The Flexitarian Cyclist – Should You Do It?

By Jiri Kaloc

The flexitarian diet gives a lot of freedom, but does it make sense for an active cyclist? How hard is it to follow? What are the key considerations when you’re an athlete? Let’s take a look and help you decide if you should give this approach a try.

Reasons to be careful about flexitarian

The biggest reason to be careful about going flexitarian is reducing the amount of animal foods in the diet. While this can bring a lot of benefits when replaced with quality minimally-processed plant foods, there’s a definite increased risk for some nutritional deficiencies. Here are the main ones to consider.

Vitamin B12Studies show that vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of deficiency in vitamin B12 than people who include meat in their diet. Animal foods are the only source of this vitamin, so it all depends on how much meat, fish, dairy, and eggs are left in your flexitarian diet and how susceptible you are to B12 deficiency.

Zinc and iron – Both of these minerals are best absorbed from animal foods. That might be why studies show that iron deficiency anaemia is more prevalent among vegetarians. Studies also show vegetarians tend to have lower zinc intakes and slightly lower blood levels of zinc than omnivores. Good plant-based iron sources include cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds while zinc sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Plus, flexitarians can include the best sources such as shellfish and organ meats.

Omega-3 fatty acidsStudies show that vegetarians and vegans have up to 50% lower blood and tissue concentrations of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), than people who eat meat. The best source of these are fish and sea food which should be a part of a well-formulated flexitarian diet. Plant sources such as flaxseed, chia seeds, or walnuts can only provide a short-chain omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which needs to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body.

Ramen with protein
If most diets seem too strict then going flexitarian might be the perfect solution for you. © Profimedia

Considerations for flexitarian cyclists

Athletes have increased requirements for most vitamins and minerals compared to sedentary people. This means that the above-mentioned nutrients can be even more problematic for them. Endurance athletes, which describes most cyclists, also have about 50% higher protein requirements. To meet these extra demands, cyclists should consider including meat on training days to boost intake of fat-soluble vitamins and protein. Alternatively, this could be covered with a protein powder and a multivitamin supplement.

Reasons to go flexitarian

It’s nearly vegetarian – This diet allows you to get a lot of the benefits from a plant-based diet such as vegetarian or vegan without having to give up meat completely. That’s why it’s great for people who are curious about these diets but don’t want to commit fully. Some former vegans or vegetarians who experienced nutritional deficiencies also tend to go flexitarian.

It’s adaptable – Nobody trains the same every day. If you feel like you need meat to feel heavy training days but want to stay plant-based on other days, this is the perfect solution. And even pros rarely subscribe to a specific diet. Most of them need a diet that adapts to their needs.

It’s easy to followGoing flexitarian is quite straightforward. You can pretty much enjoy all the foods you like. Including tasty plant-based variations on some days is not too challenging. This makes transition to flexitarian easy which increases the chances that the diet becomes a long-term lifestyle.

It might help you save money – You don’t need any exotic or pricey ingredients for this diet. Plus, if you’re transitioning from a meat-heavy diet, you will see that plant-based alternatives such as legumes can actually save you money compared to meat.

Overall, if you’re able to get enough of key nutrients and protein, there is not much downside to giving the flexitarian diet a try. If you like flexibility and want to get a bit closer to vegetarian while keeping your diet healthy, you can start with flexitarian today.