The latest hype in the nutrition space is going vegetarian, vegan or plant based. Many celebs are promoting a version of veganism or vegetarianism and they claim the change in their diet has resulted in better health and fitness. If you are considering cutting back on animal products partly or completely you will need to educate yourself about the potential implications of your choice and have a deeper understanding of micronutrients to ensure you don't risk your health by accidentally missing out on essential nutrients.
We are not saying you shouldn't do it, veganism often is an ethical choice and we respect that. Furthermore, latest findings in nutrition science suggest that following a vegetarian diet can decrease the likelyhood of certain diseases and conditions.
On the other hand, if you don't learn the science behind it and plan your meals properly to include a variety of nutrients, you risk becoming depleted in vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron and zinc.
There are some health concerns about going vegetarian, a few more when choosing a totally plant based diet. If you are heavily into your training, you need to be even more careful to ensure your body and muscles get the nutrients they need to recover and develop.
We see many people whom, in an attempt to avoid meat products, eat far too much processed foods and end up with too many empty calories, harmful trans fats, added refined carbs and too few nutrient-dense meals in their diet.
If you train to become stronger, fitter and healthier, learning how to avoid the risks and increase the health benefits of your nutrition regime is imperative.
The Types of Vegeterian Diets
Plan A Healthy Vegetarian Diet
If you'd like to keep your vegetarian diet healthy, you need to make sure that you choose a range of plant-based foods. This can include nuts, grains, fruit, veg, and legumes.
Consume as little calorie rich processed food as possible. As a rule of thumb, avoid or minimise the amount of biscuits, sweet bakery products, snacks and desserts.
You can speak to a dietician about getting set up the right way. Your diet needs to be varied to make sure that you get all the vitamins and nutrients you need. Aiming for all colours when it comes to vegetables and grains is a good place to start: red, orange, green, dark green, purple, and yellow should be part of your everyday vegetable intake as well as a good variety of grains: rice, quinoa, buckwheat, spelt, etc.
Micronutrients to Keep In Mind
Your body produces Vitamin D when your bare skin is exposed to sunlight (UVB). During winter months, majority of the people can become depleted if their diet doesn't include enough D vitamin. You can eat fortified foods, like cereals, plant based milk products to provide your body with its D vitamin need, or you can choose to take plant based supplements.
Vitamin B-12 keeps your blood healthy and presents a problem because it’s found in animal products. As such, to get this vitamin, it will be worth using supplements because a deficiency can go undetected in vegans and it's irreversible. Symptoms of B12 deficiency can be fatigue, joint pain, lack of energy and in more severe cases it can lead to deep depression, memory loss, incontinence and more.
Omega-3 fatty acids will keep your heart healthy and they are essential fatty acids which means you need to take them in from your diet. If you don't eat fish, you will need to focus on its plant based sources like soy oil, walnuts, soybeans, flaxseed (linseed) and their oils.
Don’t forget calcium either to keep your teeth and bones strong. You’ll find it in kale and broccoli if you eat the right quantities. You can also get calcium-enriched products like cereals and soy milk.
Iron plays an important role in the formation of red blood cells. Low iron levels can cause extreme fatigue, weakened immune system and decreased training performance. You can get iron from dark leafy green vegetables, beans, peas and lentils and enriched products like cereals and whole grains. Your body's ability to absorb iron from plant based sources is much lower than from meat. Including extra C vitamin in your diet can boost that, not to mention that your body needs vitamin C to produce vitamin D, so increasing broccoli and citrus food intake as well as supplementing C vitamin if needed is also a great idea.
Zinc is important to form many enzymes and has a role in cell division and protein production in your body. Its one of the most underrated mineral. Cheese is a good source of zinc, but if you are vegan, opt for whole grains, soy products and legumes.
Last but not least, iodine plays an important role in regulating your metabolism. Including it in your diet will benefit you whether you’re looking to lose fat, put on muscle or maintain muscle mass. As such, it’s worth getting just ¼ tsp of iodized salt into your diet each day.
Protein is the building blocks of our body. It is needed for muscles, tissues. Especially when you are training hard, you'd like to take in sufficient amount of protein to aid recovery and even more when trying to build muscle.
Meat has been the primary source of protein in human diet since the beginning, but if you make the switch to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, you can still provide your body with the right amino acids, but you will need to focus on a variety sources.
Eggs, fish and dairy are great sources of you are not going fully plant based. For vegans there are meat replacement products like tofu, tempeh and seitan. Pulses and legumes contain high amount of protein but they are also rich in carbohydrates. Nuts on the other hand mostly contain fats but they also have some protein content. Certain grains, like oats, quinoa, buckwheat and millet also have significant amount of protein in them.
Becoming vegetarian or even vegan and still training hard is more than possible, but in the start expect you will spend more time learning and figuring things out than cooking and eating. You can make the process less stressful if you transition slowly and don't try to cut everything out in one go.
Have questions on sports nutrition or training? Feel free to get in touch!
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