There are a whole host of benefits to adopting a vegan diet, some of them physical, others mental. That isn’t to say there aren’t challenges. Performing well during exercise takes a little thought and planning to ensure you give your body the fuel it needs to excel.
Whether you’re hitting the gym, dancing or running the right nutrition is key to achieving as much as you can, and while there are many benefits to a vegan diet, it definitely takes a little bit more thought to get right.
Here are six tips to help to reach your fitness goals when adopting a plant based diet
Eat Properly Before Exercise
Getting the right pre-workout/run/ride nutrition is essential for anyone. The main focus your pre-sweat eating should be carbs. As our muscles primary fuel source they give you the beans to smash through your routine.
Luckily, considering fruit and vegetables consist largely of carbohydrates, this shouldn’t be a challenge.
Depending on how much time you have before you exercise, it’s recommended to have a small-ish meal with a good mixture of carbs and protein a few hours before hard exercise.
This could be a delicious oat-bowl with dairy-free yoghurt, some food and some nuts. #Nomnom.
If you’re just about to hit the gym a few pieces of fruit make the ideal choice. Fruit, such as bananas or dates are perfect as they’re rich in rapid acting glucose – our bodies most efficient energy supply.
If you take part in an endurance sport like long distance running or cycling, it’s recommended you consume around 30g of carbs per hour to keep you ticking over. While fruit is great, some people struggle with food during exercise, so carb drinks a simple alternative.
Getting Enough Protein in a vegan diet is easy!
Protein plays a critical role in building lean muscle mass, if you eat meat and dairy it’s very unlikely to be a problem, however there’s a common misconception that vegans simply can’t get enough protein in their diet.
The truth is, that’s simply not the case, those who follow a vegan diet shouldn’t have any problem consuming adequate quantities of protein.
Protein is found in reasonably large quantities in a number of plant-based foods, for instance:
- Lentils and Legumes (Beans) – Lentils, beans and peas are great sources of protein, dietary fibre and are rich in a wide of variety of vitamins & minerals. For instance lentils contain around 9g of protein per 100g and nearly as much fibre. Both beans and lentils can be a great way to add some depth or pack out a simple pasta, stew or curry for next to nothing!
- Nuts, Nut Butter & Seeds etc – All kinds of nuts are rich in protein and a source of healthy fats, which can be especially important to get as part of a vegan diet. Seeds, such as chia seed and flax also contain considerable amounts of protein and plenty of fibre too.
- Soybeans, Tofu and Tempeh – Soybeans and the many products made from them like tofu and tempeh are the absolute bee’s knees when it comes to high protein. 100g of soybeans contains a massive 36g of protein! Tofu contains a lot of less at around 8g of protein per 100g, but it’s versatility of a food source make it suitable for just about any dish you can think of.
- Non-Dairy Milk – Soy, nut or oat sourced milks each contain some protein. A good dashing of soy milk in particular contains around 7g of protein – perfect over a good fortified cereal. Almond milk contains 2-3g and oat milk around 4g in your average bowl of cereal.
- Millionaire Crunch – We’d be silly not to mention our first high protein, low sugar, vegan, gluten-free, palm-oil (whew!) snack wouldn’t we?
[Oatein Millionaire Crunch – Buy Now link]
One advantage of consuming dairy and animal products is that that these proteins are ‘complete’ proteins. Complete proteins are made up of all 20 standard amino acids that the body needs to create muscle (and a range of other functions). This means that someone who consumes meat or a dairy could utilise just one source of protein for all of their needs (obviously we’d recommend you avoid this!)
Get the Right Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and Minerals play a number of important roles in exercise from assisting in the production of energy, recovery, bone health and a myriad of other complex roles throughout the body. Hard exercise can deplete these vitamins and minerals and lacking these important nutrients can have a serious detriment to your athletic performance. For instance, a lack of dietary iron can leave you feeling fatigued and sluggish, vitamin B is involved in metabolism and energy production while vitamins C, E, and Zinc work to support your immune system, which tends to take a beating after working out.
Most of the important vitamins and minerals can be sourced quite easily with a plant-based diet as long as you (surprise, surprise: vary it up).
- Vitamin B – Found in Brown Rice, broccoli, buckwheat, almonds, spinach, green peas
- Vitamin C – Strawberries, Kiwis, Orange, broccoli, berries
- Vitamin D – Mushrooms, the sunshine (tricky if you live in the UK)
- Vitamin E – Almonds, hazelnuts, mustard greens, spinach, kale and olives.
- Calcium – Leafy greens, parsley and coriander, brocolli, many beans and legumes and black treacle
- Magnesium – Leafy Greens, black beans, avocado and whole greens
Most commonly found in meat and dairy, vitamin B12 can be a little bit more difficult to acquire. Luckily, a number of cereals and vegan milks are now being fortified with vitamin B12, however it’s also available as a supplement if you’re struggling to get enough in your diet.
New to Veganism? Your body might take a while to adjust.
If you’ve just made the move to a vegan diet, it’s safe to say your body might take some time to adjust. While for most of us it won’t be too dramatic, in a sense all food is a drug. Removing protein rich meat, a significant part of our diet, and replacing it with foods we might not have regularly consumed in the past can be somewhat hard on our bodies.
Don’t worry though, stick it out and make sure you’re getting all the important minerals you need and it won’t take long before you’re performing at your best again!
You Might Need to a Eat More Than You Expect…
From an evolutionary perspective, the benefits of many non-vegan food types is obvious: calorie density. Meat and dairy for instance are quite high in calories, they’re also rich in fat and protein making them rather filling.
That’s not to say you can’t get enough calories as a vegan, in fact it’s easy.
Rather than just going for all those leafy greens next time you pop down to the greengrocers, make sure you pick-up a good variety of a starchy vegetables, beans and seeds, all of which pack a punch in a healthy diet. Definitely don’t shy away from good quality fat sources like avocado and peanut butter, without the typical sources for fat in your diet, it’s very easy to not get enough.
Lastly, you’ll probably find that you simply eat to eat more food than you’re used too, even if you’re trying to lose weight!
A Vegan Diet Might be a Hard, A Positive Mindset Really Helps
Adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle at times will be tough, but as with anything, approaching it with a positive and open mindset is the key to success. Accepting that it might be challenging or that you might suffer setbacks is important too.
Don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally need to take the extra rest day from your workout routine, especially when you’re just adopting a vegan diet.
My final Two Pence
While writing this article, one very important point stuck with me. Nearly all of these tips will benefit just about anyone whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian or neither. The most important point is this: the more variety in your diet the better. This must be key to performing well as an athlete from a nutritional point of view comes from a