What do tennis champion Venus Williams, Olympic weightlifter Kendrick Farris, and soccer star Alex Morgan have in common? True, they are all masters of their sports, but what seems more surprising is they all follow a vegan diet.
The vegan diet is becoming more popular, but athletes may be concerned over the assumed lack of nutrients that they may get from a vegan diet. We will explain more, but this is false.
Professional athletes like Scott Jurek, a distance runner, and Colin Kaepernick, a former football player, are vegan. Even Cam Newton, an NFL player, follows a vegetarian diet that runs pretty close to veganism. This diet can support both strength and endurance training, so you need not worry when you switch from an omnivorous diet.
We have your back for athletes who are passionate about a vegan diet but concerned about whether it is a healthy option for their intense training. Keep reading for myths that we have busted about veganism, the benefits of a vegan diet for athletes, and helpful tips for any athlete to transition into a vegan diet.
Myths of a Vegan Diet for Athletes
There are many myths around a vegan diet, especially when it comes to athletes. Shall we debunk some myths?
Not Enough Protein
False. If you have been a vegan for two minutes, you have probably been asked if you get enough protein.
Yes, vegans get plenty of protein. Even professional athletes get enough protein from a vegan diet. Tofu, legumes, and nuts can all provide protein in a vegan diet. Try our recipe for a protein smoothie that will leave you doing a happy dance.
Combining Protein Is Essential
False. There used to be a thought that vegans had to combine vegan proteins to ensure they got all of the essential amino acids together. There is now more information saying you do not need to combine your proteins because getting them throughout the day is more beneficial, as your body can store the amino acids. As long as an athlete follows a well rounded vegan diet, they will get the essential amino acids, without worrying about how to combine them.
Lowers Athletic Performance
False. There are many misconceptions that athletes will not have the performance of an elite athlete on a vegan diet. This could not be farther from the truth.
On a vegan diet, the athlete will get the macronutrients they need for energy and strength, as well as micronutrients for the overall health of the body, which increases performance.
A Lot of Supplements Are Needed
False. When you focus on a vegan diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and other vegan proteins, you are feeding your body with all of the nutrients you need, even as an athlete.
You will not have a medicine cabinet full of supplements to take on a daily basis. However, there is one vitamin that is hard to get on a vegan diet, and that is vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is important for the health of the blood and nerve cells, as well as making DNA. When people do not get enough B12, they can feel tired and weak. Luckily, though, tons of vegan products like cereals and plant-based milks are fortified with vitamin B12, so it’s not much of a concern.
Benefits of a Vegan Diet for Athletes
Often, people who are new to learning about the vegan diet focus on the things they cannot have. When it comes down to it, the only thing vegans do not eat are animal products—so no meat or fish, but also no dairy, eggs, or honey.
Despite that, the options available for vegans to eat are plentiful. Think of all of the veggies and fruits, all of the whole grains, and all of the vegan proteins that are available.
Micronutrients and Macronutrients
In order for an athlete to train, compete, and recover, they need to eat a healthy diet full of micronutrients and macronutrients.
Macronutrients are carbs, healthy fat, and protein and are essential for an athlete's diet. Carbs help athletes fuel energy and delay fatigue. Vegans get carbohydrates from whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, beans, and vegetables like potatoes.
Healthy fats help the body make different hormones, protect organs, and provide athletes with more energy. A vegan athlete can get healthy fats from avocados, nuts, and olive oil. You’ll also get omega-3 fatty acids from these sources, which are essential for heart health.
Protein helps build and repair muscles, which is vital for athletes to gain strength and prevent injury. Vegan protein sources include tofu and other soy products, lentils, and nuts. You can also include options like chia seeds and hemp seeds, which are game-changers when added to smoothies.
Micronutrients are all of the vitamins and minerals needed to keep the body healthy, like calcium, zinc, and vitamin D. These micronutrients are essential for the immune system, health of all organs, and energy production. For vegan athletes, ensuring a diet full of fruits and vegetables in varying colors will help maintain the appropriate levels of needed micronutrients—it really is that easy.
For athletes, heart health is essential. No matter what type of athlete—swimmer, soccer player, or weightlifter—an athlete's heart is pumping hard. A vegan diet can help heart health by maintaining healthy blood pressure, supporting normal cholesterol levels, and even supporting and healing blocked arteries.
Looking for a heart-healthy snack? Look no further than a delicious green smoothie! Leafy greens are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Add your leafy greens in a blender with a little avocado for some healthy fats and fruit for even more vitamins and antioxidants. Adding a little of our sugar-free maple syrup will help curb any bitterness that may come through from the leafy greens. Now, turn on the blender and watch the magic happen. You will have a filling, heart-healthy snack that will be perfect for before or after a workout.
Inflammation is a natural part of the immune system. If you sprain your ankle, have a hard workout, or have an illness, the acute inflammation response will kick in to provide the area with extra support. Inflammation is actually crucial for recovery after a long workout. However, if your body has chronic inflammation, it can hinder the recovery process.
Eating foods full of anti-inflammatory properties can help manage any excess inflammation in your body. By eliminating the inflammation, your body can heal from an intense workout more efficiently.
Anti-inflammatory foods include tumeric, oranges, cherries, leafy greens, and healthy fats, including omega-3s. Looks like the green smoothie already discussed may help with anti-inflammation too! Don’t you love how a healthy diet always helps more than one area of health?
Free radicals and oxidative stress are natural reactions in the body after high-impact workouts. Too many free radicals are not good for the body. A vegan diet provides many antioxidants that are beneficial to athletes. Antioxidants are molecules that attract free radicals and help keep a balance in the body.
Antioxidants are found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. Did you know chocolate contains antioxidants too? It does! Try our delicious vegan chocolate and get a boost of antioxidants.
Helpful Tips for Vegan Athletes
Whether you are an athlete new to the vegan diet, or you are a vegan and new to being an athlete (or you’re an expert in both), these simple tricks can help you make the best of both worlds.
The key to being an athlete on a vegan diet is making a plan. Athletes need to make sure they are getting all of the nutrients needed to support a healthy body so they do not get injured. Making sure you plan out your meals to have a well-balanced diet throughout the day will help you succeed on a vegan diet. Don't forget the snacks!
Keep It Simple
The vegan diet can seem complicated from the outside. Sure, if you are making your own vegan cheese and nut milk, it can get a little labor-intensive, but a vegan diet does not need to be complicated.
Keep it simple. You can incorporate more salads, add grain bowls, and make smoothies to give you the nutrients you need to stay healthy and strong.
The number one rule for a healthy vegan diet is to eat the rainbow. When choosing your fruits and veggies throughout the day, make sure you are getting a lot of color in your diet: red strawberries, orange squash, yellow peppers, green kale, blue blueberries, and purple potatoes. Mix it up and keep it interesting.
Limit Vegan “Meat” Alternatives
There are a ton of vegan “meat” alternatives in the market these days. This is a great sign that vegan and plant-based diets are getting more and more popular, which is wonderful news for animals, the planet, and the health of the population.
The downside is a lot of the alternatives are full of sodium and other wonky preservatives. Stick to eating “meat” alternatives to a minimum. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to recreate the savory flavors of meat without reaching for fake meats. Try developing rich, umami flavors with mushrooms, soy, and the right mix of spices.
There are a lot of misconceptions about being a vegan athlete. Once you learn the benefits of a vegan diet for athletes, understand the truth behind the myths about being a vegan, and follow our helpful tips, you will see a vegan diet is a healthy option for athletes and will ensure you are set up for success.
Now, go make Venus, Kendrick, and Alex proud! Soon, people will be asking you what your athletic secret is, and you can say a vegan diet and a lot of hard work.
At MiiRO, we love supporting people on their vegan journeys. Follow us for more tips and tricks for a healthy vegan lifestyle that doesn’t skimp on taste.