Vegan diet for athletes – Advice from a top athlete

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At this age there are many top and famous athletes who have opted to follow a vegan diet. Most of them have reported great enhancementvegan diet for athletes in their sport.

As a top national athlete myself I can vouch to these sentiments. However, not all vegan food is good for athletes. So this is the reason I will be giving you nutritional tips and food advice for following a vegan diet for athletes so you can stay at the top of your sport.

Since a vegan diet is the strictest plant-based diet,it is vital for athletes to take great caution when it comes to following this diet.

Bear in mind that these tips and advice,that I will be talking about, are what have worked for top vegan athletes and also have worked for me too.

Is this even realistic for athletes?

vegan diet for athletes

Most people have debated a lot about this topic of “whether an athlete can be able to perform well while following a vegan diet?”. So is a vegan diet for athletes realistic or is it just a myth?

The simple answer is a big YES with a small but in between…

So what do I mean by this?

Well I mean following a vegan diet is very possible as an athlete however you need to really take caution when you do so.

To help you understand this let me explain.

Remember a vegan diet is a plant based diet which is stricter than a vegetarian diet. While a vegetarian diet is known to be a diet which excludes only animal food such as red meat, fish and chicken, the vegan diet goes deeper and excludes even dairy products like milk and cheese.

vegan diet for athletes

Now you can imagine how a diet which excludes so many foods can be very risky. To check out a detailed explanation of a vegan diet you can read vegan diet for beginners.

So as you can imagine if you are an athlete it can become even trickier to follow this diet especially if you want to stay at the top of your game.

This is the reason I will be guiding you thoroughly with what works and what does not.

If you are a vegan athlete there are certain nutrition and vitamins that you will have to focus more on compared to a normal vegan and I will be talking about them below.

Benefits of a vegan diet for athletes

Before I give you the nutrition and other tips for following a vegan diet as an athlete, let me first talk about what you stand to benefit if you follow this diet as an athlete. Ready?…let’s start.

Below are the benefits that you get from this diet as athlete and these can come to light at different stages for different people.

  • Lighter weight

Whether you are an athlete or not, you will surely feel lighter when you follow a vegan diet. I think this would be obvious since the foods you will be eating as a vegan are plant based meaning that they have less fat.

Even if they do have fats it will only be the healthy fats, which will leave you feeling lighter.

  • More energy levels and less fatiguevegan diet for athletes

This benefits happened almost immediately when I turned vegan in 2010. Since I am a professional ballroom dancer this was the best aspect for me since it was going to help me have more stamina on the dance floor and feel more energized.

Most people who turn vegan feel this aspect (of more energy levels) in a few weeks of adopting the vegan diet.

I also think this is the reason most famous athletes like Norvak Djokovic rave about this diet for improving their performance.

  • Improved body odor

vegan diet for athletes

Are you one of those people who sweats a lot?

Well do not fret. When you adopt a vegan diet your sweat will not only be less,compared to when you were eating an omnivore diet, but you will also have great smelling body odor.

This is the benefits of following this diet.

  • Protection from the formation of free radical-mediated damage to tissues

According to research athletes are at high risk of developing free radical-mediated damage tissues due to physical exertion. This risk of oxidation stress,which causes free radical-mediated damage, puts athlete at risk of developing disease.

This research adds that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to reducing this phenomenon from occurring.

  • Less sick days

We all know how being sick can destroy your game and this is a nightmare for any athlete I tell you.

Fortunately ever since I became a vegan I have had less sick days. In fact the last time I got since was a year ago…imagine that!

This is because, according to the American Journal of clinical nutrition, a vegan diet has been found to have foods which boost the immune system of the body

Since this article is about vegan diet for athletes I did not talk about other benefits of this diet as those may not be related as much to athletes. But if you would like to check other benefits you can read here.

What nutrition to focus on

Now let me talk about what you need to focus on as a vegan athlete to attain all the benefits I talked about above.

  • Protein

vegan diet for athletes

This is by far the number nutrition to focus on when you a vegan athlete if you are looking to stay at the top of you game.

The vegan diet is known to have less protein amounts and this is because normal protein is found in animal foods and dairy products.

So by focusing on a vegan diet are you starving yourself of protein?

Yes it is true however I will also say that there are plenty of foods that you can focus on that will give you enough protein. The only trick is that you should learn to be very conscious about eating enough of these foods.

And yes it is difficult at first since you may be coming from an omnivore diet,which is easy to get your recommended protein daily intake.(you can just have a one steak for the day and you are set right?..ha ha.. How I remember those days.

Related: Vegan foods high in protein

Anyways for a vegan diet you will need more than just relying on one food group or one fruit or veggie, you will need to go deeper.vegan diet for athletes

Below are the foods you can focus on to get high protein daily:

  • Nuts
  • Tofu
  • Spinach

Well these are just a few. If you would like to see more foods high in protein then you can read here.

  • Calcuim

Now calcium is what most vegan tend to take for granted and I want to advice you that please DO TAKE my advice on having calcium because I do not want you to experience what I experienced. I repeat please DO TAKE mt advice on calcium.

When I started a vegan diet I was not fully informed about getting enough calcium. I just thought that I need to leave dairy products and I forgot that I needed to replace this calcium-filled food group with other vegan foods.

So what happened was that my joints started to feel very painful for a long time and that was hard since I was required to train a lot for competitions.

vegan diet for athletes

Luckily enough in school I had done biology as my main subject so this helped me quickly realize that I needed to feed my bones and joints..it then dawn to me that I needed to feed my bones with calcium since I had stopped eating dairy products.

According to research calcium is the number deficiency among any athlete so you can imagine how scary the numbers are for vegan athletes.

At first, I started with supplementing with calcium supplements until I finally found the best vegan food high in calcium.

Had I carried on like that (with less calcium) I am scared what was going to happen so I would not want anything like that to happen to you as this can derail your sport performance.

  • Iron

Earlier on, in this post I talked about the fact that a vegan diet gives you high energy levels. Well this is due to the fresh fruits you eat.

However, on the other side, if you do not eat enough Iron the opposite can happen and it can be detrimental.

Iron is also what most vegans tend to lack. So if you are an athlete you would agree why you need to have high energy by getting iron.

Iron is needed for circulating oxygenated blood in your body.

What is more, iron is needed for maintaining muscle tone and muscle function according to research. So you can imagine why you need enough iron as a vegan athlete.

Related: Vegan foods high in iron

  • Healthy fats

When it comes to a vegan diet you will notice that since you are generally eating fruits and veggies you hardly consume fats.

Having said that, you can still eat fats especially if you are eating a junk vegan diet.

although fats are considered unhealthy there are certain fats you might want to focus on which are considered healthy and good for you.vegan diet for athletes

These fats are vital for building muscle. In fact verywellfit says if you do not consume fats not only will you impede muscle growth but you will cause your hormonal function to not work well and it may also cause harm to your metabolism.

There are many healthy fats that I eat almost daily since I workout a lot. Below are where I get these fats.

  1. Avocado
  2. Extra virgin olive oil
  3. Nuts
  4. Dark chocolate
  5. Chia seeds
  6. Coconut oils (or just plain coconut)
  • Omega 3 fatty acids

Here is another often neglected nutrition for vegan athletes, omega 3 fatty acids. Most people only think this nutrient is merely for helping with brain development but omega 3 is bigger than just that.

Omega 3 is needed for your mobility and muscles function. So as you get older your body tends to produce less cartilage, which is a cushion in between your joints, which will affect your movement especially if you are an athlete in his or her senior years.

So omega 3 is said to help with your body absorb calcium easily so that your cartilage can be well produced.

  • Zinc

Most athletes lose a lot of zinc during intense activities so that contributes to less energy and also the body tissue may be damaged.

So by consuming enough Zinc you are actually helping your body repair post-training tissue damage.vegan diet for athletes

Vegan food high in zinc are as follows.

  1. Legumes
  2. Lentils
  3. Nuts
  4. Seeds
  • Sodium

If you are an athlete who does events/practice sessions which last longer than 3 hours Sodium is a huge concern for you. So this is why you would need sodium.

Sodium helps prevent dehydration by retaining the water in the body cells which is what helps you when you perform well.

If I go to a dance competition in a hot and humid weather I usually buy one small packet of chips. This helps with getting my sodium for the day.

However there are other ways you can increase your sodium like eating the following vegan foods:

  1. Vegetables juices
  2. Canned veggies
  3. Salted nuts
  4. Processed vegan meat alternatives (veggie burger and sausage)
  • Magesium

Magnesium is vital for the proper functioning of your muscles, especially for relaxation and contracting duties.

ha ha… I also fell short on this one last year when I went to Italy for dance training and I could not dancer for like two weeks.

This case was hectic because I ended up taking other painkillers which landed me in hospital so that is why I have learnt to be cautious.

  • Potassium

Potassium is linked to muscle relaxation along with magnesium so I would say Potassium and magnesium are equally important to help relieve muscle cramps and spasms.

It is said most athletes lose potassium quickly during workouts so it is vital to supplement if you are a vegan.

Foods to focus on as a vegan athlete:

  1. Banana
  2. Oranges
  3. Apricots
  4. Raisins

Selenium

According to research Selenium can benefit athletes by repairing damaged cells and the normal supplementation is 200 mcg

Disadvantages of a vegan diet for athletes

vegan diet for athletes

We have spoken about the benefits now let us look at the negative sides you will face as a vegan athlete.

  • Discipline is needed

As I said before that you will need to focus on certain nutrients as a vegan athlete so this will cause you to be constantly thinking whether you are taking these needed nutrients daily, unlike an omnivore who only think of protein and potassium for training.

Most people do not have this discipline so the diet makes them fail and also causes complications for them.. I am sure you wouldn’t want that happening to you.

  • Specific athletic vegan food availability

Again as opposed to an omnivore, where all the foods are available in every shop, I will say for a vegan it may be hard to get all the foods that will help you reach your nutrients requirements.

  • Nutrients absorption

You will also find that some nutrients may not be enough which causes them to not fully absorb so that is why you would need to eat the recommended amounts.

  • Chronic deficiency risk

Unfortuantly you are at risk of nutrient deficiency whether you like it or not and if you do not have all your nutrients that I mentioned this can put your life at risk.

My top tip and advice

 

I have just talked about the negatives of the vegan diet for athletes but did you know that there are ways to mitigate these risks?

Yes there is… Let me give you them.

  • Combine nutrients

I talked about the fact that the foods you eat may cause less absorption. To mitigate this, combine different foods.

An example is that Iron absorption can be increased by consuming vitamin C foods which is what I talked about in article called vegan foods high in iron.

vegan diet for athletes

  • Mitigating vegan food availability for athletes.

Whether you are a vegan athlete or a normal vegan I always recommend you carrying bulk food so that you end up not having problems.

By doing this you will never have nutrient deficiency. For example, I usually carry vegan protein bars with me to help with my protein content.

Take home message

vegan diet for athletes

s more and more athletes start adopting a vegan diet the more there will be a need to know what are the requirements of foods and supplements to make this vegan lifestyle for athletes happen.

Most people have no idea if this is even possible, but if you have been a vegan athlete, like myself, and have gone through trial and error you will soon see that the vegan diet is not hard to follow as an athlete if you know the basics of the nutrients needed.

It is also vital to keep in mind that should you not know how to do this it may be risky to your life, but luckily for you I am here to help out since I am also learning myself every day to make my life better.

I hope this post was helpful in giving you information about a vegan diet for athletes, I hope you can follow these tips and advice so you can stay on top of your game in whatever sport you are in.

If you have any questions or have any comments to add you are more than welcome to leave them below, I will be more than happy to engage with you. CIA for now.

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Reader Comments

  1. Suzanne

    As a friend of a vegan I thank you for your informative website. I did not know that a vegan diet boosted your immune system or that spinach was a good source of protein. I appreciate your link to calcium also.

    • Thabo Khoza

      Hey Suzanne

      I am glad you were able to land on my site and get helpful information. Yes spinach is a great and easy source for protein…Can remember popeye the sailor man (the cartoon) how he eat a lot of spinach to get strong ha ha.

  2. McKate

    Thank you! I have been pondering this eating approach for some time, but was afraid on many levels. I really appreciate that you took the time to explain the downsides and cautionary tales on what one needs to do to be successful. Thank you!

  3. Isaac

    I love this article, I was planning to go on vegan soon, because of some health issue. This is really relieving to read, for me at least.

    My best friend is also vegan and she has been for quite some time now, I will share this article with her, I am sure she’ll like it. Thanks!

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