Are you a vegetarian or vegan mountain biker? You may be concerned about getting all the nutrients you need, particularly protein, iron, and vitamin B12. There are different types of vegetarians, but for this article, a vegetarian will be defined as someone who does not eat any meat, including fish, but eats eggs, yogurt, milk, and cheese. Likewise, a vegan will be defined as someone who does not eat animal products.
Of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), protein is the biggest concern among vegetarians and vegans. Vegetarian mountain bikers should try to eat Greek yogurt, which is higher in protein than regular yogurt. If you are lactose intolerant, try introducing small amounts of Greek yogurt into your diet and gradually increase the amount. Even if dairy bothers them, some people find that they can tolerate Greek yogurt because it has lower amounts of lactose than other dairies. Vegetarians should also consume eggs, as they are a good source of protein, extremely versatile, and can be used at almost any meal. Vegetarians should also consume milk and cheese.
It is a little more challenging for vegans and takes more planning, but it is still possible to get sufficient amounts of protein. Quinoa, buckwheat, and oats are three grains that are great for vegans because they are good protein sources. Other protein foods to include in each meal are nuts, nut butter, seeds, and legumes. Legumes include soy, beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Vegans can also include tofu and tempeh in their diets for another source of protein. I typically recommend supplementing with a plant-based protein powder, like pea or soy protein, for vegan mountain bikers and vegan athletes, after strenuous workouts.
Vitamin B12 is more of a concern for vegans than vegetarians. Vitamin B12 is found in products that come from animals, such as meat, eggs, cheese, and dairy. Vegetarians can get enough vitamin B12 from cheese, dairy, and eggs. Vegans need to get their Vitamin B12 from foods fortified with vitamin B12 like nutritional yeast, breakfast cereals, some meat substitutes, and fortified non-dairy milk. Or they can consider taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
Since iron is found at the highest levels in red meat, iron is a nutrient of concern to both vegans and vegetarians. Legumes, soy, peas, dark leafy greens, enriched grains, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and iron-fortified cereals and bread are all sources of iron. Cooking in a cast-iron skillet, especially acidic foods like spaghetti sauce, can leach some of the iron into your food. I recommend that all vegetarian and vegan athletes get their ferritin tested once per year. See my recent article about iron.
Fruits & Veggies
Lastly, eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables can ensure all athletes get all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Try not to get into a rut, but eat different fruit and vegetables each week. I do recommend getting routine bloodwork done for everyone.
To learn more about your dietary needs as a vegetarian or vegan athlete, email me at emilywernerRDN@gmail.com.
Emily is a Sports Dietitian who is passionate about helping others improve their health and athletic performance through proper nutrition. She races cyclocross professionally. She lives in Roanoke, VA with her husband Kerry and their beagle Sherman.
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