I often get asked the question of why I went vegetarian at the beginning of 2009. Some of the other questions I get frequently are:
- How do you get enough protein?
- Will I lose weight if I become vegetarian?
- What about getting enough iron in your diet?
- It seems like a lot of work. How do you do it?
- Do you miss meat?
In the not too distant future, I hope to answer all the questions above. If I answer them all at once, the article will be very long, and you probably won’t read all of it! I hope you find these articles beneficial and informative.
My goal of this entry is not to push a specific diet on you, because I believe that everyone’s body is different and requires slightly different nutrition to function at the levels we, as athletes, demand from our bodies. However, if you are interested in trying to become veggie, and just need a little bit of advice on how to do so both economically and efficiently, then I think this may help you. If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to ask them through the “Contact Me” section.
Protein: Depending on the level of vegetarian you want to pursue (lacto-ovo-, lacto-, ovo-, or vegan) will determine how easy it is for you acquire the protein that you need. Most Americans eat way more protein than is needed. Most athletes need 0.5-0.8 grams of protein per pound. For example, I’m about 158 lbs. So I would need anywhere between 79 and 126 grams of protein per day. I would bet that most Americans (that may or may not be athletes) get the low end of their protein requirements in just the dinner they eat.
Just like carbohydrate and fat, not all protein sources are created equal. Powerhouse protein sources, or “complete” proteins, are those that provide you with all 20 amino acids necessary to rebuild and repair damaged tissue. Complete protein sources are found in such animal foods as chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, milk as well as soy foods. In contrast, many vegetarian protein sources, including legumes and nuts, are missing several of the necessary amino acids needed to build. Most vegetarian based foods need to be combined to attain all the essential amino acids; for example, tortillas and beans, rice and lentils, peanuts and wheat bread. Fiber found in plants does make it slightly harder for the body to absorb the protein. So aiming for the high end of the spectrum of protein requirement for your body weight would be suggested. Vegetarian diets providing adequate energy and a variety of protein-containing plant foods will supply all the essential amino acids needed for efficient protein metabolism, thereby enhancing recovery from exercise and helping to prevent muscular injury.
Before I started eating vegetarian, I did a lot of research on different protein sources and which amino acids were found in each one. After looking at several different websites, I found one that has what seems to be an exhaustive list of every food out there:
There are several graphs and charts on every food in their data base. Since we are on the topic of protein, I’ll focus on the chart that gives information about the amino acids in each food and the scoring system. Let’s use lentils as an example:
The graph that deals with the protein quality of the food contains all the amino acids our bodies can’t synthesis on its own (these are the “essential” amino acids). You’ll notice that all the amino acids “bars” are full except Methionine+Cystine. Also, the protein score is 86. The way that this website scores the protein quality is anything less than 100 is considered incomplete. To help us out, if any food scores less than 100, a link is provided below the graph to provides other complimentary food sources to give you all the amino acids. Click the link under legumes, and several pages are given for possible things to eat together with the lentils. One of these is rice. Click the brown rice link and notice the protein quality.
Brown rice only scores a 75, but the Methionine+Cystine amino acid bar is full, but the lysine is lacking (which is why it scores less than 100). However, since the lysine in lentils is adequate, these two foods compliment each other well.
For information about consuming enough iron for endurance athletes, click here.
For information on Vitamin B12 and its role in athletes, click here.