Year after year health agencies have stressed the health benefits of eating a diet high in plant-based goods. This advice is making its way into the minds of people who are looking not only to increase the amount of plants in their diets but also limit or remove animal products from their diet for compounding reasons of health, sustainability, and ethical reasons. For people who cut out animal products completely, there are several nutrients that need special attention.
While variety in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein sources can help ensure athletes are getting the nutrients they need, there are few nutrients either only found in animal-based foods or the more absorbable and digestible forms from the animal source. Vegetarian athletes should pay close attention to calcium, iron, B12, choline, vitamin D and zinc. I always recommend that competitive athletes, especially women, get their iron levels in their blood tested a couple times a year. Iron absorption can be increased by combining iron-rich foods with vitamin C rich foods.
- Iron-rich foods: legumes, soy products, nuts, seeds, whole & enriched grains, certain dark-green leafy vegetables and dried fruits
- Calcium-rich plant-based foods include dark-green leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified foods such as tofu, soymilk, almond milk, rice milk and orange juice; legumes, nuts and seeds
- Vitamin B12 plant-based foods are few and far between but it is sometimes fortified foods in foods like soymilk, cereal, meat substitutes
- Zinc-rich plant-based foods include: legumes, soy products, nuts, seeds, and whole grains
- Vitamin D is commonly referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” however, there are many factors that limit the amount the body can generate when exposed to sunshine. Fish, sea foods, eggs, and fortified milk are the primary sources of vitamin D. Portabella, white, crimini and maitake mushrooms are also sources of this vitamin.
Vitamin D and B12 are difficult to get enough of in vegetarian eating because they are found mainly in animal based foods. It is usually a good idea to get a simple blood test to determine your levels of vitamin D and B12 before supplementing.
Creatine is an important compound involved in making gains in muscle strength, short energy bursts, recovery, and increases in lean body mass. Because it is found in meat, vegetarians may also benefit from a supplemental form of creatine from a reputable sports nutrition company certified for sport.
Wondering if you are getting enough key nutrients?
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