If you’re a vegan athlete, you should pay particularly close attention to your diet. While you can get adequate intake of several crucial nutrients, people who practice vegan living often suffer deficiencies in protein. Additionally, they may lack other vital substances found primarily in animal products.
Fortunately, ensuring sufficient protein intake as a vegan athlete is as easy as picking up a cookbook or hopping online. You can find scores of plant-based recipes rich in every nutrient you need. You can also turn to supplements for those days when you need an extra boost, or you’re running short on time.
Animal-Based Nutritional Deficiencies
Protein is a critical macronutrient — along with carbohydrates and fat, it makes up one of your body’s primary sources of fuel. It consists of nine amino acids, and when you consume animal flesh, you get a complete array. However, you don’t have to revert to carnivorous ways to get all the necessary aminos. Consuming the correct combination of plants will ensure you meet the requirements.
Your body requires particular micronutrients, such as B vitamins, that typically occur in animal-based products. Up to 15% of the population has deficiencies in B-12 anyway, and vegans are even more at risk of succumbing to this problem. While this nutrient occurs in some teas grown in fish bone-based fertilizer, purists refuse plants grown in this medium. You can speak to your doctor about a supplement or even injections to replace B-12.
You might also struggle to consume adequate levels of iron. Two types of this substance exist — heme and non-heme. While you can find non-heme sources of this mineral in dark, leafy greens, your body might not absorb it as readily. Vegans are more prone to anemia because they do not consume the heme form of this vital nutrient.
What Can You Do to Ensure Adequate Protein Intake?
If you espouse a vegan lifestyle, you certainly don’t have to abandon it to fuel your athletic pursuits. However, you do need to replace animal sources of this macronutrient with plant-based ones. A good starting point is learning the top sources from non-animal foods:
- Tofu and tempeh: These substances come from the soybean plant, so you won’t harm any animals or wound the planet too grievously. Tofu uses a process similar to cheesemaking, while tempeh requires chefs to ferment soybeans, giving the food a nutty flavor. You can make tofu taste like anything else, making it a popular staple for vegan roasts and other meals.
- Beans: Many vegans get a substantial proportion of their protein from these sources. Hello — burritos are delicious and affordable on nearly any budget! You can make up a ready batch to keep in the freezer for a quick grab-and-go workday lunch.
- Nuts and seeds: In addition to containing protein, nuts and seeds are excellent sources of magnesium, a vital nutrient for neurological functioning. Some physicians now recommend it as a treatment for depression, as many patients with the disorder suffer deficiencies. You can use ground nuts as a low-carb alternative to breading — think cashew-encrusted cauliflower.
- Nutritional yeast: This substance has a cheesy consistency, which makes it a favorite for topping mashed potatoes or even popcorn. Additionally, fortified yeast can serve as a critical B-12 source for vegans. Unlike the type that makes your bread rise, this yeast won’t make the best pan pizza crust — but it rocks as a topping.
- Soy and almond milk: You don’t have to drink dairy to enjoy a bowl of cereal or dunk cookies. Alternative milk products are a potent vegan nutrient source.
- Deep, leafy greens: There’s a reason why Popeye the Sailor Man was strong to the finish. Deep, leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard provide high levels of this necessary macronutrient.
Sample Meal Plan for a Vegan Athlete
Make sure you consume adequate calories daily, as well as vital nutrients. Here’s a sample plan you can use to model your diet:
- Breakfast — apple buckwheat pancakes: Buckwheat is high in protein, and fiber will keep you full until lunch.
- Lunch — Buddha bowl: A Buddha bowl combines the nutritional power of tofu with the phytonutrients contained in various veggie colors.
- Dinner — black bean burgers: You can make these gluten-free. Either way, the beans pack a nutrient punch.
- Snacks — fruit and nuts: You can buy a commercial trail mix, but for maximum health benefits, create a blend at a local health food store. Now is also the ideal time to reach for a shake if you need a rapid pick-me-up.
Getting Adequate Protein and Nutrition as a Vegan Athlete
With a few simple tips and recipes, you can get more than enough nutrition to power you through the day. You can fuel all your sporty endeavors without eating any animal products. Select the right food, and you’ll perform at your peak!