron that is found in animal protein. If you eat fish or chicken, you will get this type of iron, but if you eat no meat, you will need to find other sources of iron. Our bodies don’t absorb non-heme iron –- the kind found in vegetables -– as easily as the iron that comes from animal foods. Non-meat eaters, especially female athletes, must pay attention to their dietary iron needs. Good sources of non-heme include wholegrain cereals, leafy green vegetables, figs, lentils and kidney beans, and some dried fruits.
How to Get Adequate Vitamin C in Your Diet
Vitamin C in fruits, vegetables, and other foods help vegetarians absorb non-heme iron from other foods, so it’s a good idea to eat a combination of foods at each meal. Consider eating citrus fruits with an iron-fortified wholegrain cereal or have a citrus fruit juice with beans.
How to Get Adequate B12
Because vitamin B12 is available only from animal products, it is one of the most common nutrients missing from the diets of vegetarian athletes. To get enough B12 (you require only a small amount-2.4 micrograms-per day) try to eat B12-fortified foods like soymilk, and cereal. You can also get enough B12 if you consume eggs, cheese, milk or yogurt.
Avoid Foods That Interfere with Iron Absorption
Some foods contain substances that block the absorption of iron in the intestine. Coffee, whole grains, bran, legumes, and spinach all interfere with iron absorption and should be combined with vitamin C to increase iron absorption.
Food for thought :). I hope you find this information helpful. I have been researching this topic for some time, but Erica at Fashion Meets Food raised some great questions about going meatless and its effect on strength and stamina so I thought this would be a timely post.
Before I sign off for the day I promised a review of my attempt at making Old Spaghetti Factory Mizithra Pasta. Are you ready? It was fab, fab, fabulous and just what I needed for a change of pace and a quick meal on a hot day.
Here is the finished product:
Yummy! About browning the butter, I was actually afraid to try this (I am not great about trying new things), I followed the instructions closely. I heated the butter over medium heat, stirring frequently. I watched for those brown specks, but I didn’t see any so I finally removed the pan from the heat once the butter was a nutty brown color. Only after I removed it, and the foam on the top was pretty much gone, did I see the residue at the bottom of the pan :). We just skimmed about 4 Tbsp. of the butter over the pasta and then I added cheese to taste. We had the mizithra pasta with a lovely green salad made by Jimmy and a glass of red wine. And you know what? I feel great after eating – that’s just nice.