Make Sure Youre Getting Enough Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is the only nutrient that many vegans fall short on because its most prevalent in meat and eggs. A B12 deficiency causes extreme exhaustion and tingling in your fingertips, both of which can be detrimental to an athlete.
There are some sources of vegan B12see a list of 5 sources here but if you think youre diet may be lacking, 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.
Animal Vs Plant Protein
When it comes to protein content, most plants cannot compete with animal proteins. This is because most vegetarian protein sources also contain fat or carbohydrates, making them less protein-dense.
On the other hand, plants are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats, which make them a good source of beneficial nutrition in addition to protein. Vitamins C, A, and E, as well as folate and magnesium, are low in animal protein but plentiful in plant sources. In addition, most plants are free of cholesterol and saturated fat.
On the other hand, plant-based diets tend to lack vitamin B12, which can only be obtained from animal sources. Animal-based proteins also contain high levels of zinc, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid , and docosahexaenoic acid .
Heme-iron, which comes from a protein in red blood cells and is more easily absorbed than non-heme iron, is also found in animal protein. Non-heme iron can be found in both plants and animals, while heme-iron is found only in meat and shellfish, especially red meat.
It is worth noting that, while both animal and plant proteins have been associated with positive health outcomes, there is no evidence that plant-based proteins harm health, but some animal proteins are.
Focus on the quality of your protein selection, as both plant and animal foods can provide many health benefits when consumed as part of a balanced, nutrient-dense diet.
Vegetarian Proteins Do Not Need To Be Combined
Consuming a variety of plant proteins every day provides different amino acids. It also ensures that all amino acids are included in the diet as a whole. The once-popular recommendation to combine plant proteins to achieve a complete essential amino acid profile has changed.
Current research suggests that vegetarian or vegan athletes can get enough protein when eating a variety of plant foods over the course of the day, rather than needing to consume complementary amino acids in a single meal. This new information creates greater flexibility in the eating plan.
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How Much Protein Do We Really Need
18 years later, the questions about how much protein I need and where I get it from come up as soon as anyone finds out that I am a vegan athlete. Hate to admit it, but even I bought into this fallacy, too.
I dont count calories, but the one thing that I pay close attention to each day is how much protein I am getting. And Im still paying for those branch chain amino acid supplements in addition to consuming a daily protein bar after I get off the ice followed a couple of hours later by a massive smoothie bolstered by protein powder. I think that I am getting enough protein each day, but am I? Do vegan athletes really need to rely on all these supplements?
I reached out to Matt Ruscigno, a vegan endurance athlete who is a leading expert in nutrition. Hes a registered dietician with a masters degree in Public Health Nutrition. Its been drilled into me for years that athletes need approximately one gram of protein per pound of body weight. Thats where I began my conversation with Ruscigno.
How Do Vegans Get Enough Protein
If youre new to veganism, youll soon learn that this is the number one question youll get asked by those you tell about your new decision. If youve been vegan for a while, you are already well-aware.
While it may get tedious to be asked this question many times, it is a valid question to ask yourself, especially if youre serious about building muscle strength and fitness. If youre sitting still at a desk all day, your body wont notice if you skip the daily recommended protein intake. But if youre following a weekly workout regimen, getting the right numbers into your diet is something you cant overlook.
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Is It Good For Athletes
It absolutely can be! It depends on how you go about it. Its easy to fall into the trap of eating junk food on a vegan diet and not getting enough nutrients. After all, Oreos, chips and fries are all vegan!
If youre an athlete who decides to go vegan, its important to focus on eating a well-balanced diet. That means making sure you eat a variety of foods, stay away from processed junk and think about the nutrients that may be more difficult to get without eating meat.
The tips below will give you a jumping off point to build a healthy vegan diet for your athletic training.
How Complete Is Your Protein
Most plant-based proteins are incomplete. This means they are missing the essential amino acids as well as being limited in branched chain amino acids provided by their animal-based alternatives. Your body does not produce these essential amino acids. The only way to get them is through the food you eatand BCAAs are important.
Essential amino acids, such as leucine play a huge role in promoting recovery and adaptation from exercise. Omnivorous and vegetarian athletes are going to have an easier time fueling their bodys needs for these amino acids.
Milk-based proteins have been shown to help promote muscle protein synthesis in part due to the richness of the BCAA content. When comparing soy protein supplements to milk protein supplements, muscle hypertrophy is significantly better in the milk protein population most likely due to its higher amino acid composition.
Coach Pappas at Relentless Athletics in Hatfield, Pennsylvania
So, how do vegans improve their BCAA and essential amino acid consumption? This is where following a nutrition program becomes critical. It all comes down to food choices. Vegan athletes will need to consume a variety of protein sources to secure the BCAA and essential amino acids their body needs to recover and adapt.
For example, vegans can turn to beans and legumes for lysine and soy beans and lentils for leuicine. Seeds, tree nuts, and chickpeas can provide BCAAs.
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A Handy Vegan Protein Sources Chart
If youre a new vegan, you wont remember all this right away.
So i made this chart that you can save directly if youd like or even print out.
Just right click it and select save image as if youd like, or click to open a larger version.
Alternatively, with all the data that you could bookmark if you prefer that instead.
Note that the data is in the form of cooked foods. For example, cooked lentils have 9 grams of protein in a 100 gram serving.
Nuts Seeds And Nut Butters
Nuts, seeds, and nut butters are some of the best sources of protein to have on hand. This is because theyre easy to snack on on their own, spread on toast, or slip into a smoothie or shake.
According to personal trainer and health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics, Caleb Backe, almonds are particularly good to keep around, with over 30 grams of protein in one cup. Flaxseed is also an excellent source of protein, notes Backe. Flaxseed is one of the oldest superfoods known to man, he told LIVEKINDLY. Besides their high omega-3 fatty acid content, flaxseed is also loaded with protein and antioxidants.
Hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, cashews, and pistachios are also good sources of protein.
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How Much Protein Is Really Needed As A Vegan Or Vegetarian Athlete
Well, that depends. There is no research that a vegetarian or vegan athlete has higher protein needs than someone consuming a mixed diet. However, consuming the variety of foods, complementary proteins, and essential amino acids must be taken into account for an overall balanced intake.
According to the Recommended Daily Allowance , the average person needs 0.8 grams/kilogram a day of protein.
An active individual has increased protein needs. Exercising or training five or more days per week requires 1.2-1.7 g/kg per day. With higher intensity exercise there is increased protein utilization for protein development and tissue repair. This roughly equates to 82-116 grams of protein per day for a 150-pound person.
There has to be adequate carbohydrate and overall calorie intake for the muscles to utilize protein as well. Not consuming enough carbohydrate and fat will also force the body to break down protein for energy. However, protein is not our bodies preferred energy source and should be reserved for its main functions of building and repairing tissues.
If too much protein is consumed, as with any other nutrient, the excess is stored as fat. It is not about one nutrient but the whole picture of our intake. Consuming extra protein does not allow the body to store more protein. All extra amounts of food are stored as fat regardless of the nutrient it is consumed from.
Not The Same For Everyone
Another consideration to keep in mind is that professional, evidence-based recommendations are already on the high end to make sure that most of the population is covered by it, explained Ruscigno. For example, the recommended daily allowance for vitamin C is 60 mg per day. That number is set at two deviations above the average need in order to encompass people who, for whatever physiological reason, need more.
Not everyone will need 60 mg a day though. The same is true for protein. But what most trainers and athletes without formal educations do is then add to the already high number just to be safe. But theres not enough evidence to do this.
Its simply untrue that everyone would need more than the recommended amount. It might not sound like a big deal, but the opportunity cost is high when everyone is concerned about protein. They arent spending as much time planning for fiber, phytochemicals, etc. that are also important.
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Final Thoughts On Vegan Athlete Diet
plant based diet meal plan for athletes has many benefits. It helps your body perform better and helps you focus on getting your food from healthy sources. Vegan meals dont have to be boring as there are plenty of options from whole-based foods to vegan alternatives.
If you want to learn more about veganism and how to be a vegan athlete, check out my other blog posts and see if this is a good fit for you. Even vegetarian athletes can benefit from learning more about the vegan lifestyle.
You can also check out the best vegan bodybuilders here and read what they have to say on veganism.
Interested to know more about athletes going vegan? See the documentary Game Changers to know more about this.
Vegan Bodybuilders Share Their #1 Tip For Getting Enough Protein On A Vegan Diet
June 10, 2019 by Jeffrey Trull
When you think of vegans, what first comes to mind? It might be challenges with getting enough protein from vegan food, or maybe its weakness and lack of muscle. Youre not thinking of bodybuilders, right?
Since many people probably think this way, I figured Id call on the irrefutable evidence that vegans are not weak and can get enough protein from plants: vegan bodybuilders.
These bodybuilders arent just serving as proof, but theyve also shared their top tips for anyone who wants to get protein from plants. Heres what 19 top vegan bodybuilders had to say.
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Choose The Right Sugars
Some vegetarian and vegan athletes avoid sugar because of the refining process. Refined sugar is bleached using bone char filters. The sugar doesnt actually contain bone particles, but the sugar has come in contact with the sterilized animal bone.
Not all sugar is processed this way so it cant be considered the same. Additionally, while refined sugar may be perceived as less healthy than beet sugar or agave nectar, the body reads sugar as sugar.
Keeping sugar intake to a minimum is recommended for general health. Ideally, added sugars should account for no more than 10% of your total calorie intake. The following sugars are options to consider if you follow a plant-based food plan:
- Vegan granulated sugar
What Do Vegan Athletes Say About Their Diets
There are people who think that an athlete can only get their protein from animal products like meat or eggs. However, some of the top athletes in the most competitive sports are proving this idea wrong.
Once I started I fell in love with the concept of fueling your body in the best way possible. Not only does it help me on the court, but I feel like Im doing the right thing for me.
– Venus Williams, Tennis Player
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What About Vegan Protein Bars
I also did a detailed test of over 20 bars to find the best vegan protein bar.
And while bars are nice, theyre more expensive than protein powder and the macros arent as good.
Bars have a lot of other ingredients besides protein isolate. The best bars have around 40% of calories coming from protein, versus over 85% for protein shakes.
If you have money to spare and really like bars , plant based protein bars are an option. But theyre not something I think most vegans should focus on.
Dont Skimp On Healthy Fats
Chances are that you burn plenty of calories while participating in your sport, but you dont eat the majority of high calorie foods, like meats, cheeses and milks. If you dont replace the calories that you use during exercise, you may start to lose weight, which can actually hinder your performance.
Thats where healthy fats come in! As compared to carbs and protein, fats have more calories per gram and can make up for the calories that you burn during intense exercise. Not to mention that fat keeps you full after a workout, so that you dont binge on empty calories, like junk food.
Vegans need to eat enough calories and omegas from plant- based healthy fats, like seeds, avocados, nuts and oils. Healthy fats also contribute to heart health and cognition, both of which are important for active individuals. Learn more here: How Much Fat Do Plant-Based Athletes Need?
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What Do Vegans Eat
You probably already know what vegans dont eat, but maybe you don’t know so much about the wealth of exciting and nutrition rich options they can.
There are vegans who prefer a more whole foods approach and eat items like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, and nuts. Its easy to find plant-based recipes online that are healthy and delicious.
There are also more processed vegan foods like vegan meats, fries, vegan ice cream, vegan chocolate, and other vegan alternatives.
I believe that the best vegan diet for athletes falls more in the whole foods camp due to all of the natural nutrients, and lets face it, processed is bad whether its meaty or not.
Vegan meal prep for athletes is a great way to prevent making poor food choices when they are tired and may be away from home. For example, a vegan breakfast for athletes may consist of a protein shake mixed with oats, peanut butter, and a banana.
This breakfast option gives you great fuel and energy to start your day. You may want to consider working with a nutritionist to develop a vegan diet plan for athletes to ensure that you are getting the best results.
Do Athletes Need More Protein
While I have long operated with the belief that I need to get around 130 grams of protein per day, I usually get more like 100-115 grams with the aid of protein supplements . But Ruscigno, the co-author of No Meat Athlete and Appetite for Reduction, thinks I can get enough protein without supplementation.
Most athletes dont need special protein foods or powders. The protein comes from food. Of course, bodybuilders or those with small stomachs or low appetites, etc. have special circumstances, but they are the exception and not the rule, he explained.
Bodybuilders and some strength athletes require more protein as a percentage of calories because their caloric needs arent increased as much as other athletes. Higher protein foods need to be emphasized and supplements can be used to meet needs which are on the higher end of the 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram body weight. In other words, they need more protein on fewer calories.
Ive been trying to put on some upper body muscle since converting back from cyclist to hockey player four years ago. Through my gym work, my upper body mass has increased, but my legs got smaller and my weight has stayed the exact same as my bike racing weight. I asked Ruscigno if it would help to up my protein intake.
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Can You Eat Too Much Protein
There is some evidence to suggest that eating too much protein may be bad for you, but this typically relates to diets high in animal proteins such as dairy and red or processed meats. A prolonged intake of high amounts of protein was once thought to contribute to bone loss and kidney damage. However, studies now suggest that in otherwise healthy individuals there is little evidence of this effect. A high protein diet does appear to be a problem for those with an existing condition or kidney dysfunction, but in otherwise healthy people, including the elderly, higher protein intakes may actually be beneficial by helping to prevent muscle loss.
Little research has been conducted into any risks associated with high protein vegan diets, although it is always important to ensure that there is variety and that attention is paid to vitamin and mineral requirements, especially in pregnancy.