Vegetarian options: protein, vitamins and minerals
Both meat eaters and vegetarians need to think carefully about diet if they want to maximise the benefits of swimming. If you are a vegetarian read on for some advice on getting the balance right and for pointers on potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies to look out for.
You’ll know from our protein page that lean meat is a great way of boosting muscle recovery and immune system function. However, it doesn't have to be meat.
If the thought of a juicy steak turns your stomach, don't worry. There is no shortage of options for vegetarians and vegans to acquire the same level of protein as meat eaters.
Many people who abstain from meat will continue to eat fish which is an excellent source of protein. Also, did you know that eggs contain the highest biological value protein levels?
The following protein sources will also work well for vegetarians:
- Pulses e.g. chick peas, kidney beans, mung beans, black eyed peas, lentils etc
- Low fat milk, low fat cheese, low fat yoghurt
- Whey protein
- Nuts and seeds
- Peanut butter
Vitamins and minerals
But while you may have no problem with protein, take care not to ignore the rest of the vitamins and minerals found abundantly in many meats.
Deficiencies in calcium, riboflavin, zinc, iron, vitamin D and vitamin B12 are all common in vegetarians and can affect everyday life functions and more specifically your workouts and recovery processes.
Here are some more tips for maintaining a balanced vegetarian diet.
- Calcium is found in many dairy products, such as milk, and the lower fat milks actually contain higher calcium levels.
- If you don’t include dairy in your diet try to include protein rich soya milk, yoghurts and cheeses.
- Other good calcium sources include nuts, seeds, figs, rhubarb and a range of beans.
- Iron is vital for healthy blood.
- ‘Haeme iron’ from sources such as meat, poultry and fish is more easily absorbed than non-haeme iron (from vegetables and dairy) because it’s derived from blood tissues.
- Good non-haeme iron sources include tofu, soy beans, salad greens, green vegetables (e.g. spinach, lentils, beans), beans (e.g. kidney, black, pinto), black eyed peas and oatmeal.
- Try to include vitamin C sources in your meals which will help iron absorption.
- Also remember some produce such as caffeine can inhibit iron absorption. So try and delay that after after-dinner coffee for at least 30 minutes.
- Zinc is very important in maintaining our immune function, skin colour, protein absorption, sense of smell and much more.
- The recommended daily amount is between 10 and 15 milligrams per day. Vegetarian-friendly foods that can provide zinc are; pulses, eggs, nuts/seeds, wheat germ and whole wheat bread and for pescetarians try shellfish and crustaceans.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)
- Riboflavin is responsible for a range of bodily functions such as maintaining healthy eyes, skin, and nervous system.
- It is also vital for iron absorption and the development of red blood cells and anabolic reactions in the body. Riboflavin can be easily broken down by direct UV light so keep them away from these environments.
- Vegetarian-friendly foods that contain riboflavin include; eggs, most cereals, mushrooms, milk, pumpkin, sesame seeds, and wheat germ.
- Vitamin B12 plays a role in boosting immune function.
- You only need to find a few micrograms on a daily basis in order to get sufficient vitamin B12.
- It is recommended that you eat eggs, soya milk, cheeses, yeast extract, vegetable stock and yoghurts.
- Vitamin D helps to maintain healthy eyes, teeth and bones and is important to maintain our body’s energy levels.
- The recommended daily amount is approximately 10 micrograms and can be found in: soya milk, butter, eggs, soya cheeses, yoghurt and for pescetarians oily fish (e.g. mackerel, sardines and tuna) and also cod liver oil.
- It is also well-known that we can absorb vitamin D from the rays of the sun. Gain sufficient ‘lux’ from natural light on a daily basis and this will limit the amount of vitamin D required to be consumed!