Since we are becoming increasingly aware of our planet’s environmental crisis, more people are switching to a meat-free menu, although they wonder if that will negatively affect their athletic goals. Enter: Fiona Oakes and many others like her. Her name might not sound familiar to anyone outside of the UK running community, but her achievements are a perfect example of what you can do leading a vegan lifestyle. She hasn’t eaten meat since she was six, and her running and cycling records are impressive.
The short answer is that you definitely don’t have to give up on your fitness goals when you decide to switch to a vegan diet, but there are other factors to keep in mind to stay healthy and active. Just like your average meat-eater, every vegan needs to monitor their diet, recovery, and exercise program, but from a slightly different perspective.
Much like with any athlete, proper nutrition is essential for every vegans’ performance. However, veganism is often followed by a misconception that it’s hard to keep up with the protein intake of a meat-eater, which isn’t entirely true. Although vegans do need to pay attention to their protein portions, it’s perfectly possible to get all the essential amino acids from plant sources. That means that if you keep your diet diverse and based on nutritious foods, you don’t have to worry about getting enough protein to maintain your muscle mass or keep you full.
On the other hand, plant-based foods have fewer calories than a typical meat and dairy-rich menu. Calories are crucial in giving you enough energy to power through any workout, especially a high-endurance sport, so vegans need to take care of their caloric intake. That often translates to eating more overall and having meals more often throughout the day, but that will help you add those extra calories to your menu. Focus on nutrient-dense and highly caloric plants such as nuts and grains, as well as maintaining variety through fruits and veggies every day.
Getting enough carb-packed foods into your system both before and after your training will help keep your energy levels high while your run, and they are also great for helping your muscles recover. However, lighter plant options may not keep your energy levels high for a long time, so you can find calorie-rich alternatives with complex carbs. Think of dates, dry fruit, avocados, oatmeal with nut butter and various nuts and seeds, coffee, and sweet potatoes.
The perk of your plant-dominant diet is that you are less likely to feel bloated or “heavy” when you train since meat and dairy are often responsible for that. Pair these carbs with proteins from lentils, beans and the like, and your muscles will be safe for a challenging workout.
Another concern for vegans is ensuring proper vitamin and mineral intake because these micronutrients shouldn’t be underestimated in achieving optimal performance. For instance, a lack of iron can be a problem when you stop eating red meat since it is lost through excess sweating. Vegan runners also often experience a lack of vitamin B12, and both of these deficiencies can lead to anemia and other health issues down the road.
Certain micronutrients, such as vitamin B12 can be compensated through supplementation if you train over 15 hours per week. Then again, if you are an average athlete and you base your diet on nutrient-dense foods, you will keep everything under control. It’s best to tailor a nutrition plan that includes all of these micros, and not just macronutrients because they all play an equally important role in the process.
Processed meats and similar foods are packed with sodium, making it easier for a non-vegan athlete to consume as much as they need, if not even more. Vegans, on the other hand, tend to lack sodium in their diet precisely because they give up meat and processed goods, and sweating only adds to the problem. A lack of this essential mineral can lead to frequent muscle cramps and stiffness, but it can easily be prevented by adding some extra salt to your diet.
In case you are preparing for a particularly demanding event such as a marathon or a Strongman competition in warm weather, sodium tablets could help you get ready and stay healthy. On that note, if you are a healthy athlete, increasing your sodium intake won’t affect your blood pressure.
When you do your best to create a balanced diet and train in conditions that allow you optimal recovery, there is no reason veganism should prevent you from reaching your fitness goals. On the contrary, many world-class athletes have achieved their best results with the help of a plant-based menu, and if you enjoy the vegan lifestyle, it can serve as your performance booster, as well!
Luke is a fitness and health blogger at Ripped.me and a great fan of the gym and a healthy diet. He follows the trends in fitness, gym, and healthy life and loves to share his knowledge through useful and informative articles.
Be a healthier you!Sign up for Lifesum