Nutrition advice from Lynn Clay



Q.  Does being a vegetarian compromise my ability to fuel for and recover from training and racing?

A well organised vegetarian diet should not compromise your ability to eat a nutritionally complete diet that can support your training and racing as well as one including meat.  Key vitamins and minerals, such as B12, Zinc and Iron pose a challenge for vegetarians. B12 is mostly found in animal products and both Zinc and Iron are absorbed more poorly in a vegetarian diet.  Here’s a little bit more information on meeting your needs for each of these nutrients:


Vitamin B12

This vitamin’s primary function is the formation of red blood cells and the maintenance of a healthy nervous system.  Symptoms of deficiency include excessive tiredness, breathlessness and poor resistance to infection.  B12 also plays a vital role in the metabolism of fatty acids required to maintain the fatty sheath that surrounds our nerve tissue.  Prolonged deficiency can therefore lead to nerve damage.  With a daily intake requirement of 1.2micrograms, the main dietary sources are meat, milk and eggs.

A boiled free range egg will typically provide 0.7micrograms, a 40g slice of cheddar cheese, 0.5micrograms and ½ a pint of milk, 1.2micrograms.  In the absence of these foods in your diet, fortified foods are available including Vegan vegetable stock, many veggie burger mixes, textured vegetable protein, soya milk, some vegetable margarines and breakfast cereals.



Iron is an essential component of haemoglobin, transporting oxygen in the blood to all parts of the body and playing a vital role in many metabolic reactions.  Iron deficiency can cause anaemia resulting from low levels of haemoglobin in the blood. 

Dietary iron exists in two different forms; Haem iron only exists in animal tissues, whilst in plant foods iron is present as non-haem iron.  Non-haem iron is less easily absorbed by the body, with the amount of iron absorbed from various foods ranging from around 1 to 10% from plant foods and 10 to 20% from animal foods.  Vitamin C greatly increases the absorption of iron so it is wise to combine iron rich foods with foods such as citrus fruits, green peppers and fresh leafy green vegetables.  Amino acids can also promote iron absorption so combining your iron rich food as part of a protein rich meal may help with uptake.  Good sources of iron for vegetarians include wholegrain cereals and flours, leafy green vegetables, pulses such as lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans and some dried fruits such as figs and apricots.  Including two to three portions of wholegrains, greens and beans of differing varieties in each days diet will pretty much ensure you meet your iron needs of between 8.7 and 14.8mg depending on your sex and age.



Zinc has a range of functions with deficiency resulting in impairment of taste, poor immune function, skin problems, fatigue and delayed wound healing.  Zinc is present in a wide variety of foods, many of them protein foods.  A typical vegetarian diet is lower in zinc than that of a meat eater, however, good sources for vegetarians include dairy products, beans and lentils, nuts, seeds and wholegrain cereals.  Pumpkin seeds provide one of the most concentrated sources of zinc for vegetarians.  With an RDA of 7mg for women, four small portions of a mix of these foods will satisfy the daily need.


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