But……WHERE do you get your protein? HOW do you have the energy to run? WHAT do you eat?
These are a few of the commonly asked questions of vegetarian and vegan athletes. I’ve been a vegetarian for five years and a vegan for almost two and have lost count as to how many times I’ve been on the receiving end of a dietary interrogation administered by perplexed friends, strangers, family, and acquaintances. Such questions have prompted a search of reliable information validating vegetarian/vegan eating habits to meat eaters.
“Adequate protein intake is needed for the maintenance and growth of cells, organs, muscles, and for the immune system. An inadequate intake of protein can cause fatigue and loss of muscle mass. Protein requirements for the vegetarian athlete range from 1.3-1.7g/kg, a level that is quite achievable from a plant-based diet. For a 180-pound male, this would be in the range of 105-125g of protein/day”, wrote Charlotte Furhaman from the University of Washington addressing the diety needs of vegan/vegetarian athletes. She further went on to give an explanation of functionality – “proteins are made of chains of amino acids, and in addition to meeting overall protein needs, it is also important to have adequate intake of the individual essential amino acids. Soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame), seitan, lentils, and other legumes all provide good sources of the amino acid lysine, which is generally low in other plant food”.
It is not difficult to find protein to meet recommendations and it is and studies are being conducted supporting the idea perhaps we consume too much protein in our modern eating habits. The article Too Much Protein details results. A diet consisting of whole foods primarily – legumes, leafy greens, seasonable fruits, nuts, and seeds should be more than adequate for a non meat eater. Soy products are commonly consumed by vegetarians; however, I do not consume soy products.
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B-12 deficiency is a very real issue and one I have recently struggled. Mysterious ailments that had manifested over the last several months often prevented me from completing training runs. Severe muscle fatigue, nerve twitches, vertigo, mental foggines, and tiredness often kept me indoors causing contributing to a regression in my running progress. In addition, a veil of depression due to an inability to adhere to a schedule lingered for several months. The culprit – low levels of B12 due to inadequate supplementation. I have turned to injections weekly to get my levels within a healthy range.
Being a healthy, strong vegetarian/vegan athlete is possible with proper meal planning and supplementation. I highly suggest blood lab tests by a qualified facility be performed at least once a year to make sure all nutritional needs are being met.
Do you have nutrition suggestions or comments you’d like to share?