What every athlete needs to know about going vegan

Are you asking yourself if you can be vegan as an athlete? Well the answer is simple, YES! 

In fact, being vegan as an athlete is not only harmless, but also has its health benefits

  • A meat-free diet, low in cholesterol and rich in antioxidants, has an anti-inflammatory effect which  improves performance and recovery especially in endurance type of activities.
  • A plant-based diet protects athletes’ hearts. Endurance athletes have a high risk for atherosclerosis and myocardial infarction. A diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat protects the heart by reversing plaque formation, and lowering plasma lipid levels, blood pressure and body weight.

  • Increased energy. Plant-based foods are more concentrated in micronutrients compared to animal sources. In addition, they require less energy and time for digestion and leaves more energy for the body to use during exercise.

  • It improves athletes’ immune system. Innate and acquired body immunity decreases drastically (15-70%) post-exercise which increases the risk of infection. Athletes on a vegan diet tend to get sick less frequently because of  the immune-boosting properties of plant-based food groups.

However, following a 100% vegan lifestyle can be challenging for an athlete, and must be well planned and balanced to prevent any deficiencies. Here are the main nutritional concerns vegan athletes should be cautious about:

  • Energy intake. if not well planned, a vegan diet can fail to provide the daily energy needs because the energy expenditure is high and plant based foods are nutrient dense and low in Calories compared to animal-based food sources. Which is why a vegan athlete must consume a variety of foods including nuts and fruits, a high source of energy, to ensure better training performance and body function.

  • Protein intake. Inadequate protein intake can lead to negative nitrogen balance and poor muscle recovery post-exercise. However, meeting the daily protein needs is not impossible, it only requires good planning. According to Nancy Clark, the internationally known registered dietitian, a 15-20 g of protein per meal (from legumes, grains, nuts and/or seeds) is enough to provide athletes with essential amino acids (EAA) and branched chain amino acids (BCAA). 

  • Sugar: it is certain that sugar intake should be kept to the minimum to maintain good health and prevent weight gain, and the development of chronic diseases. However in exercise, sugar is “the gas in the car and required to refuel working muscles” as described by Nancy Clark. It is the primary source of energy during exercise, it is uptaken to fuel the muscle. So a pre-workout snack high in sugar is recommended to ensure good performance.

  • Vitamin B12 is a big topic for vegans in general and more specifically in athletes, because vitamin B12 affects red blood cell production. A deficiency in vitamin B12 in athletes can negatively affect not only exercise performance, but also normal daily physical activities; hand and leg cramps and even the inability to walk. So vitamin B12 supplementation either through injections, pills or food such as naanu is essential for vegan athletes. 

  • Vitamin D. vegan athletes can also develop a vitamin D deficiency if not exposed to the sun long enough or if not consuming sufficient fortified foods and supplements. Deficiencies in vitamin D in athletic vegan populations is more serious because there is a higher risk of bone fractures, illnesses and delayed muscle recovery.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory property, increase oxygen delivery to the heart muscle during exercise, and increase insulin sensitivity. Sufficient intake of omega-3 is necessary for athletes to improve performance and also ensure good muscle recovery. Main vegan sources of omega-3 are seaweed and seeds. 

  • Minerals: A deficiency in iron, zinc, calcium and iodine could appear in a vegan diet and should be compensated by a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds and nuts.

Many top athletes in the world are already adapting a vegan diet, such as Venus Williams the famous American Tennis player,  Lewis Hamilton, 5 times world champion in Formula-1, and Kyrie Irving, a prominent basketball player. Each of them has a story behind becoming vegan, and their diet is supporting their physical performance to stay on top of their class. Documentary The Change Makers on Netflix also shows the drastic changes a vegan diet can provide for physical strength. 

At naanu we support vegans who are physically active and want to stay away from supplements. As an alternative, we offer cookies that provide you with 100% of your daily needs in vitamin D, B12 and omega-3. They're also high in zinc, iron and calcium and fibre. These cookies can also be consumed as a pre-workout snack for endurance activities because it contains 7 g of sugar per piece.

Have you tried naanu before your exercise? We would love to hear your thoughts. Follow us on Instagram page to stay updated with our latest news. 

Have a healthy happy time. 

naanu team