Get everything you need for triathlon training without eating meat, says nutritionist Sally Pinnegar
Contrary to many athletes’ popular belief, being a vegetarian triathlete is not difficult or dangerous; it may even boost your performance level.
Vegetarians are often more aware of good nutrition than their meat-eating counterparts; many meat eaters get nutrition wrong – being a veggie does not give exclusive rights to nutritional deficiencies! It’s a common misconception that veggies lack protein, but that’s not the case at all.
A good combination of vegetarian foods provides all the amino acids to make complete protein, alongside dairy products and eggs. A couple of things to look out for are iron and vitamin B12 deficiency; these are easily addressed with a healthy diet; and there’s no need for supplements.
Get Enough Protein
Eat grains and pulses. Protein is made of 22 amino acids, eight of which we have to eat because they’re not made by the body. These are called ‘essential amino acids’. Animal protein has the full set but vegetable proteins only have a partial set; various plant-based foods provide different aminos and must be combined.
Eating grains with pulses provides a full set, for example beans on toast or rice with chickpeas. Quinoa is an excellent source of veggie protein. You don’t even have to eat these at the same meal, as long as you eat them all within a week.
Don’t be afraid of eggs. Eggs are little power packs of complete protein, vitamins and minerals. The whole egg-cholesterol myth, which has caused us to pause when considering tucking in, should be banished. Luckily people are now realising the value of cholesterol to the human body.
Make eggs a regular part of your weekly diet. They’re absolutely perfect for post-training recovery on wholegrain toast with a small glass of fresh orange juice to enhance iron absorption.
Drink your milk. One large glass of milk gives you almost all the vitamin B12 you need for a day. Choose full fat unhomogenised milk; it’s only actually around three per cent fat and is more natural than the processed, homogenised kind. Look at fitnaturally.co.uk for a blog piece about why you should drink unhomogenised milk.
Milk is great recovery food after training too, just add some decent chocolate powder and a little sugar with some crushed ice and you can save loads of money on expensive, unnatural, unnecessary recovery gloop!
Pump some iron
Being a mineral lost in sweat, iron is a key nutrient for triathletes, whether vegetarian or not. An easy way to get iron is from fortified breakfast cereals, which are ideal before or after training foods.
Other iron-rich veggie foods include eggs, chickpeas, lentils, beans, green leafy vegetables, nuts and dried fruit such as apricots and dates. Have them with a small glass of fresh orange juice or some vitamin-C-rich food to help iron absorption.
Think before you eat
Be careful about what you eat before training. Veggie diets are usually high in fibre, which is great for health but doesn’t sit well before vigorous exercise, particularly running.
You may find your body’s eject system kicks in fairly sharpish! The night and morning before any key session try keeping the fibre down a bit; so pasta with tomato sauce would be a good choice the night before and porridge – which has a different kind of fibre – or toast and peanut butter as pre-session brekkie.
For a real power veggie lunch, mix 60g of cooked quinoa with a chopped avocado, baby tomatoes, spinach leaves, 50g of feta cheese, some chopped beetroot and 100g of tinned chickpeas. Use a good punchy French-style dressing. Have this with a glass of milk and you have it all covered!