A healthy vegetarian or vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. And with careful planning, it can meet all your energy and nutrient needs to ensure you perform at your best.
However, certain nutrients require more thought and planning as they can be lacking in a vegetarian or vegan diet. Below are the most common ones.
Some vegetarians and vegans have difficulty meeting energy needs because of high fiber and/or low energy density of plant-based foods. Although this is favored for the general population, amateur and expert athletes have increased energy needs to compensate for their high level of physical activity. In this case, the individual must consume caloric, yet healthy foods, such as avocado, nuts and seeds, and granola.
Also important to take into account is the increased protein needs in vegetarians and vegans due to the lower digestibility of plant-based proteins. Plant proteins aren’t as well digested or as complete as animal proteins, so choosing a variety of different types of protein foods over the course of the day is essential to ensure you get all of your amino acids. Because of this, it is recommended that vegetarian athletes consume 1.3 to 1.8 grams of protein/kilogram of body weight daily, which is 10% more than recommendations for non-vegetarian athletes. Good plant-based sources of protein include soybeans and soy products, beans, lentils, quinoa, peas, nuts and seeds, and nut butters.