by Michelle Caron
Algonquin College Library Technician Student
All athletes want to be better, faster and stronger than their opponents. On race days, athletes need food that will give them the energy to get through to the end of the day. In order to accomplish this goal, the right combination of carbohydrates, proteins and fats are required. Endurance athletes need to consume more calories than the average person, so when an athlete makes the decision to become a vegetarian it can be a complicated move.
High performance comes with good health so many athletes have been exploring vegetarianism as a viable lifestyle change. There are various types of vegetarianism:
- Vegan: This group excludes animal food and animal products. They eat only plant-based food.
- Lacto-Vegetarian: This is a pure plant diet that includes dairy products.
- Lacto-Ovo-Vegetarian: Will not eat meat products but includes eggs and dairy
- Pesco-Vegetarian: Does not eat meat but includes fish.
Comprehensive research is highly recommended so that athletes can make an informed decision before cutting meat out of their diet. Without that knowledge base, vegetarian diets have the potential to be unhealthy (saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, low protein, iron, zinc and calcium). That being said, vegetarian diets are able to support an athletes’ needs and with careful planning it can be done. Some tips to consider:
- Prepare your meals at home
- Vary the foods you eat
- Make smart choices by monitoring protein intake
- Try to eat small, frequent, nutrient packed meals throughout the day to keep energy and blood levels stable
Nutrition deficiency can happen very easily when someone is going through intensive training. This can be avoided if you incorporate nutrient rich foods. Some staples to incorporate into your diet should include:
- Beans – kidney, black beans and lentils
- Nuts and nut butters – almond, cashew
- Brown rice
- Whole grains
- Fortified soy milk
- Seeds containing Omega 3 – flax, hemp, chia, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower
- Good iron sources – spinach, broccoli, oatmeal and fortified cereals
- Vitamin supplements
If you feel you are out of your depth regarding nutrition and vitamin supplements, Dieticians of Canada is a wonderful resource that provides comprehensive information on healthy nutrition for athletes. It is possible to maintain a healthy, plant-based diet and still perform at higher levels if you educate yourself and ensure all your nutritional needs are met.
For more information on vegetarianism and sport, please contact SIRC.
References from the SIRC Collection:
- Crosland, J. "The Athlete's Guide To Turning Vegetarian: More And More Athletes Are Turning Vegetarian. But It's Vital They Follow Some Simple Guidelines. Jeanette Crosland Suggests How It Should Be Tackled." The Coach (Peterborough, England) 4 (2001): 42-44.
- Eberle, S.G. "Vegetarian Diets For Endurance Athletes." Strength & Conditioning Journal 26.4 (2004): 60- 61. Fuhrman, Joel, and Deana M. Ferreri. "Fueling The Vegetarian (Vegan) Athlete." Current Sports Medicine Reports 9.4 (2010): 233-341.
- Nisevich, Pamela M. "Training Tips For Vegetarian Athletes." IDEA Fitness Journal 6.4 (2009): 56-58.
- Seebohar, Bob. "VEGETARIAN EATING Life Style." Triathlon Life 10.4 (2007): 36.
- Venderley, Angela M., and Wayne W. Campbell. "Vegetarian Diets: Nutritional Considerations For Athletes." Sports Medicine 36.4 (2006): 293-305.