Vegan sports nutrition & healthy eating advice for the vegetarian athlete

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to eat meat to perform well as an athlete. Vegan sports nutrition is now seen as the best alternative diet for those who refrain from meat based diets. With the number of benefits, a plant based diet can provide, it is little wonder why it’s touted as the go to diet for the athletically inclined.

The word ‘vegan’ does not mean vegetarian per se. Even though vegetables are predominant in this diet, the term is a Latin word which means ‘vigour’ and even ‘cheerful.’ However, like any other competitor, you have to maintain those energy levels. The following are some tips that can come in handy if you are a vegan athlete:

Hydration is key

Bottom line is that irrespective of diet, the human body cannot function if it is dehydrated. It can cause fatigue, nausea, lethargy thus preventing you from performing to your full potential. Vegan athlete diet nutrition and fueling for the endurance athlete includes daily water intake for a reason after all.

Coconut water is a particular favourite of plant lovers since it is a healthier alternative to sports drinks. If your exercise regime is an hour or 90 minutes long at a stretch, you should drink this regularly to maintain your electrolytes. If you only have water on hand, make it tastier and healthier by adding sea salt or juice to it.

Hydration is key

Never skip breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for a reason and especially for athletes. It provides fuel which can help you maintain rigorous workout regimes without breaking a sweat too soon. With the right veggies and in your diet, this meal can balance your metabolic state and optimise your performance.

Athletes who prefer a plant based diet may not prefer eggs for breakfast, but alternatives such as oatmeal and fruits work just as well. A bowl full of this topped with berries and nuts can help you power through your workout regime and optimise your performance as well.

Maintain fibre intake

Vegan diets are generally known for being rich in soluble and insoluble fibre. However, what most vegan athletes don’t realise is that a small amount pre and post workout is necessary to maintain blood sugar levels. In addition, some fibres might be unsuitable for them. So if you experience painful stomach cramps or loose bowels right before exercising, then it’s time to rethink your vegan diet.

Generally, adding legumes and dried fruit to breakfast oatmeal takes care of most problems. If your stomach is sensitive, you should reduce your intake at least a day before a big event. In addition, make sure you do not skip this meal – it contributes to a healthy gut and eases bowel movements as well.

Contrary to popular belief, a high fibre intake can cause discomfort, especially if your diet is high in calories. To prevent that from happening, your diet should comprise of vegan options that are low and high in fibre. This includes potatoes, fruit juices and pasta to name a few.

Prefer whole foods – not processed

If your vegan diet remains organic, chances of deficiencies will be low. Try to consume veggies that are farm grown as opposed to those lining the grocery aisles. Those vegetables look perfect because they have been grown artificially. As such they contain little to no nutritional benefits. Save money and maintain your health by shopping at local farmer markets for vegan options that are chock full of antioxidants, proteins, minerals and vitamins.

Start your day with a salad that is full of raw vegetables. Add protein by introducing lentils and healthy fat by introducing avocados but use fat free dressing. To ease digestion, consider drinking green tea instead of that bloat-inducing coffee you prefer. It will make recovery easier out on the field, pitch and in the gym and maintain cellular health as well.

Maintain pH balance

If the human body gets too acidic, it can lead to fatigue and a number of ailments that can compromise your performance. You can also lose muscle mass and fat too quickly if your pH balance falls below a certain level.

As an active athlete, low acidic and alkaline levels can impact your health negatively and fast. To prevent that from happening, you need to introduce more alkaline foods and reduce acid intake. For the former, try green vegetables such as broccoli or seeds (such as pumpkin and sesame).

Do not rule out carbs, fat and protein

Vegetarian diets can be healthy and this may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, and cancer. However, eating a balanced diet when you’re a vegetarian does require some attention. Because there are certain food that are taken out of the diet, often need work to add in foods that would provide nutrients in foods. Vegetarians especially vegans, will need to pay attention to getting protein, iron, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and omega–3 fatty acids.

If your workouts are rigorous, you need carbs. Most of these should come from food that is made of complex carbohydrates and is unprocessed. This includes vegan options such as vegetables that are full of starch, whole grains, bananas, oranges, oats, beans and lentils. White bread should be avoided but whole wheat bread and pasta are good alternatives.

While meat is the go to food for protein, there are plant based options available for vegan athletes. Foods such as tofu, nuts, beans, whole grains and protein supplements work wonders as well. A smoothie made with such supplements and frozen fruits makes a good post workout drink. Add fats to the diet by introducing nuts, seeds and avocados that won’t clog up those arteries and keep you energised.

Bottom line…

Whether you prefer a plant based diet or a meat based one, keep in mind that you have a unique body that has a different caloric requirement than others. The type of food you can eat to maximize your performance depends on your health requirements and physique. In other words, consulting a nutritionist is a good idea if you plan on maintaining a healthy vegan diet plan that will energise rather than deplete you. As a general rule of thumb, stick to whole foods that are grown organically rather than the processed variety. Allergies aside, the former do not have adverse side effects.


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