The Healthy Vegetarian - Athlete (Part II)

In this final part, we will look at what foods vegetarian athletes need to eat to meet certain vitamin and mineral requirements.

In the previous issue, we dismissed some commons myths and misconceptions regarding vegetarian diets for athletes. In this final part, we will look at what foods vegetarian athletes need to eat to meet certain vitamin and mineral requirements.

Depending on how restrictive the diet is (see table 1, below), the more important it becomes to choose the right foods, rather than just omit the foods one does not wish to eat.1 The following section discusses sources of some nutrients important to vegetarian athletes.

Vegetarian Food Sources

Calcium ///

Vegan Sources: Orange, peanuts, great northern beans, tofu, molasses, rhubarb, turnip greens, kale, chicory greens broccoli, and green beans.

Non-Vegan Sources: Cheese, milk, yogurt, oysters, salmon, and sardines.

Iron ///

Non-heme iron is found in plants and 8% of what we eat is absorbed, if eaten with a good source of vitamin C (citrus fruits, tomato products, and red pepper). In addition, using iron pans can boost the iron content of foods.

  • Sources: Wheat germ, peanut butter, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, spinach, kale, broccoli, green peas, whole wheat bread.

Heme iron is found in animal food and has an absorption efficiency of about 23%.

  • Sources: Fish

Zinc ///

Sources: Wheat germ, peanut butter, tofu, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, potato, spinach, kale, broccoli, green peas, whole wheat bread, and yogurt.

Riboflavin (Vitamin B-2) ///

Vegan Sources: Broccoli, asparagus, tofu, almonds, yeast, and soy milk.

Non vegan sources: Milk and cheese.

B-12 (Cobalamin) ///

Vegan Sources: Naturally found in animal products only, but also in fortified soy milk, cereals, imitation meats (check labels), supplements, and some is also made by our intestinal bacteria.

Non-Vegan Sources: Milk and cheese.

Vitamin D ///

Vegan Sources: Exposure to sun- the body synthesizes it, or in a supplement.

Non-Vegan Sources: Milk, margarine, and eggs.

Omega 3-s ///

Sources: flaxseed, canola oil, nuts, wheat germ, salmon, sardines, herring, halibut, and tuna.

Conclusion

Although some concerns have been raised about the nutrient status of vegetarian athletes, a varied and well-planned vegetarian diet is compatible with any successful athletic endeavor.2

The key word to remember with food intake is variety. Including a wide range of fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, legumes, nuts, and seeds in the diet will result in optimal performance.

References

  1. Barr SI, Rideout CA. (2004). Nutritional considerations for vegetarian athletes. Nutrition, 20(7-8):696-703.
  2. Nieman DC. (1999). Physical fitness and vegetarian diets: is there a relation? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 70(3 Suppl):570S-575S.
Part 1 | Part 2

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