Getting the needed requirements for vegetarian and vegan individuals takes careful planning and an attention to your needs.
It is helpful to keep a diary of what you are eating and how you are feeling to gauge your requirements so that you can incorporate an eating program that will keep you at your highest mental and physical potential.
Types of Vegetarians
- Lacto-ovo Vegetarian: Avoids meat and fish, but consumes eggs and dairy.
- Lacto Vegetarian: Does not eat eggs, but does consume dairy.
- Vegan: Completely plant based; no meat, fish, eggs or dairy and in some cases honey.
- Raw Vegan: Completely plant based, nothing heated over 115 degrees.
Involved in virtually every cell and process in the body, so the importance of obtaining quality, complete protein is paramount. Few vegetarian sources stand alone in the completeness of the 9 amino acids, so here is a list of foods which, taken together, form complete or complementary proteins. If even one is missing, the other eight amino acids will only be as useful as the one. The combination should be consumed within one hour.
Grains that are high in lysine, such as amaranth and quinoa are adequate by themselves, as well as being able to complement any other protein. However quinoa must be soaked for 8-12 hours before cooking to ensure nutrient absorption. Millet is a wonderful source of iron and protein and as a low phytate level, making soaking not completely necessary. Blue corn meal is higher in lysine than yellow. Tofu (in small amounts), egg, dairy and some raw soy protein powders are fine, too.
Complementary Proteins (to include all 9 amino acids)
- Grains with egg, dairy, beans, or seeds
- Beans with grains
- Nuts with grains, eggs or dairy
- Black, Mung beans (sprouted)
- Chickpeas (hummus)
- Almonds, walnuts, cashews
- Brown rice
- Wild rice
- Quinoa (make sure to soak or sprout for optimal digestion)
The importance of healthy fats in the diet is of paramount importance. For the vegetarian and vegan athletes, this becomes even more essential because many fat sources are from animal products. Avocados, nuts and healthy oils like coconut oil need to be rotated daily for optimum energy levels.
Extra Virgin Organic Coconut oil (best one)- Coconut oil contains a medium chain fatty acid called lauric acid, not found in animal fats and contains antimicrobial, antitumor and immune system supporting properties. It also contains capric acid and caprylic acid, and that contain antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Coconut oil contains fewer calories than other oils, but its fat content is easily converted into energy and it does not lead to accumulation of fat in the heart and arteries. Coconut oil helps in boosting energy and endurance, and enhances the performance of athletes.
Olive oil– Rich in antioxidants, and should be extra virgin and unfiltered. Olive oil has stood the test of time and is ideal for salads and light sautés.
Sesame oil– Contains unique antioxidants that allows for higher heat when sautéing, but should be used sparingly.
Quinoa, millet, oats, brown rice, wild rice and toasted buckwheat (kasha) are the best grains for athletes. Fruits and vegetables are essential for vitamins and minerals, as well as proper breakdown and assimilation of nutrients. Eating seasonally is highly recommended for better adaptation to seasonal change and energy requirements.
Required Vitamins and Trace Minerals and Deficiency Concerns
Vitamin B12– is mostly found in animal foods, but can also be found in raw peanuts, raw sunflower seeds, sprouted seeds, ground raw seeds, soy sauce, tempeh and miso. Plant forms of B12 are not absorbed well by humans because they are not picked up by the intrinsic factor, a specialized protein secreted in the stomach that allows B12 to be assimilated. B12 is needed for carbohydrate metabolism, nerve tissue, production of RND and DNA, helps body’s use of iron, C, A, pantothenic acid, choline and others. The body stores B12 for two to five years, and when it becomes depleted deficiency diseases such as pernicious anemia, impaired eyesight, panic attacks, schizophrenia, hallucinations and nervous health-issues can occur.
It will depend on your constitution and genetic heritage with how much you are affected by a lack of B12. For vegetarians, egg and dairy sources can be considered reliable, but vegans would benefit from a daily b-complex supplement.
Zinc-Best sources are not of the plant origin, due to phytates in un-soaked grains making it less available. Non meat sources include sprouts, beets, and whole grain (especially flourless) bread, oatmeal or oat groats. Used for absorptions and action of many vitamins, especially B complex, parts of 70 enzymes for digestions, manufacture of insulin maintenance and growth of male and female reproductive organs, especially the prostate.
Zinc deficiency can lead to diabetes, chronic liver disease, chronic renal disease and malabsorption syndrome, low libido, and poor skin. An often unspoken cause of zinc deficiency can occur from copper plumbing in the home. A multivitamin with zinc or an extra zinc tablet may bee necessary.
Iron–For Lacto-ovo vegetarians is easy to obtain from 2 fertile eggs per day. Vegans can obtain it from brown rice, millet, whole grain bread, spinach, tofu, beans, dark green leafy veggies, raw nuts, dried fruits, and blackstrap molasses. Used for red blood cells, enzymes for protein metabolism. A multivitamin with iron can help prevent low iron levels.
Omega-3 fatty acids– Found mostly in fish, grass-fed beef, free range organic eggs and pastured butter, it can also be found in walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, hemp butter. Extremely beneficial for inflammation that occurs with rigorous exercise, energy production and muscle development.
Calcium- For women athletes especially, calcium problems can occur with improper nutrition and supplementation. Moderate exercise prevents calcium loss, but strenuous physical activity promotes calcium loss. Coffee, soft drinks, excess salt, refined sugar and night shade vegetables such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and bell peppers can all inhibit calcium absorption.
Calcium Food Chart Per 3 ½ ounce serving
|Food||Calcium in Milligrams|
|Hijiki (use in moderation)||1,400|
You want to aim for 500mg of calcium per day, and supplementing with a calcium magnesium supplement may be necessary if deficiency symptoms occur. 20-30 minutes of sun exposure each day increases calcium absorption by increasing vitamin D levels. Low vitamin D levels are linked to weakened muscles as well as many other health-issues.
Fermented Foods and Drinks (Probiotics)
Extremely essential for proper digestive health and immunity. Lactobacilli and Biffidobacterium are two examples of good bacteria needed for keeping healthy bacteria populations in the digestive tract for proper utilization of nutrients efficient digestion. 70 percent of your immune system is in your digestive tract.
- Non-pasteurized sauerkraut
- Non-pasteurized pickles
- Maple syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Raw honey
- High fructose corn syrup
- Agave nectar (ok in very small amounts)
Recommend Non-Dairy Milk
- Coconut milk
- Almond milk
- Rice milk
Soy milk- Soy milk is high in phytates which block absorption of key minerals and contain potent enzyme inhibitors that are only deactivated by fermentation. Phytoestrogens in soy have beneficial properties for heart disease, cancer and osteoporosis, but also contain potent endocrine disruptors that affect the thyroid gland.
The most common mistake made by vegetarians and vegans are to rely heavily on soy products, especially unfermented soy protein products like tofu, veggie hot dogs and patties. Soy should be used sparingly in the form of tempeh, tofu, miso, mirin and tamari.
Recommended Nut and Seed Butters
- Almond butter
- Peanut butter
- Sunflower seed butter
- Sesame Tahini
Sample Vegan Meal Plan
- Soak beans 6-8 hours(overnight)
- Soak Grains: 1 cup grains with 1 cup water, 2 TB lemon juice 7-24 hours (overnight). Discard water and proceed to cook.
- Daily use of hemp seeds, flax seed and chia seeds
- Protein powder rotation recommended
- Option 1.
- 1 cup soaked oats
- 1 TB chia seeds
- Handful almonds
- 1 TB coconut oil
- sliced banana
- Smoothie of choice with protein powder
- Brown rice, vegetables, black beans and hummus (leftovers from tacos or burritos)
Lunch or Dinner
- Sautéed tempeh with sesame tahini, millet and broccoli
- Kidney Bean Seaweed Millet bowl (see recipes)
- Tempeh Tacos (see recipes)
- Anasazi Bean Tacos or Burritos with cilantro, zucchini, carrots, salsa and guacamole
- Black Bean Cilantro Soup and cornbread
- Swiss Chard Salad
- Detox Salad
- Any organic sprouted, sourdough or gluten free
- Coconut water
Recommended Supplementation to Avoid Deficiency
2. Iron Bisglycinate (if female)