Vegetarian Athlete Nutrition and Training: Tips and Tricks

Vegetarians today are still met with some surprise and misunderstanding from their opponents on the "meat" issue. What can we say then about vegetarian athletes - they can probably make up the top questions from meat-eaters who have already set their teeth on edge: where to get protein? Is there enough energy? Can muscle mass grow? How to combine, for example, bodybuilding and the rejection of animal protein?

It turns out that vegetarianism is not such a rare phenomenon among athletes, including those whose names are known all over the world. Bodybuilders Bill Pearl, Roy Halligen, powerlifter Patrick Babumyan, tennis player Martina Navratilova, basketball players Robert Parish and John Sully, legendary football player Joe Namath, boxer Mike Tyson are living proof that meat-free is not a hindrance to achieving sports heights. They have outstanding awards and worldwide recognition behind them. And all of them, some earlier, some later, came to various forms of vegetarianism.

Vegetarianism and sport: lifestyle and way of thinking

Playing sports contributes to the fact that a person develops willpower, resistance to stress, endurance and patience. After all, sport is not only “the gym three times a week from 7 to 9”. In order to keep your body in shape, of course, you can limit yourself to only six to seven hours a week, when the coach makes you work out the previously eaten buns with chocolates. However, those people who are seriously concerned not only with their appearance and figure, but also with their own health, well-being, the state of their internal organs, or, moreover, significant sports achievements, approach this topic more comprehensively. For them, sport becomes a way of life, a kind of philosophy that resonates with everything they do. The same can be said about vegetarianism: for some it is just a rejection of meat food, while other people look at the problem as a protest against violence and cruelty, as an opportunity to find harmony within and in relations with the outside world.

The correct transition to vegetarianism is recommended not to be carried out abruptly at one moment, but gradually. There are several varieties of vegetarianism that correspond to the stages of transition. There are no clear requirements and restrictions - the athlete needs to monitor his own feelings in order to understand at what level it will be comfortable for him to stop.

Stages of transition to plant foods:

  • rejection of the meat of warm-blooded animals;
  • refusal of the bird;
  • avoiding seafood and fish;
  • refusal of eggs;
  • no dairy products.

Each next level includes the achievements of the previous one. Vegetarianism is the strictest type of plant-based diet, in which no animal products are eaten. Some vegetarian athletes even refuse honey.

How do meat-free nutrition and sports training compare

Scientists and biologists have not yet given an unambiguous answer to the question of whether all varieties of vegetarianism are compatible with sports. Obviously, a diet that includes meat and animal products is still familiar to most people from childhood, and a vegetarian diet, especially at first, is perceived as stressful in about 98% of cases of transition to it (unless, of course, we are talking not talking about those children who are taught by parents to a plant-based diet from infancy).

Some doctors point out that a strict vegetarian and raw food diet does not combine well with heavy strength training and training, as they cause a deficiency not only of protein, but also of vitamins B12 and D, calcium, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids. Deficiency in the body of these substances leads to a decrease in immunity, an increase in the risk of developing inflammatory processes in tissues.

It is fair to say that among marathon athletes whose achievements are based on endurance, there are many vegetarians, but among sprinters there are fewer.

Bodybuilders whose diet should be more than 40% protein should compensate for the lack of meat with plenty of nuts, legumes, mushrooms, soy. However, they need to be consumed in much larger quantities than animal protein would have to be eaten, because the digestibility of plant products is 50-60%, while, for example, egg yolk is absorbed by the body by 100%. Another problem in this case is fiber, which enters the body of a vegetarian athlete a lot - it, of course, improves intestinal function, but at the same time absorbs some of the essential amino acids.

Creatine, a type of nitrogen-containing carboxylic acid found in vertebrates, is essential for muscle mass and strength performance. Creatine is involved in energy metabolism in muscle and nerve cells. Vegetarians do not receive this substance with food, so they need to pay attention to special sports supplements.

Possible problems and tips for overcoming them for vegetarian athletes

Indeed, athletes who do not have animal products in their diet (meat, milk, fish, eggs) are subject to more risks and difficulties than their non-vegetarian counterparts. However, all these points can be taken into account and calculated. Proper analysis of problems allows you to choose the appropriate solutions.

What should vegetarians who are constantly exercising do to prevent protein deficiency by eating a meat-free diet? The required amount of proteins for athletes is approximately 1.4-1.8 g per 1 kilogram of weight. For those who allow eggs and dairy products in their diet, the issue is not critical: the body receives the necessary portions of protein from these products if they are consumed in sufficient quantities.

For strict vegetarians, dietitians recommend combining different foods to get the necessary amino acids and other substances. For example, dishes prepared from a combination of cereals and legumes provide good protein saturation, although pure cereals lack lysine-containing amino acids, and legumes lack sulfur-containing ones. It is also recommended to combine nuts and seeds with cereals and legumes. For those who allow themselves milk, the choice is even wider - you can combine milk with cereals and legumes for a complete protein. By the way, the amount of protein consumed in these cases should be greater than 1.8 g per 1 kilogram of body weight due to the reduced digestibility of vegetable proteins.

People who have eliminated meat from their diets are often feared to be deficient in vitamin B12. Vegans are at the highest risk. They definitely need to include foods rich in this substance in their diet, as well as take special nutritional supplements with it in the composition. Symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are:

  • weakness;
  • fatigue;
  • numbness of limbs;
  • memory impairment, disorientation, impaired coordination.

Drinking alcohol and smoking impair the absorption of the substance, and therefore increase the risk of its deficiency.

Among other things, red meat is a valuable source of easily digestible iron, a substance involved in the synthesis of hemoglobin, myoglobin and collagen, as well as in the transport of oxygen to various tissues and organs. Those who have given up eating meat, but do not want to become iron deficient, should include more spinach and legumes in their diet.

Seafood, meat and dairy are a storehouse of zinc, an extremely important participant in the processes of creating protein in the body, an element without which the formation of insulin molecules is impossible. Depriving yourself of these products, the athlete may face the problem of zinc deficiency also because active training contributes to its removal. Those who still have not deprived themselves of the opportunity to eat seafood should lean on oysters, shrimp and crabs, the rest - on legumes, wheat germ, nuts. Recommendations from nutritionists and trainers say that you need to take additional zinc-containing nutritional supplements.

Lack of dairy products in the diet can lead to calcium deficiency. In addition, the reason for the deficiency is the large amount of fiber consumed by vegetarians, phytates and oxalates - these substances reduce its absorption. To prevent calcium deficiency, be sure to eat dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, broccoli ), calcium-fortified foods (bread, bars, juices, breakfast cereals, bean curd).

9 foods that should be on the menu of a vegetarian athlete

Despite differences even among vegetarians themselves (for example, someone eats dairy products, but does not eat eggs, someone does not accept any food of animal origin at all), there are foods that it is extremely undesirable to refuse on the way to sports achievements. Among them:

  1. Dried fruits : a valuable source of glucose and carbohydrates needed for energy. They can be eaten right during a workout, if its duration is more than an hour.
  2. Bananas : After a workout, you can and should eat one fruit to saturate the body with valuable elements and minerals necessary for building muscle mass.
  3. Blueberries : Rich in antioxidants, lutein and vitamins. Low-calorie blueberries are great for energy shakes and smoothies.
  4. Tomatoes : contain vitamin B6, which is necessary for the body to fully recover after training.
  5. Whole-grain pasta: replenishes muscle glycogen stores, provides a slow release of sugar into the blood. This product is a great option to eat 2-2.5 hours before your workout.
  6. Green Tea : Increases physical endurance, stimulates the nervous system and reduces muscle damage during exercise.
  7. Coconut water: helps to restore the water-salt balance in the body.
  8. So-called “superfoods”: quinoa, black rice, teff, avocado, broccoli, tempeh, sesame seed and oil, coconut flakes. All these products are able to charge the body with useful protein and vitamins, and, moreover, they bring a pleasant variety to the daily menu.
  9. Oatmeal: a storehouse of slow carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.

Diet recommendations

Most of the energy needed for sports, that is, glycogen, a person receives from carbohydrates. Depletion of glycogen stores reduces the effectiveness of training and leads to chronic fatigue. That is why food rich in slow carbohydrates should occupy 30 to 40% of the diet.

It is important to be aware of all the possible nutrient and mineral deficiencies that vegetarian athletes may have and to properly formulate your diet, further enriching it with nutritional supplements containing these valuable substances for health.

Female athletes who have switched to a vegetarian diet should be especially careful to ensure that their calcium levels are adequate. A plant-based diet for them often causes menstrual irregularities and the appearance of brittle bones.

Adolescence and childhood are not the best time to experiment with a combination of sports and vegetarianism. At this time, the body grows intensively, and the consumption of nutrients, respectively, is higher than in adults.

Also, nutritionists advise reducing the amount of fatty and sugary foods in the diet; eat whole grains rather than refined and refined; add more fruits and vegetables to your diet; take at least vitamins B12 and D additionally.

Any food experiments are best implemented only after consultation with a trainer and nutritionist.

Today, the statement “I am a vegetarian” no longer causes such a violent mixture of surprise and misunderstanding, as, for example, in the last century. Many famous athletes, such as Mike Tyson or Martina Navratilova, show by their own example that giving up meat is not a reason to give up training and awards. Today, doctors, nutritionists, sports coaches and scientists say that it is perfectly acceptable to combine sports and vegetarianism. Like any athlete, vegetarians also have a certain range of risks and nuances that need to be remembered. Indeed, they face more difficulties than meat-eating athletes, but this does not affect their determination and will to win. The key to success is a properly composed diet, additional intake of proteins and vitamins, self-confidence and a desire to achieve results.