How to plan a nutritionally complete, running-friendly, meat-free diet.
1. What type of vegetarian are you?
• Vegans are the strictest vegetarians. They eat a purely plant-based diet. This means that in addition to avoiding meats, they avoid milk and eggs, and anything made with animal gelatin, which can include gelatin desserts, candies, and some pills and capsules. They typically also avoid honey, and even sugar that’s come in contact with bone char-based filtration.
Vegan runners will have to more diligent than other vegetarians, in order to stick to their diets, and in order to get all the nutrients they need.
• Lacto-vegetarians are like vegans, but allow themselves to eat milk and milk products, including cheese and whey protein.
• Lacto-ovo vegetarians will eat eggs and egg products, including protein supplements derived from egg whites.
2. The importance of Protein
We need protein for building muscle mass and to allow us to recover from exercise. Everyone needs it. When you’re an athlete you need more, because body undergoes more stress andrequires more rebuilding.
What is Protein? This is more complicated question than you might imagine. Proteins are any combination of amino acids, which are complex molecules used to synthesize muscle and organ tissue. There are 21 different amino acids used by the human body and they’re not all created equal. While the body needs them all, it’s capable synthesizing 12 of them, so we don’t need these in our diet. The remaining 9 we must get from our food. So these are called the essential amino acids:
There are small handful of plant-based foods that contain all the essential amino acids. These are called complete proteins, and include soy, quinoa, buckwheat, and seitan.
Luckily, you can get your complete protein by eating complementary foods, which together, offer all the essential amino acids.
• Legumes and Grains (rice and beans, peanut butter on whole grain bread, hummus on whole wheat pita)
• Legumes and Nuts (salad made with beans and nuts)
You don’t even have to have your rice and beans in one sitting. As long as you have them over the course of a day, you’ll be fine.
That said, it’s a bit more complicated than just knowing what’s a complete or complementary protein. Not all proteins are the same quality. Some are more digestible than others, and some offer a more balanced complement of essential amino acids. You’ll need more of a low-quality protein compared with a high-quality protein.
Food scientists rank the quality of protein with a “Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score,” or PDCAAS. The highest possible score is 1.0. The good news is that there are some top-scoring foods for every level of vegetarian:
Soy Protein (vegans): 1.0
Whey Protein (lacto vegetarians): 1.0
Casein (lacto vegetarians): 1.0
Milk (lacto vegetarians): 1.0
Egg (lacto-ovo vegetarians): 1.0
Black Beans (vegans): 0.75
Peanuts (vegans): 0.52
Wheat Gluten (vegans): 0.25
Beef (carnivores): 0.92
How much protein do you need? It turns out this is a tricky question. The science isn’t completely settled, and is complicated by the variable quality of protein, and the widely different needs of people based on activity level and type. An Olympic weightlifter needs more than a couch potato. Runner are somewhere in between.
The USDA Recommended Daily Allowance for protein is 0.8g protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day. But this is based on the needs of couch potatoes. The International Society of Sports Nutrition estimates that runners need 1.0 to 1.6 g/kg per day. This is about 70 to 110 grams a day for a runner who weighs 150 lbs. If you’re eating lower quality protein sources, likerice and beans, you’ll want to lean toward the high end of range.
3. The importance of Iron
Iron is a vital mineral that’s responsible for the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. An iron deficiency can hurt your performance and can cause major health problems, including anemia.
Food contains two types of iron: hematinic and non-hematinic iron. Hematinic iron is found in the blood and red meat. It is more easily absorbed than the non-hematinic iron found in plants.
It’s likely that some people are better able to absorb non-hematinic iron from food than others. If you’re in the unfortunate position of being a vegan who has trouble absorbing non-hematinic iron, talk to your doctor. There are hematinic iron supplements that may work for you. These supplements are more expensive than ordinary iron pills, and can cause stomach upset, but may be the best way for you to avoid anemia.
Some other ways to encourage iron absorption: eat foods that are rich in vitamin C (kiwi fruit, oranges, blackcurrants, tomatoes etc.). Eat iron-rich vegetables (peas, parsley, dandelion leaves, purslane, spinach, broccoli or cress).
4. Vitamin B12 is essential to your body’s normal functions, and is scarce in vegetarian diets.
Consider supplements, and pay attention to blood test results.
5. Foods that should be your best friends:
• Anything rich in soy protein (tofu, textured soy protein, soy milk).
• Brown Rice
• Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, and hazelnuts.
If you’re not a vegan, you’ll enjoy a wider variety of protein-rich foods:
• Whey powder
• Casein powder
• Egg white protein powder