The vegan diet is a dietary pattern characterized by complete deprivation of foods of animal origin.
The reasons for choosing a vegan diet are different. They can be for health reasons, care for the environment, ethical reasons or for animal welfare reasons. Vegans who are athletes have special challenges in meeting their daily needs for nutrients, however, careful diet planning can meet the high demands of training and competition, and ensure the necessary energy and nutritional needs of the individual.
Numerous vegan athletes testify to this, and one of them is Scott Jurek – an ultramarathoner who, with a 100% plant-based diet, has won numerous victories and successful results. Leischik and Spelsberg (2014) published a case report of a 48-year-old man who successfully completed a triple Ironman (includes 11.4 km of swimming, 540 km of cycling, 125 km of running) in 41 hours and 18 minutes. At the time of the trial, he had been on a raw vegan diet for 6 years, having previously been a vegan for 3 years and a vegetarian for 13 years.
Although a vegan diet excludes the consumption of red meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy products and other foods of animal origin, it can fit well into an athlete’s training plan because it is based on a higher intake of carbohydrates, the primary fuel for athletes.
Vegans provide quality carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber with foods of plant origin such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. When it comes to protein intake, vegan athletes should ingest more than 0.8 g / kg body weight of protein through various sources of plant origin to provide all the essential amino acids. Good plant sources of protein include soy – whose proteins are as effective as those of animal origin because they provide all the amino acids or are considered “complete” proteins, and the same is true for the amaranth and quinoa pseudo-cereal proteins; while combining other foods of plant origin, the so-called. by complementing it achieves the intake of all amino acids. An example of this is the pairing of rice and legumes or the intake of legumes with seeds.
On the other hand, athletes should keep in mind that a vegan diet often does not provide enough vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium, and critical nutrients can also be iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. You should also watch your dietary fiber intake just before or during your workout as fiber-rich foods can lead to bloating and gas. To ensure an adequate intake of critical nutrients, they can also use dietary supplements for vegans, but they are slightly more expensive than usual and harder to find.
Here are some tips on how vegans can provide critical nutrients:
- Vitamin B12 is obtained exclusively from food of animal origin, and vegans can provide it through fortified nutrient yeasts and fortified soy-based foods.
- Adequate calcium intake reduces the risk of fractures, so include it in your diet by eating tofu, tempeh, fortified drinks based on soy, rice and almonds, calcium-fortified fruit juices, almonds, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.
- Vitamin D is easy to provide on sunny days. It is enough to sunbathe your face, hands and forearms for 5 – 15 minutes during the day. Foods of plant origin that can provide you with vitamin D are sun-dried mushrooms.
- Increased iron intake is specific to vegans, and you can increase iron utilization by taking it at the same time as vitamin C. To ensure iron intake, include dried beans and peas, dried fruits, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and root vegetables in your diet.
- Due to the higher intake of phytate, vegans are also advised to increase their intake of zinc through dried beans and peas, nuts, seeds and soy.
- Omega-3 fatty acids will provide you with seeds like flaxseed or chia, nuts and algae.
- Iodine can also be a critical nutrient for vegans, and you can ensure iodine intake through iodized salt and algae kombu.
- If you have problems with magnesium deficiency, include beans, nuts and seeds, whole grains and green leafy vegetables in your diet.
- In case of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) deficiency, reach for whole, fortified cereals, nuts, seeds, bananas, asparagus, figs and avocados.
Athletes who are also vegans should pay special attention to diet planning to ensure everything is necessary for good health and achieving the desired results. At the same time, they can also consult with experts to make sure that their diet is really balanced!