Vegan diets: practical advice for exercisers

vegan diet

If you’re a dedicated athlete who is thinking of switching to a vegan diet, you may have some concerns over your health and nutrition intake. Well, let’s discuss what steps you can take and how to stay on top of your game even on a vegan diet.

What is a vegan diet?

Let’s first talk about what exactly a vegan diet is. Well, to simply put it in words, a vegan diet is a diet that contains no animal products. A person who follows a vegan diet eats only plants. This diet contains no meat, dairy, honey, or eggs. Instead of these products, vegans eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds, grains, legumes, and soy products. 

Most people seem to use the terms ‘vegan’ and plant-based as synonyms. However, these two terms have completely different meanings. Most people say that the difference between a plant-based person and a ‘vegan’ is that a plant-based person is somehow who follows a plant-based diet, while a vegan is more involved in the activism surrounding animal rights. Vegans, besides not consuming foods and drinks containing animal products, also refuse to buy clothes and shoes made from animals. They are also very careful about the products they’re buying in general since they tend to look for cruelty-free products. 

Some people would also say that a plant-based diet includes vegetarians, while others use this term to refer to vegans only. There are even some people who would use this term to refer to someone who eats plants most of the time, but with an occasional meal that has meat in it.

Is it good for athletes?

A lot of people seem to wonder whether this kind of diet is good for athletes. The answer is yes. This diet can definitely be suitable for athletes. It just depends on how you approach this diet. It’s very easy for people to fall into a trap and end up eating junk food on a vegan diet. This will actually prevent you from getting all the nutrients that you need. When you think about it, junk food such as fries and Oreos are vegan after all. 

If you choose to switch to a vegan diet, it’s important that you know how to create and maintain a well-balanced diet plan. In other words, you need to make sure you are eating a variety of different foods, getting enough nutrients, and staying away from processed foods that won’t bring you any good. To create this perfect balance, try out some of the following tips. 

Plan ahead

This applies to all athletes, not just vegans. Having an eating plan is crucial if you want to eat healthy foods. Think about what kind of pre-workout fuel your body needs, recovery nutrition, and hydration that you will use every day. Here are some tips and tricks on how you can make an efficient eating plan. 

It might be hard for you to find food on the go once you switch to a vegan diet. That is why it’s important that you meal prep your food in advance. Try to include multiple different nutrition sources in your meal plans. You need your daily doses of protein, fiber, and healthy fats. These are all of the nutrients you need to keep you energized throughout the whole day. This is especially important when you’re planning on having an intense workout later during the day. 

Know your protein

People tend to think that vegans have no sources of protein in the foods they eat. They usually wonder about how vegans can get the protein that is needed for muscle growth as well as recovery after intense workouts. Despite what many may believe, there are actually many great sources of protein in a vegan diet. If you know how to approach this diet and learn how to incorporate protein in all meals throughout the day, you will have plenty of nutrients for your body. 

The goal is to spread this protein intake throughout your day. Try to eat equal amounts of it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can also find ways to incorporate some protein in your snacks as well. Every person has different needs for protein intake. However, there is an average amount of protein that you should implement in your everyday diet. Aim to get about 20 grams of protein for every meal you have during the day.

These are some of the foods that will provide you with generous amounts of protein:

  • Beans (all kinds)
  • Soy (like tofu, tempeh and edamame)
  • Lentils (brown, green and red)
  • Whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, bulgur, amaranth, oats)
  • Peas (yellow and green)
  • Nuts and Nut Butters (all kinds)
  • Seeds (chia, hemp, sunflower and pumpkin seeds)

    Eat plenty of plant-based calcium

Besides protein, there are other nutrients that you need to implement in your diet such as calcium. This nutrient is even more important for athletes who tend to have intense workouts almost every day. To keep your bones strong and help them endure some of the most intense exercises, your body needs calcium. Here is how vegans can get a healthy amount of calcium from their diet. Try to incorporate the following foods:  

  • green vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, turnip greens and spinach
  • soy products, such as tofu or soy milk
  • 100% Orange juice and cereals that are fortified with calcium

    Don’t skimp on healthy fats

In most cases, vegan athletes burn a lot of calories while exercising, but they usually don’t eat high-calorie foods such as cheese, meats, or milk. This is a very important step. You need to replace the calories that you burn during the workout. If you fail to do that, you can start losing weight drastically and that can only worsen your performance. 

For this reason, you need healthy fats in your diet. When compared to protein and carbs, fats contain more calories per gram. They are a great source of calories that you need to make up for after an intense workout. In addition to that, fats are able to keep you full for longer. This will prevent you from eating junk foods that provide no nutrition whatsoever. To gain enough calories from the meals you eat opt for healthy-based fats such as avocados, seeds, oils, and nuts. Not only will this help improve your performance, but it will also improve your heart health and cognition as well. 

Make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin B12

This nutrient is the only one that may cause you some problems when you switch to a vegan diet. To be more precise, it’s the lack of this nutrient that will cause issues. Vitamin B12 can mostly be found in eggs and meat. If you lack this crucial nutrient, you can end up feeling extreme exhaustion which can greatly affect your profession. 

There are ways for you to make up for this lack of vitamin B12. You can find a list of vegan sources of vitamin B12 online, but if you feel like this is not enough for you, contact your doctor to get your B12 levels checked. If the foods with B12 aren’t enough for you, the doctor will recommend some supplements. 

Keep “fake meats” to a minimum

The market now offers an endless number of fake meats that you can consume on a vegan diet. These products may be easy to prepare and tend to be delicious, but they are packed with high amounts of added sugars and sodium. This is exactly what you are trying to avoid. Your goal is to eat healthy and nutrition-packed foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains. So, of course, you can have fake meats every once in a while. However, try not to eat them that often. They can be pretty unhealthy if consumed in large amounts. 

Check the labels on sports nutrition products

You need to be careful of what kind of sports nutrition products you are consuming. Some of them may contain stuff that you actually don’t want to be putting in your body if you’re on a vegan diet. A lot of protein powders contain whey, and some gummies may contain gelatine, and both of these are animal products. In addition to that, many sports nutrition products are sweetened with honey. So, when you’re purchasing sports nutrition products make sure to read the label carefully. Check to see what ingredients they include before buying a product.  

Try simple recipes

Lastly, switching to a vegan diet can be very overwhelming, especially if you’re an athlete who’s trying to maintain a healthy diet. Don’t let the pressure get a hold of you. First of all, you can always start slow. Try switching to this diet step by step. You can introduce new vegan meals throughout the week and then eventually you can completely switch to a vegan meal. Start by making some of the easier vegan meals. There are plenty of easy vegan recipes that you can find online. 

Implement BCAAs in your diet

If you want to create a healthy balance in your vegan diet, consider introducing BCAAs in your meals.

What are BCAAs?

BCAA is short for Branched Chain Amino Acid. These amino acids are responsible for building protein blocks and helping muscle growth. There are 20 amino acids and 11 of those are produced by your body naturally. These acids are commonly referred to as non-essential amino acids. In other words, these are the acids that we don’t need to supplement. The rest of them (the other 9) are not produced by your body and that is why you need to introduce them through the diet. These are considered essential amino acids. 

Here is a list of non-essential amino acids: 

  • Alanine
  • Arginine
  • Asparagine
  • Aspartic acid
  • Cysteine
  • Glutamic acid
  • Glutamine
  • Glycine
  • Proline
  • Serine
  • Tyrosine

Essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

Three of the essential amino acids make up BCAAs. Those three acids are especially important to your muscles. They help them develop, grow, and maintain their size. The three acids we are talking about are isoleucine, leucine and valine. Leucine is the key acid for protein synthesis and that probably makes it the most important one. 

These acids can directly be implemented in your diet through BCAA powder. Simply add it to your meals or pre-workout smoothies. 

These will have an amazing impact on your repair and recovery after intense exercising. They will aim to reduce the soreness and inflammation after your workouts. Not only can this help you feel less, but it can also help you get back on your feet faster. 

However, it’s important that you consume the right amount. Failing to do so can actually only cause more soreness, muscle tightness, as well as overall fatigue. 

How BCAA Supplements May Help Your Fitness Regimen

According to research, there are at least five ways BCAA supplements can support your exercise regimen:

  1. Reduce fatigue during exercise: implementation of BCAAs can actually limit the inflow of tryptophan into your brain. Your body uses tryptophan in order to create serotonin and that can cause exercise fatigue. 
  2. Reduce muscle damage and soreness: BCAAs can relieve soreness that is often caused by the strain and inflammation of exercise.
  3. Promote muscle building after exercise: BCAAs stimulate the synthesis of protein in your muscles thus suppressing the breakdown of muscle protein.
  4. Provide a source of energy during prolonged exercise: When glucose becomes low, BCAAs will serve as an energy source for your body instead of glucose.
  5. Support immunity: Intense exercising can reduce your immunity because it decreases the levels of amino acid glutamine. Since BCAAs can be converted into glutamine in muscles, implementing BCAAs in your diet is a great choice.


In conclusion, there are many ways to eat healthy and stay strong when on a vegan diet. These tips and instructions will help you out in the process of switching to a new lifestyle. 


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