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!
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.
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