Exercise and Nutrition for the Vegetarian

Photo Credit: Gila Brand CC-BY-2.5 2007
A vegetarian diet consists primarily of plants. Some vegetarians consume a few animal products, but no meat. Animal foods that a vegetarian may consume include eggs, milk and cheese. Vegetarians may also eat fish, but no vegetarian will eat pork, beef or chicken. Vegans, on the other hand, consume only plants and no animal products at all. There are many reasons why a person may choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Their health and nutrition does not have to be compromised by removing meat and animal products from their diet. A vegetarian or vegan can live a healthy, strong life without meat and other animal products. If you choose a vegetarian or vegan diet, be aware that you may not get enough Vitamin B, Vitamin D, zinc, iron and protein in your diet. You can get these nutrients from plant and non-meat sources. Exercise requires carbohydrates for energy and protein for muscle and other tissue regeneration. Be sure to get enough nutrients in your diet if you are vegetarian or vegan.
Protein is essential to muscle development, cell repair and muscle growth and regeneration. Vegetarians can get enough protein from foods such as peanuts and peanut butter, whole grain breads, dried beans and peas, whole grain brown rice, corn breads and cheese. Milk, soy protein and eggs can supplement all the protein needs for the body for day-to-day functions, including regular exercise. 
Good sources of iron, which is essential for the efficient movement of oxygen by the blood, includes prunes, prune juice, whole grains, spinach and dried fruits like raisins. Some whole grain cereals and fruit juices may be fortified with an iron supplement. Iron is critical to normal bodily functions, but too much iron like too little iron, can be very harmful. Never take iron supplement without seeing your doctor first. A blood test is necessary to determine if you are getting enough iron in your diet. Your doctor or dietitian can help you develop an eating plan to get enough iron or prescribe a supplement.
Before exercising, it is important that the vegetarian and vegan eat enough carbohydrates and drink enough water to sustain their energy and hydration levels. During exercise, everyone should drink a cup of water ever 20 to 30 minutes.  Good sources of carbohydrates for vegans and vegetarians include all fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fruit juices and tofu. About 2 hours before exercising, eat some cooked whole grain wild rice, beans and sweet potatoes so that your body has enough carbohydrates and protein to sustain your energy levels and nutrition requirements for exercise.
After exercising, have a snack of fruit, whole grain wheat crackers, hard cheese, yogurt or nuts. Remember to drink water and avoid caffeinated drinks and sports drinks. Mangoes, raisins, prunes, bananas and apricots are nutritious choices to replenish depleted carbohydrate supplies. 

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