7 nutrients every plant-powered athlete needs to pay attention to

7 nutrients every plant-powered athlete needs to pay attention to

If you have been running for a while, you know that the best training in the world is futile without a balanced diet that supports not just your general fitness, but also sustains you through the physiological drill of a training regimen.

However, diligent as you are about the proper intake of carbs, protein and fiber, when was the last time you tested your vitamin D levels? Or the last time you paid attention to incorporating enough zinc in your diet? The chances are that with a balanced diet, you are already incorporating most of the supplements you need; however, as a runner, you are probably expending higher amounts of vital supplements, and you might need to take extra care to ensure that you are getting the daily recommended intake of these following nutrients.

A couple of decades ago, just the idea that an athlete could sustain himself or herself on a purely plant-based or vegan diet would have raised eyebrows. Now, we have numerous examples of highly successfully endurance athletes like Scott Jurek, and Indian athletes like Kuntal Joisher, who are dedicated to spreading the message that being vegan/ vegetarian is no impediment to achieving excellence.

However, as a vegan or vegetarian athlete, you may be at higher risk of developing certain nutritional deficiencies, which could affect your performance. Today, we take a look at 7 nutrients you should be including in your diet as a vegan/ vegetarian athlete.

1) Iron

Why do I need it?

Iron is an integral part of hemoglobin production in the body, which links it directly to your oxygen carrying capacity. Insufficient Iron can affect your aerobic capacity, and also lower the amount of oxygen going to your muscle, leading to muscle fatigue. Iron is lost in sweat, which is why athletes need to make sure this nutrient gets sufficiently replenished.

Signs to watch out for: Breathlessness, worse-than-usual muscle soreness and fatigue

Where do I get it from?

Green peas, broccoli, kidney beans, dark chocolate, salads. Along with these foods, make sure you get your daily hit of citrus foods, as vitamin C improves the absorption of Iron in your body.

2) Calcium

Why do I need it?

Your bones take a pounding during endurance sport. Calcium is crucial to bone strength. When your body is low on calcium, it borrows that calcium from your skeleton, thereby compromising your bone strength – something you can’t afford as an athlete. As a plant-powered athlete who cannot rely on dairy sources for your intake of calcium, you need to take special care to supplement your diet.

Signs to watch out for:

Muscle aches and cramps, brittle nails, dry skin, increased fatigue, tooth ache, PMS in women

Where do I get it from?

Spinach, ladies finger, soybeans, avocados and almonds. 100% vegan calcium supplements are also available in India, that supply highly bio-available, organic algal calcium.

3) Vitamin D

Why do I need it?

As noted by celebrated physiotherapist, Dr. Nikhil Latey in this excellent article, vitamin D is crucial for muscle function and muscle recovery, especially in individuals following a rigorous training schedule. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium into the muscle, and also in the protein synthesis needed for the growth of new muscle tissue.

Signs to watch out for: Frequent injuries and slower muscle recovery times

Where do I get it from?

Whole grains, orange juice, cereal are some sources of the ‘Sunshine Vitamin’. However, vitamin D deficiency is at epidemic proportions in India, with 80% of Indians estimated to be deficient. A vitamin D supplement is the best way to get the daily recommended intake. The great news is, there are now 100% plant-based vitamin D supplements in India, sourced from Lichens, providing 1000 I.U. of vitamin D3 per serving.

4) Folic Acid

Why do I need it?

Folate ensures that you get enough oxygen during aerobic activities by keeping your heart in good condition and bringing down the risk of anemia.

Signs to watch out for:

Lethargy, paleness of skin, bowel issues, irritability

Where do I get it from?

Whole grain bread, pasta, dark leafy vegetables, peas, lentils, brocolli, fortified cereals, citrus fruits

5) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Why do I need it?

Aside from being crucial to eye, heart and brain health, omega-3 fatty acid acts as an anti-inflammatory for athletes. Omega-3 fatty also relieves muscle soreness, and can aid in improving your recovery times.

Signs to watch out for:

Low mood or unexplained mood swings, dry skin, painful menstrual cramps, excessive thirst and excessive urination

Where do I get it from?

Beans, leafy greens, vegetables from the cabbage family, brocolli, mangoes, almonds. It must be noted, however, that food sources rich in omega-3 fatty acid also tend to be rich in Omega-6 fatty acid, which inhibits the absorption of omega-3 fatty acid. An omega-3 DHA supplement works around this problem by supplying your body with pure omega-3 DHA. The trouble is, most omega-3 DHA supplements in the market use fish-oil. This poses a problem in a majorly vegetarian country in India. Also, fish are the secondary source of omega-3 DHA, as it is micro-algae living in the fish that are the primary producers of omega-3 fatty acids. Thankfully, there are now vegan omega-3 DHA supplements in India that ferment it directly from micro algae.

6) Zinc

Why do I need it?

Zinc keeps your immune system in prime shape, as well being an important part of the energy metabolism of your body. Zinc helps prime your cells to produce energy faster. Zinc can be lost with sweat, which is why athletes need to make sure they get sufficient quantities of this nutrient.

Signs to watch out for:

Hair loss, loss of taste, loss of appetite, slow healing of wounds.

Where do I get it from?

Apart from zinc supplements, common food sources are spinach, kidney beans, garlic, peanut butter, chickpeas and brown rice.

7) Vitamin B12

Why do I need it?

Vitamin B12 is known to increase endurance capability, aids in the production of new red blood cells, and helps repair damaged muscles. Athletes with lower intake of B12, like vegetarian and vegan athletes, could be at a disadvantage when it comes to high intensity exercise.

Signs to watch out for:

Light-headedness or weakness, easy bruising, weight loss, bowel problems – either diarrhea or constipation.

Where do I get it from?

Soy milk, whole wheat products, almonds, avocados. Additional sources like fortified cereal and vitamin B12 supplements or injections are recommended for vegetarian and vegan athletes.

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