Ask the experts

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 9:14am

Q: How should athletes who are vegetarians - particularly vegans - meet their protein needs?

A: Vegan athletes can successfully meet their protein needs by eating a variety of plant foods. Most grains contain all nine essential amino acids, just in lower amounts than an equivalent serving of animal foods.

Hence, vegans need to consume generous portions of plant protein (grains, beans, legumes, nuts, soy) to compensate for both the lower density of the protein and the fact that plant proteins are less bioavailable (due to their fibre content).

The wisest way for a vegetarian to optimise protein intake is to consume an adequate amount of food. If the vegan is undereating, an energy deficit easily leads to muscle loss.

Vegans who want to lose fat (not muscle) will want to focus their limited food intake on protein-rich plant foods. More tofu, anyone?

Nancy Clark is a sports nutritionist and a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in Chicago. Reprinted with permission from the American College of Sports Medicine Fit Society® Page