There is a common assumption that people who are on a vegan diet don’t get enough nutrients to be professional athletes or have an advanced level of physical activity. This assumption is actually based on the recurrent habit of famous athletes to go on a plant-based diet but switching back to eating meat, which reinforces the message that it is not good for your health.
However, athletes like Brendan Brazier are a living example of how this switch is completely possible to have a high fitness level on a plant-based diet.
Why is it difficult to be a vegan athlete? The difficulty of this issue lies primarily in switching to a vegan diet. It is difficult especially that most vegetables and legumes generally have higher percentages of carbs and lower percentages of protein and hence the same quantity of food gives the recipient less nutrients and energy. Furthermore, you can be getting lower levels of calcium and sodium that are crucially important for athletes. Those deficiencies are at the root of three major problems.
• Constant feeling of hunger: this is often the result of low protein and dietary fats. Our bodies need essential fats that are usually gained from dairy and other animal product but are more difficult to get from vegetables. • Muscles cramps: this is usually the result of low calcium and sodium levels, two minerals that vegans tend to have a deficiency in. • Low energy: this can be due to the lack of iron and other minerals. Hard physical activity depletes iron and can cause anemia.
What should an athlete do to address those problems? While this can be a challenge, it is certainly a solvable problem despite the need for some persistence. • Constant feeling of hunger: make sure to eat protein at every meal and for snacks. Other important ingredients include nuts and seeds oil that can help get all the essential oils and fats that the body needs. • Muscle cramps: start adding salt to one or two meals each day to compensate for the loss of sodium and as for calcium it is important that you start eating almonds, bananas and green vegetables on almost every meal to compensate for the loss. Try supplements if you need to. • Low energy: can be fought by eating beans, nuts and dried fruits that are high in iron. It is also a good practice to regularly your iron levels.
Did you change to a plant based diet a while back? Are you looking to continue or resume your active lifestyle? Are you a fairly physically active individual and not sure how veganism is going to impact your lifestyle? Rest assured that as long as you eat properly you have nothing to worry about; in fact you might be doing your body a favour in switching to a plant-based diet.
How does veganism affect your fitness levels and performance?
If you undergo a moderate level of physical activity on a regular basis and have recently switched to a plant-based diet, you might notice some changes in your body and your overall performance. Those changes are often related to the way your body processes certain foods and to the fact that you suddenly might be eating less protein or not getting the whole protein combinations.
It can also be related to a lack of minerals and vitamins such as calcium and iron and essential fatty acids that are crucially needed for your muscle and bone development as well as blood flow. However, this problem is not directly related to the diet itself but to how your administer it.
What changes do I need to be making?
First and foremost, it is crucially important that you understand the diet and how to eat properly as a vegan in order to avoid any potential health issues. Fit and physically active people specifically need additional minerals and different types of proteins and fats than people who do not exercise or who lead a more sedentary lifestyle. For those reasons, it is your responsibility to know your nutrition needs, and find the best food combinations that would provide you with those nutrients.
Another important consideration is using protein powders and supplements. Many vegan soy-based protein mixes can be easily added to shakes to be drunk as a snack or even as a meal replacement. They usually provide you with high quantities of protein and most of the essential nutrients and minerals that your body needs.
Supplements of vitamins and essential fats are easily accessible in drug stores and are often tailored to people with various lifestyles.
It is certainly possible and even healthy to be moderately active, healthy and vegan all at the same time. What is the most important is to understand the challenges and prepare a meal plan that compensate for the lost nutrients.
If you have recently turned vegan or you are still considering adopting a plant-based diet, but are concerned about your level of activity and keeping an active and athletic lifestyle, then this article is for you.
It is true that there are some concerns around changing diets and veganism specifically, but there are some successful athletes who do not eat animal products and they are thriving. The key is to know what you are getting into and do it well.
Can vegans lead an active lifestyle?
Of course, while getting proper nutrients is an essential step for developing and maintaining a healthy active lifestyle, the type of diet rarely prevents you from accomplishing that. Even people who eat meat and other animal products might run into problems if they do not eat right. Furthermore, there are many successful and well-known athletes and sports figures who adopt a plant-based diet. So, veganism does not prevent that kind of physical development in any way.
What are the health issues I should watch out for?
While our bodies are certainly capable from adapting to change in many different ways, it is only natural that you would have to make certain changes to your eating and exercising habits as you transition to the new diet. A few key things to watch out for include:
Caloric vs. protein intake: like in any other diet, you need additional calories if you are training on a regular basis. This is not to be confused with the increased protein intake, which is also essential. People with plant-based diets tend to get less whole proteins that are essential for the body especially when training, so it is important that you get more calories and a higher percentage of protein.
Minerals: many minerals that are highly important for training such as iron and calcium are found in higher quantities in animal products, which means that it is more difficult to get them through a vegan diet. Include foods that are high in minerals in your diet and resort to supplements when necessary.
Change your approach on fitness: Shorter more intense workouts are recommended for people on a vegan diet because they are far more likely to be in sync with your protein levels. This is important because with less protein you run the risk of losing muscle mass when exercising.
Over the years eating habits of people around the world have changed tremendously and dramatically. Apart from family customs, social settings and personal preferences the diets of people are now influenced by a number of other factors such as environment, media, governments, trade, migration and the technologies used in the kitchen like microwave ovens, toasters and so on. And today there are many kinds of diets which a person can choose from, but of all diets a vegan diet is totally unique as it is not just a diet but more of a lifestyle choice and a personal philosophy. A vegan diet is a lifestyle choice because a person who chooses to be a vegan avoids not only meat and fish, but all kinds of products that come from animals including milk, egg and honey for not only better health, but for ethical issues such as animal rights and for environmental issues. People who are vegan even avoid using leather, fur, silk, wool, soaps and so on products derived from animals. A person who is a true vegetarian it is easy for him or her to be vegan as Veganism is simply a subset of vegetarianism.
Veganism might be complex and difficult to practice for many, but it has a number of health benefits for people according to food science as it is high in dietary fiber, folic acid, iron, phytochemicals, magnesium and vitamin C and E. And many people have become vegan mainly for deriving health benefits. Some of the vegan health benefits are:
1) Illnesses and conditions: Eating animal fats and proteins increases risk various diseases and Therefore there is a lot lesser risk of developing cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases and so on other diseases in vegans.
2) Weight loss: A diet of vegan mainly includes whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits which contain no cholesterol and are very low in fat mainly saturated fats which helps in weight loss. It makes a person healthier with high fiber and other nutrient filled foods.
3) Increased life expectancy: According to studies people who eat red meat and proceeds meat have less life expectancy and can die prematurely more frequently than vegans and vegetarians.
4) PMS: Vegan diet is also known to decrease the intensity of PMS- pre-menopausal symptoms as well as menopausal symptoms.
5) Increased energy: Vegans reportedly feel less sluggish and weighed down after a meal. They have better endurance in exercise and sports are more pronounced as their diet does not include any animal products.
Vegan diet style has high nutritional and health advantages but just like any other diet vegan diet too has some health risks which every person must know to stay healthy the best way. Some of the health risks related to a vegan diet are:
1) Vitamin B12 deficiency: Vegans have a really high risk of a vitamin B12 deficiency as this vitamin is mostly found in meat and animal products. Lack of vitamin B12 a person can suffer from unusual fatigue, amenorrhea, and nausea and in extreme cases can suffer from severe irreversible brain damage.
2) Infants: Breast milk of vegan mothers has very low critical brain fat, DHA and other vitamins which can affect breast feeding their children. Infants can suffer from disorders such as anemia, weakness, hematological abnormalities and other disorders.
3) Intestinal discomfort: A Vegan diet has more foods within it and for new vegans this can cause intestinal discomfort.
4) Calcium and vitamin D deficiencies: A vegan diet has very low calcium which can result in future fractures. To remedy this deficiency a vegan diet should be balanced with more of spinach and soy products. And since vitamin D aids calcium to build strong bones it is important for vegans to receive enough sunlight.
5) Protein deficiency: Vegans have much higher risk of protein deficiency than vegetarians as they don’t eat cheese, eggs or drink milk. And vegan sources of protein are incomplete proteins.
Lastly, vegan diet can be very healthy for everyone if and only if it is balanced and well planned.
People choose to go vegan for multiple reasons. Yet just like any change of diet, it works only if and when the diet is done right. While many people can live a lifetime without eating animal products, it is a fact that there are some serious well being concerns associated with not eating animal products that should be aware of. Below are tips to help you making a healthy switch to a vegan diet.
Common vegan health risks
Low iron. It is not uncommon for people on a plant-based diet to suffer from an iron deficit and even from anemia, which could cause fatigue and other associated problems. The good news is that there are many foods that could boost your iron intake. Those include red kidney beans, spinach in a raw form and various nuts such as cashews, peanuts and almonds. Make sure you include them in your diet.
Low calcium. Calcium is essential for bones, nails and teeth growth and is mostly present in animal products such as milk and eggs. A low level of calcium could decrease your bone density and put you at a higher chance of getting arthritis and other harmful diseases. You can address this problem by buying fortified vegan items such soy milk and tofu and capitalizing on natural sources of calcium such as almonds, tahini and collard greens.
Whole proteins. Unlike animal products, very few vegan ingredients contain the eight essential amino acids that your body needs for proper growth. This means that you often run the risk of not getting enough protein combination intake which can be harmful to your body. The best way to ensure you are getting the most doses of protein is to find the right combinations of foods and cook based on that.
Take the right supplements
Dr. Joel Fuhrman points out six nutrients that vegans should supplement to stay in optimal health. Find out those supplements in the video below:
General tips for a healthy transition to veganism:
Get informed before you make the diet switch. There are many resources available online for free to help you know the risks and address them.
Check with your doctor before switching diets to make sure your body can support it.
If you doubt that you are getting enough nutrients, try vitamin and mineral supplementAvoid processed foods and make sure the large portion of your diet includes wholesome ingredients with a lot of benefit.
Cook for yourself and talk to other vegans to get easy fully nutritious recipes.