There’s no reason why a vegetarian diet should have a negative impact on your training. Here are some areas that may need some extra consideration by athletes following a largely plant-based diet.
It’s important to focus on wholefood, natural carbohydrates rich in vitamins, minerals, fibres and phytochemicals to fuel energy production and assist with tissue recovery and antioxidant protection. Build the diet with an abundance of vegetables and fresh fruits, and then top the diet up with appropriate amounts of seeds and grains such as quinoa, wholegrain rice, barley, wild rice, millet and oats.
A variety of protein is important. The best vegetarian sources include eggs, tofu, hempseeds, yoghurt, almonds, walnuts, beans, chickpeas, lentils, green vegetables and wholegrains such as brown rice, oats, quinoa and barley.
Getting sufficient iron into the diet is vital and while plant foods certainly contain iron they come in a less absorbable form. But tofu, lentils, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, dark green leafy veg such as kale, spinach and watercress, are all good iron sources. Snack on dried apricots, prunes and figs too, which will help to meet your iron requirements. To improve iron absorption, eat vitamin C-rich foods either within or after your iron-rich meals – red, orange and yellow vegetables, red or purple berries, kiwis, lemons and oranges. Caffeine and tannins in tea reduce iron absorption, so avoid drinking coffee or tea with meals.
Another vital nutrient to think about is B12. Aim to eat eggs, natural yoghurt, milk, Marmite and cottage cheese daily. If you don’t drink milk or eat eggs, you’ll likely need to take a B12 supplement. To avoid any problems arising, I’d suggest you get your basic nutrient levels checked via your GP. Ask them to check haemoglobin, ferritin (stored iron) and B12.
(Image: Peggy Greb, USDA ARS)