Can a Vegan Diet Support an Athlete?

vegan diets for athletes

According to one survey, more than 7 million people in the United States are vegetarians. Among them, 1 million are strict vegans. Yet there’s little information, in this survey or otherwise, on the effects of vegan diets for athletes. Is it enough to sustain them and give them the energy they need to excel in sports?

Who Are Vegans?

In dietary terms, vegans are people who abstain from consuming foods of animal origin. Instead, their diet consists of plant-based sources of important nutrients. There are many health benefits to veganism. For example, a 2014 study found that a vegan diet reduces the risk of some chronic illnesses.

It’s also important to understand the difference between vegans and vegetarians. As a rule, none of them eat meat. Yet, some vegetarians continue to consume dairy products and eggs.

Vegan Diets for Athletes: Do They Work?

The consensus among health experts is that vegans can still be successful athletes. But because of how restricted their diet is, they need to be more strategic when choosing the foods they eat.

Athletes need lots of proteins for their muscles to recover after exercise. But this can be quite a challenge for vegans, as they don’t eat animal products, which are great sources of proteins. Still, soy and quinoa can both serve as alternative protein sources.

Yet, our bodies aren’t as efficient at absorbing plant-based proteins. As such, vegan athletes need to consume more herbal proteins than other non-vegans. The same goes for other important nutrients like zinc, iron, and calcium.

Vegan Diets for Athletes: Pro Tips

For your vegan diet to sustain your athletic performance, you need to ensure that all important nutrients are part of it. A recent study also recommends the use of carnitine supplements. This chemical compound plays a key role in the production of energy. Meat and dairy are its best sources, but since vegans don’t eat those, they need to make up for their insufficiency.

You can find most other nutrients in plant-based foods. For example, leafy greens are rich in calcium, whereas cereals are good sources of vitamins D and B12. You’ll find zinc in beans, nuts, and whole grains, while walnuts are rich in fatty acids. If you need help designing your vegan diet, ask a nutritionist or a dietician for advice.

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