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                Sports nutrition is often designed without the vegan lifestyle in mind. To be honest, many sports nutrition diets are designed without long term health in mind. That is the difference between a diet and a lifestyle, the latter is sustainable while the former is a temporary approach. That doesn’t mean temporary dieting is bad, done with periodization of training, it is very effective for competitive athletes. The lifestyle approach to food is what is done the rest of the time. For a vegan athlete, there are some concerns when attempting to maintain a high level of activity with a healthy diet. Some are more common misconceptions, while others are valid concerns. The following are 5 of the most common issues a vegan athlete may come across.

Vegetarian Trap- The dietary issue with the vegan lifestyle I come across as a health care practitioner is, what I refer to as, the vegetarian trap. It is similar to that of the omnivore’s great failing… too much processed high sodium foods. Many vegans ‘go vegan’ and think that means frozen readymade meals and pasta at every meal. This equates to excess salt, hydrogenated fats and way too many carbohydrates. It will undoubtedly offset the vegan athlete’s dietary goals. Vegans turn vegan for different reasons. Sometimes the reason is about animal rights or a personal belief and other times it is to become “healthier”. The best way to be a vegan athlete is to truly embrace a plant based diet. This should mean fresh, organic, unprocessed foods.

 B12 Deficiency– This is definitely a valid concern. The highest sources of B12 come in the form of meat products. If a person chooses to not eat meat they can usually be health conscious enough to get adequate B12 via fortified foods and not become ill from a deficiency. Just because you are achieving the bare minimum, does not mean you are achieving enough. As an athlete you are striving to be at your best, not to scrape by. This means the Vegan athlete will most likely need to supplement B12 to become as efficient as possible. There are many products on the market that claim to provide B12. If oral B12 is being taken it is often best absorbed in a sublingual form rather than a pressed pill. More often than not we would recommend an intramuscular injection of B12 to maintain a high performance level for an athlete. B12 shots are inexpensive, sustainable and easily put the vegan athlete on par with if not above the omnivore athlete in regards to B12. Intramuscular B12 injections are the number one method of absorbing this vitamin. To learn about B12 shots, contact your friendly neighborhood Naturopath (like the one at Pins and Needles!)

Vegan Athlete

The best way to be a vegan athlete is to truly embrace a plant based diet.

Protein Insufficiency– I personally believe this is more of a mythical threat as long as you don’t fall into the Vegetarian trap. There is more than enough protein available in a plant based diet to achieve optimal amounts. The trick is to not rely on one source of protein. As discussed in our last blog (check it out here), protein powders are wonderful for athletes. The problem with protein powders and the Vegan Athlete is finding a source that provides a balances complete protein. Our tip is to mix up the sources of protein in protein powders. This is the same tip we have for gaining protein through foods, be sure to mix it up! Examples of high protein vegan foods are tofu, seitan, tempeh, dark leafy greens (kale, spinach), almonds, and beans.

Calcium– We are more or less bred in North America to think dairy is how we get calcium. In fact I would give major kudos to the dairy marketing industry for having the capability to practically brainwash an entire population into thinking this is a legitimate fact. It isn’t true. The next big lie marketing campaigns came up with was, you need to get extra calcium via “calcium chews”. Again amazing campaign with a heavy impact to create desire for a product, that is usually junk. In fact, many Calcium products use Calcium Carbonate which has potential for worsening bone health by creating osteophytes. Attaining calcium without calcium chews or a cows milk product is actually pretty easy!  While we often recommend a calcium/magnesium supplement to patients, we always strongly encourage the majority of calcium to be obtained via food sources. Oddly enough, this is almost always accomplished from non dairy sources! Did you know that 1cup of cows milk contains 305 mg of calcium and 1 cup of collard greens has 357mg? Nice!

Iron– Along with B12 deficiency, Iron deficiency can be common in vegans. However, with a strong focus on incorporating dark leafy greens, it is less of a concern. There was a reason Popeye ate his spinach! If the vegan athlete embraces a plant based diet and avoids the vegetarian trap, iron deficiency would be less likely than that of a lacto/ova vegetarian. Some of our favorite vegan Iron sources include spinach, quinoa and lentils.

A vegan lifestyle will require frequent shopping to assure fresh foods. Below is an example of a vegan menu for a day that contains balanced nutrients to fit an athlete training for one to two hours a day:

Breakfast: (Steel cut)Oatmeal with ground flax

Snack: Trail mix/ nuts and fruit

Lunch: Salad including a Spinach and Kale base, garbanzo beans, shredded carrots, broccoli, oil and vinegar

Snack: Homemade granola bar

Dinner: Tempeh “steak” on a bed of lentils with edamame and chard

Pre Training- Apple with almond butter 30 minutes before workout

Post Training- Protein shake (pea and rice protein mix) and a banana within 30 minutes after exercise

                Of course this only an example and it can easily be modified to suit individual tastes. The vegan athlete definitely needs to do a great deal of research or seek out a health care practitioner that can help to provide a diet that helps achieve an optimal diet. The above only briefly covers some of the considerations for a sports diet.

If you have any questions please feel free to post in the comment section or contact us. Thank you for reading!

 

February is American Heart Health month and it is a great month to focus on becoming aware of heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and has been for years. The best way to prevent heart disease is applying early detection methods and treating them accordingly. I would challenge everyone to make it a priority in the month of February to consider the following methods for detecting heart disease and taking the appropriate steps to identifying your heart health.

  1. Blood Pressure– Considered a basic vital test, blood pressure identifies the amount of pressure pushing against the walls of vessels as it circulates through the body. Testing blood pressure is a quick and simple procedure that everyone should take advantage of knowing. A healthy blood pressure is important as it relates to how hard your heart is working. While it is expected to work harder during exercise (which is healthy) it should remain at a rate of 120/80 or less at rest. For American Heart Month our office is offering complimentary blood pressure screenings!
  2. Pulse– Another basic vital sign, measuring a pulse is a simple procedure that literally takes a minute! By feeling the inside of the wrist on the thumb side you can palpate the radial pulse. By simply counting how many beats you feel for 1 minute (or multiply it by 2 after 30 seconds) you can assess your pulse. A resting pulse for a normal adult can range between 60-100, and is another indicator of how hard you heart is working. If the pulse is consistently high or low it is something to discuss with a doctor. There are many other aspects to a pulse to consider but as a baseline the number of beats per minute is “vital” to know. If you are interested in the many other aspects of the pulse, ask your local acupuncturist!
  3. Total Cholesterol– Cholesterol is an important part of building healthy cells and is found within the blood stream. A normal amount is great! However an increased amount of cholesterol can increase the risk of heart disease. High cholesterol, unlike the previous two markers, does not have any associated symptoms when it is present. The only way to accurately assess cholesterol is through a blood lipid panel. This is a simple test and depending on the patient’s age and previous test results is recommended at different intervals. One standard acceptance is that a total cholesterol over 200 should be addressed. Do you know your current cholesterol level?
  4. Other blood tests– Cholesterol is a common test taken that most people are at least familiar with. In fac,t it is so well known that there is constant conflicting opinions on what aspects are important and how best to treat it among many health care practitioners. There are also other blood tests that work to assess cardiac health that should be considered during American Heart Month. Another example of a  blood test that can be used to consider cardiac risks are CRP and Homocysteine.  A C-Reactive Protein test isn’t a specific heart test. It is actually a test to measure inflammatory markers in the body. Elevated levels simply tell us there is inflammation…somewhere. That being said when taken into consideration with other factors (age, health history, lifestyle habits, family history). CRP isn’t done as commonly as Cholesterol screening however it can help with a better overall picture. There are also other blood tests such as homocysteine and fibrinogen that can be utilized to assess cardiovascular risks. It is important to discuss what tests are best suited to discover your heart health!
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Blood Pressure is one of the easiest and vital signs to help assess the health of the heart.

This is the first blog in an upcoming series for American Heart Month. Please be sure to subscribe or check back for more useful heart related information throughout the month. Comments and suggestions are always welcome!

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