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With more and more athletes recognizing the importance of nutrition, some are turning to vegan diets. But is this the best way to optimize performance?
Clearly, there are several nutritional drawbacks for vegan athletes. However, there are many ways that you can make your diet more effective and improve performance, health and recovery, without eating animal products.

Supplements

Too many people think that supplements are a quick fix for weight loss, muscle gain and performance improvements, which definitely isn’t the case. However, as even the best diets can be deficient in certain key components, supplements do play a vital role for athletes.

As mentioned in the above section, vegan diets almost always lack creatine and vitamin B12, so supplementing with both of these is a good idea.

The other issue of healthy fats, specifically omega 3 can be addressed with a flax seed supplement. You’ll have to take more of this than if you were eating oily fish or consuming a fish oil supplement, but it’s still relatively easy to ensure an adequate omega 3 intake with flax seed. Plus you get the added benefit of the fiber it contains.

Vegan diets that contain a lot of plant foods are very high in most other vitamins, minerals and fiber, so you shouldn’t need extra multivitamins, greens supplements or fiber powder, but if you do want to stock up on these just in case, it shouldn’t do any harm.

Macronutrients

Vegan foods like beans, pulses, nuts and seeds to contain protein, but they also contain high amounts of carbs and/or fat. While you do need a substantial amount of carbohydrate and fat to improve performance, too much and an overconsumption of calories will lead to fat gain. Eating lots of beans, pulses and legumes may also make you feel bloated. To avoid this, vary your food sources as much as possible. Instead of relying on just two or three sources of protein, aim to get a wide variety.

Calories

Calories are key. You need enough calories to fuel your training and competitions, but too many will make you fat. Track your calories using an Online calculator, a tracking app or write them down every day to make sure you’re eating roughly the right amount.

Special Foods

Protein powders, while classed as a supplement, should be seen as food. You won’t be able to have regular whey, casein or egg protein powders, but you can go for hemp, rice or soy protein instead. The huge benefit protein powders have over vegan foods is that they’re far lower in carbs and fat.

To ensure a good fat intake, along with eating nuts and seeds and supplementing with flax seed, add coconut oil or olive oil to your foods. Coconut is a great source of saturated fat while olive oil provides heart-healthy monounsaturates.

Workout Nutrition

Whatever sport you play, workout nutrition is critical. Around one third of your daily calories should come in your “workout window” – from two hours pre workout to two hours afterwards. Before training, have a meal containing protein, carbohydrate and fat from whole-food sources. During training, you can consume sports drinks or protein powders, although this isn’t essential, then post-workout, have another protein, carb and fat meal.

While following a vegan diet may have some health benefits, as far as improving athletic performance goes, it’s probably not optimal. That’s not to say it can’t be done – with a few tweaks, you can perform very successfully as a vegan athlete, you just may find it tougher than you would with a less restrictive diet.