Can I be a vegetarian and be on the cross-country team? My mom is afraid I won't get enough to eat.
Yes, it is easy to be a vegetarian and an athlete. Like all vegetarian diets, your diet should include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Vegetarian teen athletes should receive a majority of their calories from complex carbohydrates, a moderate amount from protein, and a low to moderate amount from fat. Some healthy sources of vegetarian foods for athletes include carbohydrate sources like bread, bagels, cereals and whole or dried fruit, protein sources like hummus, beans, nuts, nut butters, energy bars, and soy milk/yogurt and fat sources like nut butters, salad dressings, and oils. Easy ways to incorporate good nutrition into each day are to:
As long as you are eating a variety of healthy foods and eating frequently you will have enough energy to perform at the athletic level. It is important to remember, however, like all athletes during periods of high intensity training, there may be times when you do not "feel" hungry, but your body needs more food for energy. During these times it is important to monitor your weight to make sure you are not losing pounds. If you are having trouble maintaining steady weights try increasing your food intake through high calorie snacks and making sure to eat before and after each sporting event.
In general, eating a 200 calorie snack, like a granola bar or soy yogurt with fruit, about an hour before you workout is important to provide energy. If you are not able to eat during class, try having a snack handy for right after school to eat before practice or a game. The best snacks to eat right before exercising are those that are high in carbohydrate and bland in taste. Such snacks include bread, muffins, bagels, and crackers. A small amount of nut butter can be added to these snacks to add protein and flavor.
Eating 30 minutes after a workout is also very important. If you do not have time for a complete meal right after an event, take a snack to eat that is high in carbohydrate and moderate in protein. Snacks like pita with hummus, bottled fruit smoothies (Naked Juice) or applesauce and crackers are good to eat after exercise to help replenish lost nutrient stores.
If your Mom is still concerned that you are not eating enough of the "right" food, consider contacting a registered dietitian (RD) to discuss these issues and to help ease your family's concerns.
by Julia Driggers, RD