Vegan / Vegetarians Part 1

Author: Lori Clinch RNPA, SPNA
Before implementing any dietary plan, there are three steps, in which the active individual must be educated:


1. Knowing what macronutrients are and what their role is in nutrition and in your body. The exact percentages my vary slightly based on the particular sport and training program but Research suggests:

55 to 60% of calories from carbohydrates (60 to 69% if engaging in a competition)
No more than 30% from fat
10 to 15% of calories from protein
Nutritional Requirements

2. Awareness of the nutritional requirements and their impact upon your physical and metabolic makeup, your sport goals and achievements
Resource: Dynamic Nutrition for Maximum Performance by Daniel Gastelu and Dr. Fred Hatfield.

Techniques and Training Dynamics

3. Understanding the techniques and training dynamics of your chosen sport

Besides maintaining optimal health while being an active recreational enthusiast, you may be concerned about maintaining energy, stamina, strength, and obtaining optimal performance and rapid recovery.

Diet Plans

Let's see how the vegetarian/vegan diet addresses these concerns:

Concern #1: I will be fatigued, weak and frail on a vegetarian diet

The body uses a combination of fat and carbohydrate as energy sources for most activities but with carbohydrates being the preferred and highest energy source. The key for athletes is to consume a wide variety of foods in order to generate adequate energy for their level of activity.

I. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are easily broken down in the intestines into sugar, also called glucose. Glucose circulates in blood, is taken up by cells that need energy and can be stored in the muscles and liver. This form of glucose is called glycogen. Well-trained athletes who eat a high-carbohydrate diet can improve glycogen stores. This means more fuel for longer workouts.

Complex carbohydrates such as starches should make up the majority of carbohydrate fuel.

Examples of starchy foods are:

starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes
dried beans and peas
Fruits are also excellent sources of carbohydrates

It is important to eat a variety. Besides providing energy, carbohydrate-rich foods such as grain and cereal products, fruits, vegetables, and legumes are excellent sources of fibre. Vitamins and minerals are abundant in many of these foods. Simple sugars should be eaten moderately and in times when training requires it.

II. Fat

A highly active person, especially an endurance athlete who has adopted a plant-based diet will benefit by adding good quality fats to his/her meals. As with protein, fat helps to slow the rate at which the carbohydrate enters the bloodstream - providing sustained, consistent energy. Dietary fat also helps the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as "E". Vitamin "E" is a powerful antioxidant that will help quicken the recovery process.

Good quality fat sources:
extra virgin

olive oil
flax seed oil
non-roasted nuts

Concern #2: I will become deficient in essential nutrients on a vegetarian diet

A) Iron:

Many people are afraid of iron deficiency anaemia if they adopt a vegetarian diet. Signs of anaemia are:

reduced ability to concentrate
weakened immune system
Female endurance athletes seem to be at greater risk for low iron that for non training individuals.
Absorption of non-heme iron from plant foods is 2-12% and depends in part on what other foods are eaten at the same time. Heme iron is found in flesh foods.

To increase your iron absorption:

Eat foods rich in Vitamin C (strawberries, oranges ,broccoli) with each meal
Use iron cookware
Avoid consumption of calcium supplementation, dairy products, caffeinated
beverages at the same time.

Sources of Non-heme iron rich foods

Whole grains: wheat, millet, oats, and brown rice, cream of wheat
Legumes: lima beans, soybeans, dried beans and peas, kidney beans

Nuts: almonds, brazil, cashews, pecans, walnuts

Dried fruits: prunes, raisins, and apricots

Vegetables: broccoli, spinach, kale, collards, asparagus, dandelion greens, fortified cereal, molasses

B) Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B-12 is crucial for a healthy nervous system and blood cells. Dairy products are a good source. If you're a vegan, you may want to take a supplement or fortified soymilk, cereals, and nutritional yeast to get enough B-12. Foods such as spirulina, miso, and tempeh are promoted as good sources, but they often contain inactive forms of B-12.

C) Zinc:

Zinc is essential for healthy tissue and for insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar. You'll find zinc in wheat germ as well as in hard cheeses, nuts, tofu, and legumes. Zinc in animal sources are better absorbed. To maximize the absorption of zinc rich plant foods, avoid taking calcium supplements at the same time and consuming acid foods or ingredients at the same time.

D) Calcium

Calcium is needed for healthy, strong bones, cell membrane structure, muscle contraction and relaxation, blood clotting, the transmission of nerve impulses and the absorption of Vitamin B-12. The more calcium you consume, the less iron your body can absorb from foods. So if you take both iron and calcium, take the iron supplement with one meal and the calcium supplement with other meals or with a light snack.

You have to be determined and resourceful, because dairy products do provide calcium more readily than vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards, and several other leafy greens. Also supplement your diet with cooked beans such as kidney beans, dried figs, some kinds of nuts, blackstrap molasses, fortified orange juice or fortified soymilk.

Calcium stores can be lost through excessive salt or protein intake, although highly unlikely it would happen with plant proteins, as they are less concentrated sources of protein and lost through heavy intakes of caffeinated or carbonated beverages.