Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Can vegetarians be triathletes?


But being vegetarian means paying careful attention to diet. I was reminded of this fact yet again when I tried to donate blood today. I was turned away because my iron level was too low. I've donated blood regularly for roughly 12 years, and iron has never been a problem until the past 6 months. Given my declining iron levels, the constant hunger I wrote about awhile back, and the fact that I'm starting to lose weight, it's apparent that I am still not meeting my body's nutritional demands.

I've been doing some reading about nutrition, exercise, and vegetarianism. I'm still in the experimental stages of figuring out what will work, but here are the things I'm currently trying:
  • snacking: Maybe okay in moderation? I'm replacing my midday Cheese-its and Sun Chips with healthy, guilt-free snacks like fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and hard boiled eggs. These snacks are rich in iron and protein, two of the weakest spots in a vegetarian diet.
  • multivitamins: It's easy to forget these on the rush out the door in the morning, but I'm hoping that by keeping them on my desk at work, I'll remember to have them with my lunch.
  • supplements: Real people actually use protein powders, ground flaxseed (high in omega-3 fatty acids), and the like. Simply eating healthy foods may not be enough for me right now.
  • smoothies: I've always heard that it's important to consume simple sugars during and immediately after exercise otherwise your body metabolizes muscle. I can't eat before or during a run, but it's easy enough to have a smoothie on hand for afterward.
I have another appointment to donate blood next month. If things haven't improved by then, I'll have to re-evaluate the question of whether I can balance training for a triathlon with being vegetarian.


  1. It is important to eat sugar and protein rich snack say about 30-45 minutes before your run and also hydrate yourself. These snacks must be easy to digest. Typically, oats, nuts, fruit (combined) or if you prefer smoothies - make fruit smoothies with protein powder added. If it's a longer run (> 5 miles), it's not a bad idea to keep a power bar in your pocket and take a bite from it halfway.

    I have found smoothies (with protein), Power Bars, and my homemade energy bars with oats, peanut butter, and honey/maple syrup to work the best.

  2. It's also easy to forget that wheat products, wheat germ are rich in iron. When you exercise this much, carbs are really not a concern. So any food combination involving wheat and green leafy vegetables are usually good iron sources. I recommend vegetable breads. Another source for iron is lentils, which is also a source for protein.

  3. Have you heard of Rich Roll?
    He is a endurance athlete (UltraMan) and a vegan. Check out his website.
    I follow him on Twitter @RichRoll as well.