Throughout my years of blogging, I’ve noticed that one topic performs really well with my readers–vegan eating for athletes. It seems that there is a large movement towards endurance athletes eating plant-based diets, and with that, there’s a need for education. My motto is that nutrition is based on the individual, so there’s no one way to eat that applies to everyone. However, for those who want to adopt a vegan diet, these eight tips will help you stay healthy and strong!How to be a #vegan #athlete + 12 vegan recipes! Click To Tweet
1.Have A Plan. Every athlete, whether vegan or not, should have an eating plan. The following tips will help you choose the best foods for your meal plan.
2. Know Your Protein. This a no-brainer, right? The number one thing that people wonder about veganism is how to get enough protein. It’s totally doable, but you need to be mindful of vegan proteins and incorporate them at every meal. Here are your best options:
- Beans (all kinds)
- Soy (like tofu, tempeh 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)
3. 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, you must incorporate these plant-based sources of calcium into your 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.
4. 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 algae, chia and flax seeds, avocados, nuts and oils. Healthy fats are essential for a healthy heart and cognition, both of which are important for active individuals.
5. 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 to an athlete. There are some sources of vegan B12, such as algae and nutritional yeast, and 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.
6. 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’m just not a fan of these foods. The benefit of being a vegan is eating healthy ingredients, like fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains. Straying from that diet can cause vitamin, mineral and protein deficiencies.
7. Check the labels on sports nutrition products. Some gummies contain gelatin, and many protein powders are whey based. Many other products are sweetened with honey. Here are a few of my favorite vegan sports produts (affiliate links):
Clif Bloks— These are my go-to long run fuel. Not only do they taste like watermelon flavored gummy bears, but they are easy to carry, provide a caffeine boost and aren’t too rough on my stomach.
Gu Rocktane Gels— For those who prefer to not chew during intense activity, these Gu Rocktane Gels are for you! They come in a variety of yummy flavors, contain no gelatin and contain amino acids for muscle recovery.
Untapped Maple Syrup— If you want something a bit more natural, than this pure maple syrup packet is the ticket. It’s just maple syrup in an easy squeeze packet. Just make sure you have a bit of salt with it, since it’s missing some key electrolytes.
BONUS: These UnTapped Maple Syrup Waffles make a great vegan alternative to the traditional Honey Stinger waffles.
8. 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
No Bake Vegan Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies by Jamie Vespa, RD of Dishing Out Health
Smashed Chickpea & Avocado Sandwich by Dixya Bhattari, RDN of Food, Pleasure & Health