Let me start by saying that I am not a vegan. I have been a vegetarian for 6 years, and I eat vegan meals sometimes (without thinking about it). But, something recently got me thinking about and researching the topic of being a vegan.
I used to play kickball in NYC, and a friend from my kickball days recently reached out to me. She and her boyfriend started a wildly succesful YouTube channel called “So You’re Dating A Vegan”(with over 20,000 subscribers). They asked me to do a video with them, in which I cook a vegan dish and talk about the nutrition of being a vegan. I’m pumped to do it, and I will share the recipe and video with you when it’s up, but let’s just say that I spent over an hour yesterday researching vegan cooking. It was actually really difficult to pick a recipe because it turns out that I’m really dependent on eggs, yogurt, cheese and milk as protein sources. I started thinking about what it really takes to be a vegan, especially if you are a recreational athlete (runner, cyclist, gym nut, cross-fitter, etc.), such as myself. As a result, I created these tips for being a vegan athlete! (Make sure you read on to the last tip for vegan recipes)
- Have A Plan. Every athlete, whether they are vegan or not, should have an eating plan. The following tips will help you better choose foods that should go into your meal plan. For more help, download this free guide to pre and post workout foods to know when to eat what types of foods before a workout.
- Know Your Protein. This a no-brainer, right? The number one thing that people wonder about vegans is, where do they get protein? Here’s a list of vegan plant-based proteins:
- Beans (all kinds)
- Soy (like tofu and edamame)
- Lentils (brown, green and red)
- Whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, farro, amaranth, oats)
- Peas (yellow and green)
- Nuts and Nut Butters (all kinds)
- Seeds (chia, hemp, sunflower and pumpkin seeds)
- To learn about 5 Vegan Protein Sources That You May Not Know About, watch this video!
- Be Mindful of Calcium. I’m a stickler for calcium because people in my family have Osteoporosis. I’ve written articles on bone health for runners, but let me stress again how important calcium is for athletes. You are putting stress on your bones on a daily basis, so calcium is needed to keep the bones strong throughout the lifespan. Since vegans don’t eat dairy foods, they should incorporate these plant-based sources of calcium into all of their meals:
- Green vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, turnip greens and spinach
- Soy products, such as tofu or soy milk
- Orange juice and cereals are fortified with calcium.
- Don’t Forget Healthy Fats. Vegan athletes are using a ton of calories to participate in sports, but they often aren’t eating high calories foods, like meats, cheeses and milks. Calories and fat go hand-in-hand, and it’s important that vegans get enough calories and omegas from plant- based healthy fats, like avocados, nuts and oils. Healthy fats are essential for a healthy heart and cognition, both of which are important for active individuals.
- Remember B12. Unfortunately, B12 is the only nutrient that many vegans just can’t eat because it’s most prevalent in meat and eggs. I’ve suffered with B12 deficiency before (and had to get the injections), and it’s not fun. A B12 deficiency causes extreme exhaustion and tingling in your fingertips, both of which can be detrimental the an athlete. Some grains and cereals are fortified with B12, so make sure you look for that on packaging. Otherwise, get a yearly physical and ask your doctor to check your B12 levels. If you are deficient, a daily supplement will help keep you at normal levels.
- Avoid Processed Foods. There are so many “fake” meat products on the market, which are full of ingredients that I can’t pronounce. I know that these products are easy (and sometimes yummy), but I recommend that you avoid these foods. The benefit of being a vegan is eating healthy ingredients, like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains. Straying from that diet will likely cause vitamin, mineral and protein deficiencies.
- Learn To Cook. If you want to be a vegan athlete, you need to be thinking about all of these nutrients that I listed and figuring out ways to incorporate them into your daily diet. The best way to do that is to cook your own meals (most of the time). To help with that, I’ve compiled a list of RD-approved vegan recipes that are great for athletes.
Vegan Chocolate Peanut Butter Smoothie Bowl by Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN of Nutrition Starring You
Almond Flour Blueberry Pancakes by Christy Brisette, MSC, RD of 80 Twenty Nutrition
Crunchy Chickpeas Two Ways by yours truly
4 Ingredient Coconut Date Ball by Nazima Qureshi, RD of Nutrition By Nazima
Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies by Kelly Sloan of Kelly’s Knack For Cooking
No Bake Vegan Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies by Jamie Vespa, RD of Dishing Out Health
Nutty Dates by Tina Gowin Carlucci, RDN of Gowin Nutrition
Vegan Tacos from Nutrition à la Natalie
Sweet Cranberry & Apple Lentils from Amy Gorin, MS, RD of Amy Gorin Nutrition
Black Bean & Avocado Wrap by Kathy Siegel, MS, RDN, CDN and Tracee Yablon Brenner, RD, CHHCof Triad To Wellness
Smashed Chickpea & Avocado Sandwich by Dixya Bhattari, RDN of Food, Pleasure & Health
Spiced Herb Lentil Salad with Avocado by Roxana Begum, PhD, RD, LDN of The Delicious Crescent
**PS: Last week’s “How To Beat The Heat (With Food)” went over so well with my readers that I figured I would write another “how-to” this week. And, they both happen to fall on a Tuesday, so I feel the trend of “How-to Tuesday” coming on.