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Fueling the Vegan Athlete

By June 6, 2017 December 28th, 2018 No Comments

Are you thinking about becoming a vegan?  Many athletes I work with have considered or have become vegan.  The problem is, starting out they have a really hard time figuring out what exactly to eat.  It can be a very complicated matter; however, it is not impossible and athletes are more than able to fuel correctly on a vegan diet.  Well planned plant based diets can be adequate for athletes; however, there are some nutrients of concern and foods that are a must to incorporate into their daily diets. 

Protein – because animal proteins, such as eggs, dairy products, poultry, and meat are considered the most high quality and bioavailable, vegan diets can sometimes lack in protein if not eating the right foods.   One important protein in particular that can be limited in a vegan diet is lysine.  The highest plant sources of lysine include tofu, tempeh, soy, lentils, and seitan; therefore, a vegan diet needs to include these foods on a daily basis.

Vitamin B12 – this is the micronutrient that I worry about the most for vegans, because it is typically found only in animal foods.  This nutrient plays many key roles and contributes many functions in the body; therefore, it is important for vegans to include vitamin B12 fortified foods in their daily diet, including nutritional yeast, breakfast cereals, and some meat alternatives.

Calcium –because vegans are avoiding all animal products they are not consuming any dairy products, which are the foods that contain the most readily absorbed calcium.  Foods that vegans should include in their diets include milk substitutes, fortified juices, tofu, and a variety of leafy greens. 

Vitamin D – just like calcium, vitamin D plays an important role in bone health.  Just as important for athletes is the importance vitamin D plays in the immune system, as well as muscle function.  In food, vitamin D is really only present in fish, cheese, and egg yolks – all foods that vegans avoid.  The best way for a vegan athlete to get adequate vitamin D is through sun exposure and fortified foods like milk substitutes and orange juice.

Omega-3 fatty acids – again, because vegans avoid all animal products, including fish, their diets may lack in omega-3 fatty acids.  Some foods that vegans should include on a daily basis include flaxseeds, walnuts, soy foods, and canola oil.

Iron – this mineral is essential for oxygen transportation in the body; therefore, a deficiency can cause fatigue and decreased performance.  There are two types of iron – heme iron, which is found in animal products like fish and poultry – and non-heme iron, which is found in plant foods like beans and lentils.  The problem is, non-heme iron is less bioavailable, so vegans must make sure to significantly increase their consumption of non-heme iron foods. 

If you are considering becoming a vegan and are confused about what foods to buy, below is a list of my must-have vegan foods:

Vegetables
Edamame
Lentils
Beans – garbanzo, black, kidney, Northern, etc.
Peas
Spinach
Kale
Broccoli
Brussel Sprouts
Artichokes
Mushrooms
Asparagus
Corn
Peppers
Lettuces
Sweet Potatoes
Potatoes
Any vegetable you love is great

 Fruits
Apples
Oranges
Bananas
Berries
Avocados
Pears
Peaches
Melons
Pineapple
All fruit fits into a balanced diet ​

​Whole Grains
Brown or Wild Rice
Whole Wheat Pastas
Quinoa
Buckwheat
Barley
Bulgur
Millet
Steel Cut or Rolled Oats
Spelt
Farro
Popcorn ​

Nuts/Seeds
Almonds
Cashews
Pistachios
Walnuts
Pecans
Macadamia nuts
Pine nuts
Brazil nuts
Trail Mix
Chia Seeds
Flaxseed
Hemp seeds
Sunflower seeds
Sesame seeds
Pumpkin Seeds
Nut Butters – peanut, almond, cashew, etc.

Plant-based Proteins 
Lentils
Hummus
Tofu
Beans
Quinoa
Soy
Chick Peas
Green Peas
Artichokes
Hemp Seeds
Chia Seeds
Oatmeal
Pumpkin Seeds
Hemp Milk
Edamame
Spinach
Black Eyed Peas
Broccoli
Asparagus
Green Beans
Almonds
Spirulina
Tahini
Tempeh 
Seitan
Nut Butters 
Amaranth

Other Items
Milk substitute – almond, cashew, soy, coconut, rice 
Vitamin D Fortified Orange Juice 
Butter and Cheese Substitutes
Egg substitutes
Meat Substitutes
Non-Dairy Yogurt
Soba Noodles
Nutritional Yeast

Seasonings
Red Pepper flakes
Sriracha (hot sauce)
Low-sodium Soy Sauce
Vinegars 
Dried basil
Dried oregano
Dried Rosemary
Dried Thyme
Ground Chipotle
Chili Powder
Cumin
Onion Powder
Ground Ginger
Tumeric 




If you need help planning your vegan diet, please contact me!  

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