A while ago Megan told me I was the first vegetarian athlete to ski with XC Ottawa. I was a bit surprised to hear this, since several of my friends and teammates in Guelph were vegetarian, but then again, I guess Guelph is a bit of a hippie commune. It did explain why some of my new teammates seemed kind of curious about this dietary choice. Despite what a lot of people seem to think though, it’s not really too tricky to be a vegetarian athlete. Generally all it takes to get the right nutrients is eating a wide variety of healthy foods.
I guess it also takes abstaining from eating some awesome things like Kyle and Lee’s incredible fish/bacon weave (I know I missed out big on that one) ....That’s probably more so what people mean when they ask “Isn’t it hard???”. Well, that’s a factor that varies from person to person. But if you’re interested in vegetarianism for environmental reasons (that’s why I started), even a few meat-free meals a week are good. The same is true if the motivation is for health benefits, or because it’s often cheaper and faster to cook without meat.
One of the main concerns with vegetarianism is, of course, consuming enough protein. There are plenty of plant-based foods that are good sources of protein, but none are complete proteins. In other words, they lack one or more essential amino acids. Amino acids are what proteins are made of, and the essential ones are the ones that our bodies can’t make, so we have to get them in the food we eat. But by eating lots of different foods daily – nuts, legumes, grains and seeds – there’s no trouble getting all the essential amino acids. This way protein building can continue uninterrupted.
There are certain micronutrients that vegetarians may need to be wary of too. Two big ones are vitamin B12 and iron. Vitamin B12 is only found in animal-based foods. For vegetarians who consume dairy products, vitamin B12 will be readily available. However, for vegans (vegetarians who do not consume any animal products – i.e. no dairy) vitamin B12 must be obtained through dietary supplements or fortified foods. [Trivial fact: Actually, B12 is only made by bacteria and is stored well by ruminants, so we can get B12 from dairy products and meat. Bacteria on vegetables can supply B12 as well. Historically, somewhat spoiled food has provided sufficient B12 to primarily vegan diets. ] Iron is another micronutrient that may potentially be in short supply in a vegetarian diet. Because plant sources of iron are not as easily absorbed as animal sources, vegetarians are told to consume 1.8 times more iron than meat-eaters. Sources of iron include legumes, whole grains, oatmeal, green leafy vegetables, peas, broccoli, potatoes, nuts, and seeds. Consuming vitamin C at the same time as plant sources of iron will enhance iron absorption.
Want to try a delicious vegetarian meal? Here is the recipe for some bean burgers that I like. Even my meat-eating family and friends enjoy them (or at least they are polite and say they do!). These burgers go well with a spinach and goat cheese salad plus oven baked yam “fries”. Other meal ideas include chickpea or lentil curry, ratatouille stew, or a veggie stir-fry with almonds and spinach on top of rice. Mmmmmm...
Vegetarian Black Bean Burgers
1 (16 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon chili powder
¼ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup salsa
½ cup instant oats
Mash all ingredients in a bowl. Form patties on a baking sheet and bake in the oven at 350°F for about 20 minutes, or until the patties are cooked through the centre. Serve on toasted buns with salsa or other toppings of choice. Enjoy!