Misconceptions about a vegetarian diet for triathletes
There have always been doubters about whether or not a vegetarian diet would be wise for a triathlete.
For instance how would a triathlete take on the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-miles of an Ironman if a vegetarian diet for triathletes was adopted?
There always seems to be this underlying concern that a vegetarian diet would cause a severe lack of protein which would result in a loss of overall strength and inability to compete at optimum levels.
Actually, this seems to be an unfounded fear.
It has been proved many times over that the key to success for endurance athletes is centered around a diet of complex carbohydrates that make up the bulk of daily caloric intake.
It’s been a bit of a fad lately to knock whole wheat and carbohydrates in general.
However in most cases the authors have never experienced the positive effect of intense training over a long period of time using complex carbohydrates like whole wheat as the cornerstone of their diet.
It seems like pure lunacy to consume mainly proteins and fats and cut back on complex carbohydrates and then expect to have any fuel in the tank when it comes to athletic performance.
I spent four years on a high carbohydrate diet that I will describe below and in that time experienced personal bests in the 10k, marathon, and Ironman.
After a long, hard bike I would eat three whole wheat bagels and have a huge plate of pasta for dinner.
After just six months on a high carbohydrate my endurance increased dramatically.
Tennis star Martina Navratilova was on this diet for years and was beating players half her age on the center court of major tournaments like the French Open.
Consuming sufficient proteins on a vegetarian diet for triathletes
In his book EAT To Win published in the early 1980’s Doctor Robert Hass suggested a diet balance of approximately 60% complex carbohydrates, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
I took it a step further and ate 70% carbohydrates, 15% fat, and 15% protein.
His theory was that quality complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread, brown rice, and pasta created a high octane fuel that was burned in the fire of clean burning, high quality fats.
A quality fat would be Extra Virgin Olive Oil for example and it was a mainstay of my training diet. I would add coconut oil into this diet as well as it has grown in stature as a quality fat and super-food in the past decade.
Suggestions for sources of protein included egg whites, skim milk, cottage cheese, legumes, and occasional lean beef.
This diet framework fits perfectly for a vegetarian diet for triathletes. It’s no great hardship to give up the lean beef and adopt a total vegetarian diet using the diet plan suggested by Dr. Hass.
How proper use of protein is essential to a vegetarian diet for triathletes
If a triathlete is training for an Ironman and goes out on a four hour bike ride and comes home and eats two baked potatoes and nothing else he could very well get light-headed and feel like passing out.
Potatoes are one of the purest forms of carbohydrate. It’s so pure in fact that it’s simulated into the bloodstream incredibly fast and converts to glycogen so quickly that it can cause an energy crash.
Potatoes are another one of the carbohydrate choices highly recommended in the Haas diet, but in order to slow the assimilation into the bloodstream all one has to do is include some protein when eating such a pure carbohydrate.
A half cup of cottage cheese would be enough to slow the absorption of pure carbohydrate into the bloodstream.
So taking this example into account, there is no doubt of the importance of the delicate balance of proteins, fats, and quality complex carbohydrates necessary if one decides to adopt a vegetarian diet for triathletes.