Eight Nutrition Tips For Vegan Athletes

Eight nutrition tips for vegan athletes to craft the perfect vegan athlete meal plan. Find out how to get enough protein, calcium and B12 to perform at your best.

Although I’m not vegan, I receive many questions from readers who are vegan or want to try a vegan lifestyle. More and more, endurance athletes are adopting a vegan diet for a variety of reasons–health, environment, performance. However, whenever you limit your diet to certain food groups, there has to be some level of education to do it healthily. For those athletes who are vegan or who want to adopt a vegan diet, these eight tips will help you build a vegan athlete meal plan and stay healthy and strong!

Eight nutrition tips for vegan athletes to craft the perfect vegan athlete meal plan. Find out how to get enough protein, calcium and B12 to perform at your best. #veganathlete #veganrunner #vegan #vegantips #vegannutrition

1.Have A Plan. Every athlete, vegan or not, should have an eating plan. You need to think about pre-workout fueling, recovery nutrition and hydration on a daily basis. [For more on those topic, check out The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.] But for vegan athletes, certain nutrients need to be top of mind to make sure you get enough of them to stay healthy. The following tips will help you choose the best foods for your vegan athlete 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 mea– even breakfast. Aim to spread your protein intake throughout the day and get equal portions at breakfast, lunch, dinner and just a little bit less at snacktime. Here are your best vegan protein 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 about bone health for runners, but let me stress again how important calcium is for athletes. You put stress on your bones on a daily basis, so calcium is necessary to keep the bones strong throughout the lifespan.  Calcium is most abundant in dairy, but vegans can eat these plant-based sources of calcium:

  • Green vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, turnip greens and spinach
  • Soy products, such as tofu or soy milk
  • 100% Orange juice and cereals that are fortified with calcium

4. Don’t Forget Healthy Fats. Chances are that you burn plenty of calories while participating in your sport, but you don’t eat the majority of high calorie foods, like meats, cheeses and milks. If you don’t replace the calories that you use during exercise, you may start to lose weight, which can actually hinder your performance. Not to mention that fat keeps you full after a workout so that you don’t binge on empty calories, like junk food. Vegans need to eat enough calories and omegas from plant- based healthy fats, like algae, chia and flax seeds, avocados, nuts and oils. Healthy fats also contribute to heart health and cognition, both of which are important for active individuals.

5. Remember B12. Vitamin B12 is the only nutrient that many vegans fall short on because it’s most prevalent in meat and eggs. 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–see a list of 5 sources here– but if you think you’re diet may be lacking, 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. Keep “fake meats” to a minimum.  There are so many “fake” meat products on the market, which are full of  incomprehensible ingredients.  These products are easy (and sometimes yummy), but they are often packed with sodium and added sugars. 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. Feel free to have the “fake meats” every once in a while, but stick with the whole foods the majority of the time.

7. Check the labels on sports nutrition products. Some gummies contain gelatin, and many protein powders are whey based–both of which come from animal products. Many other sports nutrition products are sweetened with honey. Here are a few of my favorite vegan sports products (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.

Crunchy Chickpeas Two Ways

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

Recipe for Peanut Butter Pretzel Date Balls. Pre-workout energy balls #preworkout #vegansnack #snack #fuel

Peanut Butter Pretzel Date Balls

Tahini Maple Oat Balls


No Bake Vegan Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Brownies by Jamie Vespa, RD of Dishing Out Health


Recipe for Moroccan Lentil Soup

Moroccan Lentil Soup

Recipe for vegan bean tacos

Vegan Tacos

Vegan Tempeh Burger

Recipe for Cauliflower Rice with Walnut Romesco Sauce- #vegan, #glutenfree #dinner #cauliflowerrice #ad

Cauliflower Rice with Romesco Sauce


Smashed Chickpea & Avocado Sandwich by Dixya Bhattari, RDN of Food, Pleasure & Health

recipe for dill roasted potato wedges

Dill Potato Wedges





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  • Reply
    Jamie @ Dishing Out Health
    June 23, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Great post, Natalie! I tried veganism for 1 week and honestly really struggled. I just always felt HUNGRY lol likely due to the fact that I do a lot of weight training and I’m used to getting in ~130 grams of protein/day and I didn’t come anywhere near that amount eating vegan. I definitely felt great outside of the increased hunger, though. But you’re spot-on with needing to know how to cook because it challenges you to get extra creative with your meals. Thank you for including my bars in your recipe round-up; if only I had that list to reference during my experimental week! Lol xoxo

  • Reply
    Matt Ruscigno
    June 28, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    Hi Natalie- interesting post. Like any dietary change, switching to veganism does take some extra effort and time. But shouldn’t everyone be mindful of what they are eating and take some time to learn more about nutrition? There are lots of active vegans (check out Plantbuilt, No Meat Athlete, Strong Hearts Run Team, etc) and vegan RD’s are who are experts on this topic. Many of these ‘issues,’ like mentioned by Jamie, can be fixed by simply eating more. The volume of plant foods is higher, so it feels like more, but is often fewer calories. I’m a 20-yr vegan and an RD, so if you have any more questions please lmk.

  • Reply
    Steele Honda
    June 19, 2019 at 9:49 pm

    Thanks for the tips on sports nutrition for vegan athletes. I like that you said that you should have a plan to help make sure that you are getting everything you need. I think it might be smart to look into vegan meal plans that are already set up to make it easier and so that you will know that it will work.

    • Reply
      Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
      June 21, 2019 at 8:36 am

      Thanks so much! And I completely agree. I’m developing one as we speak 🙂

  • Reply
    Patrick Cummins
    July 21, 2019 at 7:04 am

    These are so important thing. Every athlete should follow this. So informative & brilliant also. Keep up the great job. Thanks.

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