Vitamins & Minerals
A solid vegetarian diet is possible if enough nutrients are consumed from a wide variety of foods. Since this is not always possible, some vegetarians choose to supplement their diet with vitamins to ensure adequate nutrients for performance and recovery. Vegetarians must take extra care to avoid deficiencies of iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, which can hurt exercise and strength training performance.
NOTE: Please consult your doctor to be tested on before taking supplements. The information below explains what may be lacking in a vegetarian runner’s diet.
Vitamin B12 is essential to vegetarian runners because red blood cells are so important to muscle repair, oxygen delivery, blood lactate clearance, and other mechanisms associated with continued, injury-free physical activity. Since vitamin B12 is available only from animal products, it is one of the most common nutrients missing from the diets of vegetarian athletes. If vegetarians don’t obtain their B12 requirements from food, they are advised to take B12 supplements. Vitamin B12 absorption becomes less efficient as we age, so supplements may also be needed by older vegetarians.
No active form of vitamin B12 is found naturally in plant foods (including soy products), however, if you eat dairy products and eggs they will provide you with sufficient amounts of vitamin B12. There are also fortified foods such as some soy beverages and some vegetarian sausages and burgers. Mushrooms, tempeh, miso, and sea vegetables are often claimed to be a source of B12, however, they actually contain a compound with a similar structure to B12 but it doesn’t work like B12 in the body.
The main source of vitamin D is sunlight so vegetarians may require a dietary source of vitamin D when sun exposure is insufficient. There are few foods that contain significant amounts of vitamin D which means there is very little vitamin D in most people’s diets unless they eat fatty fish, eggs, liver or vitamin D fortified foods (such as margarine). Vitamin D deficiency can be avoided by choosing fortified nondairy milks and breakfast cereals as well. Vegetarians may wish to choose these and other animal-based vitamin D supplements.
Vegetarian diets are usually high in iron from plant foods, although this iron is not absorbed as well as the iron in meat. Vegetarian athletes are at more risk of iron deficient anemia than non-vegetarian athletes who eat red meat and should be aware that underlying iron deficiencies can be noticeable in athletes as they become more lethargic and their performance decreases.
Good food sources of iron include green leafy vegetables, peas and whole grains, enriched cereals and legumes. Combining these foods with foods high in vitamin C and food acids, such as fruit and vegetables, will help your body absorb the iron. Some foods contain substances that block the absorption of iron in the intestine. Coffee, whole grains, bran, legumes, and spinach all interfere with iron absorption and should be combined with vitamin C to increase iron absorption.
Cooking in cast iron cookware every once and a while rather than stainless steel can leach absorbable iron into simmering food. Look at also taking iron supplements but be careful that too much iron can be toxic. Speak to a well-qualified nutritionist or dietician if you are unsure.
Some reports say that vegetarians have a lower zinc levels than non-vegetarians. This may be due to the fact that cereals, legumes, nuts, soy products and eggs are secondary sources of zinc. However, there is no suggestion that vegetarian athletes need to include zinc supplements in the diet. The best vegetarian sources of zinc are nuts, tofu, miso, legumes, wheat germ and wholegrain foods.
Calcium is necessary for strong bones and teeth, as well as to help muscles relax and contract and nerves conduct messages. Good vegetarian sources of calcium include dairy products, fortified cereals and fruits juices, fortified soymilk, tahini and some brands of tofu. Leafy dark green vegetables (especially Asian greens), legumes, almonds and Brazil nuts also contain calcium.