Vegan or vegetarian athletes may be malnourished.

One of the things our bodies need to repair from any kind of training is protein in the form of 22 amino acids. Eight of these amino acids are essential, meaning that our bodies are unable to produce them. They must be consumed.

All 22 of the amino acids exist in meat and dairy products, but only occur partially in grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds. So for a vegetarian or vegan to function athletically at 100% capacity, they absolutely must combine their foods and be aware of what they are consuming.

Unfortunately, there are vegetarians out there who don’t actually eat a lot of vegetables. These vegetarians might find themselves struggling with weight issues due to an excess of carbohydrates (breads and grains), without the proper balance of veggies and legumes.

While it is definitely possible to be a healthy, properly nourished vegan or vegetarian athlete, it is not likely to happen by accident. So here are some guidelines to help identify what your body needs, and how to combine foods.

THE EIGHT ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS

1. Isoleucine

Sources:

  • eggs
  • fish
  • lentils
  • seeds
  • soy
  • wheat
  • almonds
  • dairy

2. Leucine

Sources:

  • cottage cheese
  • sesame seeds
  • peanuts
  • dry lentils
  • chicken
  • fish

3. Valine

Sources:

  • dairy products
  • grain
  • mushrooms
  • peanuts
  • soy proteins

4. Lysine

Sources:

  • green beans
  • lentils
  • soybean
  • spinach

5. Methionine

Sources:

  • fish
  • whole grains
  • dairy

6. Phenylanine

Sources:

  • dairy
  • almonds
  • avocados
  • lima beans
  • peanuts
  • seeds

7. Threonine

Sources:

  • dairy
  • beef
  • poultry
  • eggs
  • beans
  • nuts and seeds

8. Tryptophan

Sources:

  • chocolate
  • oats
  • bananas
  • dried dates
  • milk
  • cottage cheese
  • fish
  • peanuts

COMBINING FOODS

Here is a guideline based on groups of foods:

Grains – low in lysine and isoleucine

Legumes – low in tryptophan and methionine

Nuts and Seeds – low in lysine and isoleucine

Veggies – low in methionine and isoleucine

For a vegan or vegetarian to meet their complete protein requirements, they must combine groups like:

  • grain + corn
  • legumes + grain

Eating only legumes or only grains will leave you deficient. However! There is one magic food we should all know and love:

QUINOA

Quinoa is the ONLY grain that contains ALL 22 amino acids! There is no other food like it. This ancient grain was considered sacred among the Incas. During the European conquest of South America, the Spanish conquistadores burned down all the quinoa crops in an effort to rid the indigenous population of their culture. The locals were forced to grow corn instead, and quinoa eventually disappeared off the face of the planet.

In the early 1980s an American couple from Colorado heard of the grain and went out in search of it. They found some remnants, brought it back to the US, and started cultivating it. Today quinoa is an inexpensive, complete source of protein for us all.

You can find an easy vegan quinoa salad recipe here, along with other great quinoa recipes for vegans and vegetarians. And the best part – they’re great for ANY athlete!

UPDATES

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Shout out to all you veggie lovers out there! Happy Tuesday!