Considering a plant-based diet? Turns out, it’s okay. Many runners already tout the benefits of following a vegetarian, or stricter vegan, diet. It keeps them healthy, strong and not as weighed down by heavier proteins.
But for the skeptics, you can feel rest assured that following a plant-based diet will give you the same quality of fuel.
In a presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Expo, Dr. Debasis Bagchi, Ph.D., director of innovation and clinical affairs at Iovate Health Sciences International Inc. in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, provided research that supported vegetarian athletes can stay competitive. They just need to seek out other sources of certain nutrients that are more commonly found in animal products.
This research was compiled by Dr. Dilip Ghosh, Ph.D., director of Nutriconnect in Sydney, Australia. His research noted that vegetarian athletes are found throughout history dating back to the Roman Gladiators–whose bones have indicated they most likely were vegetarians.
If you are thinking of switching to a vegetarian diet, Dr. Ghosh provides a key to success: Find ways within the diet to reach acceptable macronutrient distribution. This breaks down to the following:
Carbohydrates: 45-65 percent of diet
Fat: 20-35 percent of diet
Protein: 10-35 percent of diet
Vegetarians should find non-meat sources of iron, creatine, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium. In vegetarians who do not follow proper diets, these vitamins are often missing. But Dr. Ghosh believes that as long as energy level is steady and a variety of foods are ingested, vegetarian athletes can remain competitive with their animal-eating competitors.
He does stress that women are at risk for non-anemic iron deficiency. And both men and women are at risk of low creatine levels, which may affect high exercise performance, such as marathons.
You can counter this imbalance by adding food products such as orange/yellow and green leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts and soy.