Strict diets are common place within the athletic community. Wrestlers needing to make weight, distance runners looking to shed excess pounds, and running backs wanting to be quicker all look to diet to maintain weight and muscle mass.
“As a vegetarian athlete we need to be mindful of certain nutrients we typically get from animal sources,” says Jorden Edinger, dietetic intern for Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institute.
“Its important to plan your meals out to make sure you, as an athlete, are meeting your nutrition goals.”
Protein consumption is always an added challenge for vegetarian athletes as plant based proteins tend to have less protein and amino acids than animal meats.
Other considerations added to a vegetarian diet are an athlete’s overall energy intake of calories, calcium, iron, and vitamin B-12 consumption.
Vegetarian diets can be heavy in low calorie nutrient dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, and grains.
With elevated energy expenditure it can be difficult at times to keep up with energy needs. Incorporating energy dense sources such as oils, nuts, and seeds may be important for maintaining energy balance.
Protein intake can also be of concern.
“Consistently consuming protein during meals and snacks throughout the day and getting a variety of plant based protein sources will help make sure we’re getting enough protein,” says Edinger.
Calcium and iron absorption for a vegetarian athlete can also be challenging as plant based sources are typically less effective than typical dairy based versions. However bok choy and broccoli have been determined to be effective plant based calcium alternatives.
Fortified foods and supplements can be an effective way for vegetarian athletes to maintain minimum nutritional requirements.
For more information on Sport Nutrition and Diets contact Brett Singer MS, RD, CSCS, LD of the Memorial Hermann IRONMAN Sports Medicine Institue of Houston.
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