Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Following a vegan diet can provide many health benefits because of its richness in fiber, folic acid, magnesium, vitamins C and E, and phytochemicals. Studies have found that vegan diets provide cardiovascular and cognitive benefits, and decrease the risk of various cancers. (Ryding, 2020).
In addition to the many health benefits, veganism is good for animal welfare and benefits the environment. Going on a plant-based diet has also been observed to save about 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year (Singh, 2019). You can learn more about environmental impact of animal-based ingredients on our blog.
Aside from the many benefits, however, veganism can create “challenges that need to be accounted for when designing a nutritious diet,” especially in sports nutrition (Rogerson, 2017). When following a vegan diet, the body can experience a lack of key nutrients that are especially important for athletic performance, including protein, vitamin B12, vitamin D iron, zinc, calcium, and iodine.
How can following a vegan diet affect sports nutrition?
As an athlete it is crucial to maintain healthy protein sources, as proteins play a key role in red blood cell production, tissue repairs, and building muscle. In addition, it is important to maintain healthy levels of nutrients in the body to nourish the body and help with strength and body cell energy recovery (College of Natural Health). Vegan diets lack protein sources and key nutrients required for athletic activity, leading many to assume that adopting a vegan diet can lead to decreased athletic performance. However, the 2019 documentary “The Game Changers” shows the vegan diet’s long-term positive effects on health and immediate improvement in athletic performance by interviewing successful athletes on plant-based diets, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Patrik Baboumian, and Dotsie Bausch. Many research studies found two key factors in maintaining proper sports nutrition: careful diet planning and supplementation.
Energy and nutrient requirements differ from athlete to athlete, depending on the specific sport and intensity. The following list identifies some vegan-friendly foods that are rich in nutrients naturally lacking in a vegan diet (Rosenbloom, 2013) (Norris, 2016).
Protein: legumes, quinoa, pistachios, pumpkin seeds
Vitamin B12: fortified nutritional yeast
Vitamin D: sun-dried mushrooms, fortified foods
Iron: nuts and seeds, dried beans, lentils, tofu, dark green leafy vegetables
Zinc: nuts and seeds, dried beans and peas
Calcium: soy, rice, broccoli, kale, almonds
Iodine: iodized salt
Obtaining certain nutrients can often be difficult and inconvenient as it requires lots of careful planning and diligence. This is especially true in the case of proteins, as many vegans require 3-4 servings of high-protein foods per day (Norris, 2016). Commercially available plant-based supplements can thus be very beneficial to reach daily nutrition goals. The most common vegan protein supplement is plant-based protein powder. Recent studies show the positive athletic benefits of using these plant-based protein powders, including improved recovery from training (Rogerson, 2017). Many vegans also choose plant-based supplements for iron, protein, vitamin B12, and other nutrients.
A special thanks to Anvi Brahmbhatt for her research and contribution to this post.
Disclaimer: The product and/or medical information provided on VeganMed is of a general nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or product.
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Ryding, Sara. “What Are the Health Benefits of a Vegan Diet?” News, 19 Feb. 2020, www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-the-Health-Benefits-of-a-Vegan-Diet.aspx.
“Environmental Benefits of a Vegan Diet.” UW Food Services, 22 Mar. 2019, uwaterloo.ca/food-services/blog/post/environmental-benefits-vegan-diet#:~:text=This%20shows%20that%20the%20process,of%20carbon%20dioxide%20per%20year!
“Sports Nutrition.” Vegan Sports Nutrition | Vegetarian Athlete | Sports Nutrition School, collegeofnaturalhealth.us/resources/sports-nutrition-school.php.
Rosenbloom, Christine. “Powered by Vegan: Must-Knows for Sports Nutrition.” Food & Nutrition Magazine, 18 May 2017, foodandnutrition.org/july-august-2013/powered-vegan-must-knows-sports-nutrition/.
“Protein Part 1-Basics.” VeganHealth.org, veganhealth.org/protein-part-1/#recommendations.
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