Transitioning into the vegan lifestyle is difficult enough without specific needs, let alone for those who are madly in love with their fitness regime. Whether you’re a runner, a lifter, or a yoga enthusiast, eating a vegan diet and retaining your active lifestyle is more than doable: it’s a healthy way to boost your energy levels and to stay on track with your goals, but also to help the planet and lead a more sustainable existence.
However, athletes do have specific needs, since you need to optimize your diet in order to be able to build muscle, for which you need protein, and to sustain your energy levels, for which you need healthy carbs. Fueling your body on a vegan diet to boost your performance while you train is more than possible. Let’s go over some of the key steps you need to keep in mind when tailoring your vegan diet to sustain your fitness goals.
Mind your calories
Switching to a vegan diet takes time and patience, and it’s neither healthy nor sustainable for your fitness goals to just go cold turkey on all meat and dairy, making a slow transition a better option for your body. You’ll have time to adjust to the switch and to optimize your caloric intake to meet your daily requirements. After all, calories are energy, and you need to make sure you’re consuming enough calories in order to keep your workouts safe and healthy.
In addition to ensuring consistency in consuming ample calories, you should also be mindful of where those calories come from. While plants are by nature rich in fiber and some can keep you feel satiated for longer, they are also much lower in calories than dairy or meat, which makes it easier for you to stay below your requirements. Keep track of your calories, but also keep an eye on your macros. You need a balanced intake of protein, to which we’ll devote a separate paragraph, and ample carbs and fats as well. Remember, some athletes work better with higher carb intake, while others prefer to eat more healthy fats.
Boost your protein intake
Athletes on a vegan diet often have a hard time consuming enough protein, and especially complete protein necessary for muscle-building, optimal recovery, and the prevention of injuries. Not to mention that protein is vital for all metabolic processes in your body, which means that a lack of energy might not be the only health issue you could face when you fail to eat enough of this particular macronutrient.
First of all, master your protein-packed plants and add as many as possible to your diet. Legumes, nuts, seeds, and various greens are loaded with the macro in question, so you need to make sure you have a healthy balance. Still, most vegan athletes need supplementation in this particular sphere. One of the simplest ways to avoid the issue is to add high-quality vegan protein powder to your eating regime, to your post-workout protein shake, and to your plant-based smoothies alike. This simple step will help you balance your macros and ensure optimal caloric intake every day.
Check your micronutrient balance
In addition to macros, which do deserve so much attention in everyone’s diets, not just vegan, you also need to tend to your micronutrient needs. By eliminating all meat, dairy, and other animal-based foods, you effectively eliminate certain major sources of vitamins and minerals that predominantly exist and can be metabolized from those specific food groups. Of course, there are vegan alternatives, but the dosage matters, as well. Some of the following are the most common deficiencies you should be mindful of:
- Calcium can be found in dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, but also broccoli and tofu, and you’ll find it in fortified plant-based kinds of milk.
- Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal foods, making it a very common deficiency in vegan diets, so it’s best to take a supplement to ensure optimal balance.
- Zinc exists in abundance in nuts and seeds such as cashews, but also in legumes and oats.
Power up your snacks
As an athlete, you will often find yourself fatigued and battling drowsiness when you don’t fuel up with enough energy-dense foods. In such situations, an apple for your snack will hardly keep you going through a vigorous run on the treadmill, and a banana will only give you a short burst of energy before you feel completely drained. To maximize your energy levels and let those calories work in your favor, give your snacks a twist.
For example, add spreads that are rich in calories but also that are nutritious, such as hummus or nut butter, which go wonderfully well with raw veggies such as carrots or peppers. A baggie filled with almonds, peanuts, walnuts, cashews, raisins, dried apricots, and prunes is a much better choice than a simple fruit salad for an athlete. Of course, while plants, including fruits, do represent the foundation of your diet, keep in mind that those calorie-packed snack-packs also give you a stable source of long-lasting energy to keep your strength and stamina for every workout.
Veganism is becoming so much more than a buzzword circling the social media, and as an athlete trying to lead a healthier, planet-friendly existence, you should do everything in your power to make the most of your vegan regime. Use these tips to stay mindful of certain potential issues, and prevent them before they occur.