Being a Vegan/Vegetarian Triathlete

Proper Nutrition for Vegan/Vegetarian Triathlete

With more and more discussion and evidence around the benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets, both for the health of us, and for the planet, one question I am getting asked regularly is: ‘Is being vegan/vegetarian ok if you’re a triathlete?’

One of the main parts of this question revolves around protein, and if it is possible to get enough as a triathlete. I answered this part of the question in a recent post, which you can find here.

What about other nutrients though? Are any of these more difficult to obtain as a vegan, or vegetarian?

Calcium

Plays a role in building strong bones, as well as being important for neurological messages being sent through the body. Dairy products such as milk and yoghurt are particularly good sources of calcium, and appropriate for vegetarians.

Good plant-based sources of calcium include fortified plant milks, such as soy or almond milk, many nuts (such as almonds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds), unhulled tahini, amaranth, dried apricots, figs, soybeans, and most leafy greens.

Also, avoiding high consumption of salt, caffeine, and phytic acid is important, as these can limit absorption and use of calcium.

Iron

There are two types of iron, haem and non-haem iron. Non-haem iron is that found in plant foods, and is unfortunately not absorbed quite as well as haem iron, which is found in animal products.

Interestingly, much of our daily iron intake still comes from plant foods anyway, even when meat is chosen. This is because of the wide range of foods which are rich in iron. Plus, when consumed with vitamin C rich foods, absorption is improved.

Appropriate sources of plant-based iron include legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, iron fortified foods (such as some breads and cereals), many whole grains and some dried fruits.

Featured photo credit: T Sheppard via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

Vitamin B12

B12 is needed for formation of red blood cells and maintenance of the nervous system. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in many animal products, along with fortified foods, such as soy milk, veggie burgers and some other products which vary from place to place. If these foods are not eaten on a regular basis, a supplement is recommended.

Zinc

Plays a role in wound healing and building a healthy immune system. It is found in legumes, grains, nuts, seeds and many soy foods. Sprouted grains and beans that contain yeast, and soaking legumes before use will enhance zinc absorption.

Omega-3

These healthy fats are essential for managing inflammation and protection against a number of health conditions. Whilst fish are a great source, plant-based sources include flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, seaweed, fortified plant milks, and spirulina. Inclusion of these on a daily basis is recommended.

Regardless of if you are a vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, or a good old meat eater, aiming to meet your daily nutrition needs will help enhance your performance. Many individuals report feeling better when following a plant-based diet, just as many report feeling better when meat is consumed. I suggest doing what works best for you, and choosing foods which help you reach your performance and nutrition goals, regardless of if animal products are included or not.

Chloe McLeod
Chloe McLeod
Chloe McLeod has had a keen interest in nutrition from a young age due to food intolerances as well as a realization about the important role food plays in an active lifestyle. She has a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition & Dietetics, a master’s degree in Public Health, has received Sports Dietetics training through the Australian Institute of Sport, and has earned qualifications for ISAK Level 1, and is a member of DAA, SDA, and PINES. She is a two-time marathoner, avid trail runner, and also enjoys staying active through snowboarding and Pilates.