Navigating the Plant-based Diet

Triathlon Magazine Canada - - Front Page - By Tara Post­nikoff

Fol­lowinga ve­gan diet doesn’t nec­es­sarmean be­ing healthy. In fact, there can be just as many nu­tri­tional pit­falls in a plant- based diet as in an om­niv­o­rous one. TMC has pro­filed ve­g­an­ism and high­lighted a num­ber of suc­cess­ful ve­gan ath­letes, in­clud­ing Bren­dan Bra­zier. Given the re­stric­tive na­ture of a ve­gan diet, it might be hard to imagine that Hil­lary Bis­cay, a pro­lific pro triath­lete, is ve­gan. In or­der to fuel what it takes to do 61 Iron- dis­tance races, Bis­cay, like triathlon great Dave Scott be­fore her, must be dili­gent about get­ting the nu­tri­ents and calo­ries she needs.

Ve­g­an­ism ex­cludes all an­i­mal prod­ucts, in­clud­ing eggs, cheese, yo­gurt, but­ter or other milk prod­ucts. A whole-food, plant-based diet tends to be heavy in nu­tri­ent- dense foods, with lit­tle to no pack­aged or pro­cessed foods. Yet, a ve­gan diet can har­bour just as many pro­cessed foods in­clud­ing re­fined carbs as an om­niv­o­rous one. If over- con­sumed, these can wreak havoc on your blood sugar bal­ance, cor­ti­sol lev­els, moods and weaken your im­mune sys­tem.

Most ath­letes know that proper nutri­tion con­trib­utes to op­ti­mal ath­letic per­for­mance. Plant-based di­ets are said to re­duce inf lam­ma­tion, speed re­cov­ery, re­duce stress and pro­mote gen­eral health. How­ever, strict ad­her­ence to a plant-based diet can be chal­leng­ing and re­quires a lot of or­ga­ni­za­tion and care­ful prepa­ra­tion to en­sure the proper bal­ance of nu­tri­ents.

Plant-based coach and triath­lete Eric D’Arcy and his wife Sue Sitki say that as ath­letes their big­gest chal­lenges are “eat­ing out and eat­ing on the run, es­pe­cially if you don’t know where to go.” They have a cou­ple go-to restau­rants that fo­cus on veg­e­tar­ian and Mediter­ranean foods if they want to eat out and, when headed to a new place have had some luck ask­ing for spe­cial food sub­sti­tu­tions off a con­ven­tional menu. But they must be care­ful not to al­ways rely on ve­gan meal re­place­ment prod­ucts when they are tired or short on time. When asked why they fol­low a plant-based diet, the cou­ple in­sist that they feel bet­ter, have more vi­tal­ity, sleep bet­ter and have less crav­ings. They also in­sist that the diet’s anti-inf lam­ma­tory prop­er­ties helps re­lieve the pain of chronic in­jury.

Tommy Ferris, triath­lete and owner of Ig­ni­tion Fit­ness has fo­cused on raw, plant-based whole foods for nearly 10 years. He switched to this diet in an ef­fort to re­duce stress and fa­tigue, and no­ticed a dif­fer­ence al­most im­me­di­ately. “Sat­is­fy­ing my hunger is my big­gest strug­gle,” Ferris said. “But fo­cus­ing on nuts, seeds and av­o­ca­dos (which are high in healthy fats) man­ages my fierce ap­petite.”

When ex­clud­ing most or all an­i­mal prod­ucts triath­letes should be aware that they may be at risk for de­fi­cien­cies in calo­ries, pro­tein, iron, cal­cium, vi­ta­min D and vi­ta­min B-12. nuts, seeds and es­sen­tial fatty acids are key com­po­nents of a healthy plant-based diet. Pro­tein Ath­letes need on av­er­age 1.1 to 1.5 g of pro­tein per kg of body weight per day. To com­bine plant pro­tein sources prop­erly to pro­vide the body with the eight es­sen­tial amino acids ( pro­tein build­ing blocks) it re­quires for nor­mal body func­tion. Grains, nuts and seeds are low in es­sen­tial amino acids ly­sine and isoluecine, whereas legumes are low in es­sen­tial amino acids tryp­to­phan and me­thio­n­ine. Con­sume both grains and legumes through­out the day so the body has the ma­te­ri­als it needs for growth and re­pair. Iron Iron is im­por­tant for oxy­gen trans­fer in the blood and mus­cles. Ve­g­ans are at risk for low iron lev­els be­cause the type of iron found in plant sources is more dif­fi­cult to ab­sorb than the type found in an­i­mal sources. Fur­ther­more, ath­letes, es­pe­cially fe­males, are typ­i­cally at risk for low iron lev­els, due to in­creased needs as­so­ci­ated with ac­tiv­ity as well as due to blood loss from men­stru­a­tion. To in­crease iron ab­sorp­tion, blanche veg­eta­bles prior to eat­ing and soak whole grains prior to cook­ing. To help with plant-based iron ab­sorp­tion, con­sider squeez­ing fresh lemon juice over dark green veg­eta­bles. Vi­ta­min B-12 Typ­i­cally low in ve­gan di­ets, B-12 is also eas­ily de­pleted by drugs, al­co­hol, caf­feine, nico­tine and an ex­ces­sive in­take of re­fined car­bo­hy­drates. Of­ten called the “en­ergy vi­ta­min,” B-12 is es­sen­tial for the health of the ner­vous sys­tem and the for­ma­tion of red blood cells (oxy­gen car­ri­ers). While low lev­els B-12 may be found in chlorella, miso and nu­tri­tional yeast, it is typ­i­cally nec­es­sary to sup­ple­ment B-12 in or­der to main­tain op­ti­mal lev­els. Vi­ta­min D Vi­ta­min D is nec­es­sary for cal­cium ab­sorp­tion. How­ever plants con­tain low lev­els of vi­ta­min D. Nu­tri­tional yeast and ex­po­sure to some sun­light are the best sources for ve­g­ans, but sup­ple­men­ta­tion can help in reach­ing op­ti­mal lev­els. Cal­cium Ath­letes can re­quire in­creased cal­cium. Stren­u­ous ex­er­cise can re­duce cal­cium as­sim­i­la­tion. High train­ing vol­ume de­mands in­creased mus­cle con­trac­tion and also in­creases bone den­sity, re­quir­ing in­creased cal­cium to sup­port this growth. The best non- dairy sources of cal­cium in­clude: kelp, dark-green leafy veg­eta­bles such as kale, nuts, sesame seeds and tahini. Ready To Try a Plant-Based Diet? As a triath­lete, any diet you choose should be as nat­u­ral as pos­si­ble, due to the in­creased de­mands you place on your body. It should be low in pro­cessed and pack­aged foods, and high in nu­tri­ent- dense foods, that is, foods that help max­i­mize your nutri­tion per caloric unit. Veg­eta­bles and fruits of­fer key vi­ta­mins and min­er­als, en­zymes and fi­bre that are nec­es­sary for proper health. Ul­ti­mately, what you choose to eat is more im­por­tant than your diet la­bel, so whether you are a ve­gan or a meat eater, make sure your diet is loaded with fresh pro­duce and whole foods on a daily ba­sis to im­prove health and ath­letic per­for­mance.

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