Vegan Diets for Athletes

When considering going vegan, one of the main concerns for most is “where will I get my protein?” If you look at nutrition as a whole, you will realize that protein is simply one nutrient that contributes to a diet as a whole. At the end of the day, you have to find what works best for you as an individual. Everyone is different – what works for me may not work for you. It is a working process, and sometimes a trial and error, to find what makes your body and mind thrive.

It is no secret that active people (especially athletes) need more protein than the average person. Protein is a vital part of an athlete’s diet, as it is used in the rebuilding process of muscle tissue, which is broken down during training. If one’s dietary protein needs are not met, it could pose loss of muscle tissue, leading to decline in strength. A 4:1 (75% to 25%) carbohydrate to protein ratio has been shown to yield the best muscle glycogen recovery results. Once animal protein is eliminated from the diet, so is much of the dietary fat. Good quality fats is found to be very beneficial for an endurance athlete who has adopted a plant-based diet. Healthy fats help to slow the rate at which carbohydrates enter the bloodstream, helping to provide sustained, consistent energy. Aim to consume protein and quality fats at every meal.

Examples of good quality fats include: nuts and seeds, avocados, oils such as flax, hemp, coconut, and olive. Good quality plant based protein sources include: hemp seed nut and flour, tofu, beans (kidney, black, garbanzo, soy, adzuki), legumes, soy/vegan protein powder, unsweetened soy/almond beverage.

It is also common that high endurance athletes experience low energy levels. With the elimination of red meat, one is eliminating a high source of iron. Vegan or not, athletes have traditionally had trouble maintaining satisfactory iron levels for optimal performance. The more active the person, the more dietary iron is needed. These specific foods provide a great plant-based source of iron:

  • Fortified cereal
  • Split pea soup
  • Cookies or other baked foods made with molasses (also high in calcium)
  • Dried peas and beans (kidney, lima, lentils)
  • Bran
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Spinach
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Prune juice, raisins
  • Enriched rice
  • Peanut butter
  • Apricots
  • Green beans
  • Walnuts, cashews, pecans, almonds

An example vegan diet for an athlete may look something like this:

Morning:

A big bowl of berries, a banana and a couple spoonfuls of raw almond butter or a handful of soaked, raw almonds.  

Lunch:

A colorful salad. Sither a kale-avocado salad or a mix green salad with a variety of fresh seasonal vegetables and some seeds.

Snacks:

Fresh fruit, vegan protein powder with coconut water, a larabar, a whole-food smoothie with fruit, greens, and coconut milk or water.

Dinner:

A salad, sweet potatoes, and soup. Other options may be rice and lentils with vegetables, or a tempeh veggie stir fry.

If you are considering going vegan, a great place to start may be with a Fresh ‘N Lean delivery service, as you will have balanced, properly portioned meals delivered right to your doorstep!