Some people say that being a vegan athlete is a challenge, and there are quite a few who claim it to be impossible. However, people like Tony Gonzalez, Venus Williams, Carl Lewis, and dozens of others prove that you can achieve great results in sport on a plant-based diet only. As long as your vegan menu is well-planned, your performance can be top-notch.
The most important thing one needs to understand is that there isn’t such thing as a perfect diet. There are, however, good and bad foods, and it’s choosing the right kind that makes all the difference.
For an athlete, a daily meal plan must provide specific amounts of nutrients. The intake of carbs and proteins is especially important as strenuous physical activity drains your energy fast. Not planning your diet properly can lead to severe health problems and contribute to the risk of injury. It doesn’t matter whether you eat meat or not, because the ‘healthiness’ of your diet is determined by its nutritious value.
The #1 argument of those who are against a vegan diet for athletes is that this meal plan doesn’t provide a sufficient amount of proteins, as omnivores get the majority of these essential elements from meat.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as a vegan menu includes a great number of protein-rich foods. In fact, in many cases the protein from these sources is often easier for the body to absorb, so it actually does you more good.
Legumes are the main food group vegans get these nutrients from. They definitely beat meat in that they provide you not only with these essential cell-building materials, but also with a variety of important vitamins and minerals.
Are you suffering from food sensitivities?
There is no need to worry as you can get protein on a vegan diet even if you are allergic to legumes. In this case, you’ll just have to load up on grains, seeds, and some other highly nutritious foods. This diet will take a bit more planning, but it will ensure your body gets all the nutrients it needs to keep pushing sports records.
How to Plan Your Vegan Menu to Prevent Common Athlete Problems
In order to succeed as a vegan athlete, you need to know where potential problems lie. This way, you’ll be able to design a meal plan that will allow you to avoid them completely and stay healthy at all times.
This is what you should look out for:
This is an issue the majority of active people face as they have to keep their energy levels up all the time. It’s more common for beginners on a plant-based diet as at this point, people may not get an adequate intake of protein due to poor meal planning.
Constant cravings for food will abate as soon as you find the right balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates in your meals. This is essential because protein and fat affect the speed with which carbohydrates are processed. With the right balance, the carbs will provide you with a steady energy flow. Therefore, your performance will be consistent and your body won’t experience the shock of a ‘sugar crash’ caused by spikes in blood sugar that appear when carbs are processed too fast.
To prevent these problems, your vegan menu should include ample amounts of tofu, hemp, legumes, avocados, nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.
Muscle Cramps and Stiffness
These issues occur in athletes when their bodies are low on sodium and/or calcium. Sodium, in particular, is lost extremely fast because you literally sweat it out. Obtaining it is more difficult on a plant-based diet because the majority of these foods are extremely low on it (the exception is seaweeds).
One of the available solutions for vegans is to add a bit of sea salt to the water they drink during training to replenish the sodium that you lose.
Calcium deficiency in vegans comes from poor diet planning. It’s important to understand that athletes require a greater amount of this nutrient as compared to sedentary people. However, too much calcium can be bad for the body. It’s best to consult a professional nutritionist and your doctor to determine your daily requirement of calcium and develop an efficient meal plan based on this data. Great sources of calcium in a vegan menu are legumes, sesame and sunflower seeds, dark leafy greens, fortified juices and plant milks.
Low Energy Level
This is another problem that can occur in any athlete if their diet is unbalanced. For vegans, the greatest risk comes from cutting the amount of iron that omnivores usually get from red meat.
Please note that iron deficiency is one of the most common in the world, so even meat eaters often don’t get an adequate amount of it. This problem gets especially bad for athletes as this mineral is lost with sweat, like sodium and calcium.
It’s also important to understand that iron deficiency can take up to six months to show its detrimental effects on the body. Therefore, a sudden drop in performance might occur even without any significant changes in the diet.
Rebuilding your iron levels will take just as long, so it’s best to take regular blood tests (at least one every 6 months) to ensure that you don’t suffer from this affliction.
The best sources of this mineral for vegans are fortified cereals, soybean nuts, raisins, prune juice, peanut butter, apricots, and nuts.
Tips for Being a Healthy Vegan Athlete
To stay healthy and show great performance in sport on a plant-based diet, you need to be aware of your body’s needs and plan for them. A vegan menu is perfectly capable of providing you with all essential nutrients and an increased dose of proteins that athletes need.
If you want to go about it the right way, you should take a blood test and consult a professional nutritionist. Be sure to follow your diet plan and you won’t have any problems with nutrition.