Savvy Sports Nutrition/ Sports Nutrition

Savvy Sports Nutrition: How To Be A Vegan Athlete

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.

How to be a #vegan #athlete + 12 vegan recipes! Click To Tweet

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)

Tip for being a vegan athlete + 12 vegan recipes for athletes

  1. 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.
  2. 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)
  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, 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.
  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 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 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.
  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 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.
  7. 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

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


salt and pepper chickpeas

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 with Califeornia Walnuts front

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.





  • 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.

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