Vegans are sometimes a misunderstood bunch. People assume that a life without drumsticks and beef burgers is a huge missed steak. What they don’t realise is that a well-planned vegan diet can meet every nutritional requirement and easily fuel any athlete.
Years ago, we believed that consuming meat was the only way to build muscle. We now know that a balanced vegan diet can achieve exactly the same. Carl Lewis even turned vegan in his late career and achieved some of his fastest results.
If you are training regularly then you need to include high quality protein in all your meals. High quality protein refers to protein that has all nine essential amino acids in the ratio humans require. This doesn’t mean that you can just throw a few kidney beans into your salad and hope for the best.
If you are a lacto-ovo vegan -and so eat eggs – then this is your best source of high quality protein. Eggs provide the perfect balance of nine essential amino acids that are easily digestible. If you are lacto-vegan and can consume dairy then this is your go to. Low fat yoghurt, milk and cheese are also great sources of high-quality protein.
Vegans should go for plant-based sources of protein such as legumes, rice cereals and nuts. There are a variety of high quality protein legumes now available so eat plenty of soybeans, chickpeas and black beans. If you are training hard, try to eat five or six small meals per day that include protein.
Fats are essential for supplying energy to muscles during workouts so make sure you have plenty of them too. Good sources of fat include avocados, nuts such as walnuts and almonds and oils like olive and canola. Drink plenty of water too.
Vegan Zappers should make sure that at least half of your daily kilojoules come from carbohydrates, which also fuel muscles. Aim for whole grains such as breads and cereals. Enjoy pasta, quinoa and rice. If you allow dairy then this is an excellent source. Eat fruit and vegetables such as bananas, potatoes and corn. Iron is also an important component of anyone who is a training vegan.
Foods high in iron include fortified breakfast cereals, beans and dark leafy greens such as spinach and chard. Also, enjoy eggs if you include them in your diet. Eat plenty of vitamin C rich foods to help your absorption such as citrus fruits, strawberries and tomatoes.
Training vegans that do not consume dairy or eggs should also be careful of their vitamin B12 and vitamin D levels. Foods that are fortified with vitamin B12 are a must. Look for fortified cereals, soy products and meat substitutes. Cereals are also high in vitamin D as is orange juice and fortified soy milk. A supplement is often required.
Calcium levels need to be watched if you’re a vegan. Make sure you eat plenty of foods rich in calcium such as tofu, soybeans, fortified plant milks and tahini. Bok choy, figs, kale, almond butter and fortified juices are also good sources of calcium.
Vegan diets have been associated with fantastic health benefits. These include lower levels of obesity and a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.
Vegans also consume a lower proportion of fat from kilojoules and have higher levels of fibre, potassium and vitamin C than non-vegans. Avoiding dairy and eggs can leave the gym vegan at risk of some nutrient deficiencies. If you are serious about your training I would recommend that you see an accredited practicing dietitian (APD) who can assess your diet and make recommendations to meat your needs.
Happy World Vegan Month to all our dedicated vegan Zap members.