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Eat to Compete

You can eat a vegan diet and still demand maximum performance from your body by following these suggestions.

By Rachel Seligman

1. Fill 'er Up People on a vegan diet may be just about the only Americans encouraged to eat more, so take advantage. On a healthful vegan diet, the staples—fruits, vegetables, beans—are low in calories, but they're filling. Add a handful of nuts to a salad or drizzle olive oil over your veggies to increase your caloric intake.

2. Go Small and Steady For constant energy, eat small meals throughout the day. Kathy McCrary eats every three to four hours. A typical day might include an early-morning banana or nothing before yoga practice and a sandwich afterward; granola with raisins and soy milk at noon; African garbanzo bean soup in the midafternoon; and a raw vegetable salad with baked tofu, sunflower seeds, and flax meal at dinnertime.

3. Don't Sweat the Protein Protein is essential for building and repairing the body. But most Americans get enough, and many get too much. If you're eating a wide variety of foods, your body is getting plenty of protein. Tofu, beans, lentils, and nuts are all high in protein; meat substitutes like soy sausage or veggie burgers can make for a welcome change of pace, but check the sodium content (which is often quite high) before making any of them part of your daily diet.

4. Mind Your Vitamins If you eat a wide variety of foods, you should be getting all the nutrients you need, but some don't come as easily on a vegan diet, says Cynthia Sass, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Look out for B12, available in supplements or fortified soy milk and cereals, and for omega-3 fatty acids, also found in fortified foods or flax meal. Eat lots of leafy greens, for calcium; beans, nuts, and fortified cereals, for zinc; and beans, lentils, spinach, and raisins, for iron.

5. Time it Right Athletes do best with a medium-size meal about two hours before an event, or a small one 45 minutes before, Sass says. Make sure your pre-event choices are high in carbohydrates. Quick choices might include a banana and whole-wheat toast 45 minutes before, or a fruit-and-nut smoothie two hours before competing. If you're going to be competing for more than an hour, eat something during the race that will be easily digested, such as a banana or a sports beverage.

After the event, replace lost fuel, preferably within 30 minutes, by eating food rich in protein, carbs, fat, vitamins, and minerals. An energy bar and fruit will work, or something substantial like tofu, rice, and veggies. Most importantly, drink water—you've likely lost fluids while competing.

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