Are you eating a meatless diet? Many people are opting for plant-based diets either to prevent cruelty to animals or to help save the resources (land, energy, and water) used to produce meat. Others avoid meat for health-related reasons. For example, a recent study found that the life expectancy for vegetarians was greater than for meat-eaters. Vegetarians in the study had lower rates of heart disease than participants who reported eating meat. Vegetarian diets tend to be higher in fiber and important nutrients such as potassium, folate, and antioxidants.
If you are eating a no-meat diet, how can you be sure that you are getting all the nutrients you need to perform at your best? First, get an InsideTracker blood analysis to measure the status of your key biomarkers. Then, follow InsideTracker’s food recommendations to ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need. InsideTracker has vegetarian and vegan options to provide you with foods suited to your diet and preferences. You will even receive some tips for food preparation to increase absorption of key nutrients.
What do meatless diets include?
For the uninitiated, it can be confusing to distinguish between vegetarians, vegans, and raw vegans. Here are some commonly accepted descriptions:
Vegetarians consume plant-based foods such as grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Vegetarian diets vary widely:
- Lacto-ovo vegetarians consume plant-based foods and animal byproducts, including eggs, milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Lacto-vegetarians consume plant-based foods and dairy products, but do not eat eggs.
- Ovo-vegetarians include eggs in their diet, but no dairy products.
- Pescetarians eat seafood or fish, but no meat (because fish are animals, many vegetarians do not consider this a vegetarian diet).
Vegans eat no meat or any type of animal byproduct, including honey, eggs, and dairy products.
Raw vegans eat plant-based foods, mostly fruits, seeds, nuts, and vegetables, that are completely raw or that have not been heated above 118 degrees.
Which nutrients should you monitor if you're vegan or vegetarian?
Meat and animal by-products contain several essential nutrients that play a key role in performance. But you can get these nutrients from vegetarian and vegan sources. In fact, there are many successful vegetarian and vegan athletes. Whatever your athletic level, if you are eating a meat-free diet, watch out for these important vitamins and minerals:
Vitamin B12 plays an important role red blood cell formation, helping to deliver oxygen to the body’s tissues. Getting too little B12 can lead to anemia, which can cause you to feel tired and weak. Some research suggests that athletes with low levels of vitamin B12 may have decreased ability to perform high intensity exercise. Because B12 is found naturally in meats, poultry, seafood and cheese, vegetarians and especially vegans may struggle to get enough from diet alone. Fortified breakfast cereals are a good plant-based source of B12, and dairy products can provide adequate amounts of the nutrient for lacto-vegetarians. Researchers are also studying non-western vegetarian sources of B12, such as seaweed and fermented-soybean foods. You may also want to consider taking a B12 supplement, but do talk to your healthcare professional before starting.
Iron is an essential mineral that is a part of the protein hemoglobin, which is found in all the body’s red blood cells. Hemoglobin works to supply the muscles and other organs with enough oxygen, as well as to help the body to convert carbohydrates and fat into energy. All athletes should be mindful of their iron intake. Vegetarian and vegan athletes face a greater risk of developing iron deficiency anemia, the world’s most common nutrient deficiency. Unfortunately, the form of iron found in meat (called heme iron) is more readily absorbed by the body than non-heme iron found in plants. Vegetarians may need to consume twice as much dietary iron as non-vegetarians to get adequate iron. Dark leafy greens and dried beans are among the best vegetarian sources of iron. Many breakfast cereals and bread products are fortified with iron. To increase the absorption of non-heme iron, you can consume iron-rich foods with oranges, orange juice or other good sources of vitamin C. When you are eating foods with non-heme iron, avoid consuming eggs, chocolate, coffee, tea, and foods high in fiber, because they will decrease the absorption of iron. Many lacto-ovo vegetarians turn to supplements to ensure healthy iron levels for optimal performance since dairy products are very low in iron and actually inhibit iron absorption. Many varieties of fish have high amounts of iron, making it easier for pescetarians to get the required daily amount...
Protein plays an important role in aiding post-workout recovery for athletes because it is responsible for repairing exercise-induced damage, and promoting training-induced adaptations in muscle fibers such as the synthesis of new proteins involved in energy production. Protein also facilitates the replenishment of depleted energy stores, preparing your body for its next bout of activity. Some athletes worry that they can’t meet their protein needs on a plant-based diet, but that is not the case. You can get the necessary proteins by consuming complementary proteins in the same day. A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids that the body needs. Vegetarians can combine plant sources to create complete proteins by eating complementary sources such as rice and beans. Tofu, legumes, many whole grain products, and soy-based yogurts and milks are excellent sources of plant-based proteins for meat-free athletes.
Zinc is commonly found in animal products such as beef, pork, seafood, and poultry Anyone following a meat-free diet can get still enough zinc if they eat plenty of fortified breakfast cereals, oatmeal, nuts and beans. However, vegetarians need to consume 50% more of the Recommended Daily Allowance of zinc than meat eaters. You can also increase zinc absorption by soaking beans, grains, and seeds in water for several hours before cooking and by allowing them to sit after soaking until sprouts form. People who want to increase their blood levels of zinc should avoid consuming foods rich in phytates (such as broccoli, grains, and legumes) and iron, copper, and calcium supplements because they inhibit zinc absorption in your gut. The mineral is very important for athletes because of its role in immunity, protein synthesis and proper cell function.
If you’re a vegetarian, vegan, or raw vegan, with careful attention to the nutrients noted in this article you can perform at your peak. There are many resources for vegetarian and vegan athletes on the web, such as Matt Frazier’s blog, No Meat Athlete. If you’re following a specific diet, you should be informed about what you put into your body. InsideTracker blood analysis will reveal which nutrients your body needs and will give you recommendations to help guide your food choices.