If you're looking to improve your performance, consider some of these important tips for vegan athletes. There’s a common myth that a vegan diet can’t give you substantial nutrients to succeed as an athlete. There’s no reason that vegans can’t thrive with both their nutrition, and their athletic lives. If you’re considering going vegan, I’d suggest you do try it, as it’s one of the most rewarding decisions I've ever made. And if you are an athlete, have no fear about having enough energy to workout. Just follow some of these tips for vegan athletes so you can have maximum performance and avoid negative health conditions from a few simple diet tweaks.
1. Food Combining
I know food combining might seem like a little too much work, but hear me out, as it’s one of the best tips for vegan athletes for maximum performance. Different food groups are digested at different rates in the human body. Fruits are digested rapidly, and are immediately used as fuel for our cells in the form of glucose. Other foods like vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes or beans are digested slower. So, when you eat fruit with these foods, two things usually happen. First, the fruit isn’t digested as quickly, and can be left to sit in the stomach to ferment. This might cause fatigue, gas, bloating and general nausea or stomach pain. Eating fruit with bean or legumes is the worst option, however some people do tolerate some grains with fruits. In general, eat fruits alone, right before you exercise, and eat enough to fuel your workout. After your workout, it’s best to combine either vegetables with grains, vegetables with oils, nuts or seeds, or vegetables with legumes and beans. This will ensure you have plenty of energy, don’t have that “food coma” from stressed digestion, and will have plenty of energy to work out. Food combining is used to help your body digest food at the optimal rate, so you can have the energy you need, and not be bogged down by poor digestion. Leafy greens go with anything though, even fruit. If you do combine any food groups, dinner is the meal to do it, so long as you're not having dinner before your workout. This will give your body plenty of time to digest your food since it's later in the day, and you're more likely to eat dinner closer to bedtime. Keep in mind that fruit should still be eaten alone to prevent excessive gas or bloating. A smoothie is the exception here. Since it is blended, any mixture of foods should be okay.
2. Eat Enough
Don’t think you can go on a vegan diet, work out, and live off vegetables and fruit alone. Experiment with different varieties of nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. Or, perhaps, try a whole foods protein powder like organic raw hemp protein. Sunwarrior Warrior Blend is also another great choice, and is completely raw and vegan. Getting your protein on a vegan diet isn’t hard. It simply takes some creativity and trying new things. Just 2 tbsp. raw almonds supply 7 grams of protein, and 3 tbsp. hemp seeds in a smoothie gives you 13 grams of whole foods protein. Be sure you eat enough at each of your meals and don’t go hungry!
3. Educate Yourself
One of the most important tips for vegan athletes is to educate yourself. The best source for vegan athletes to my knowledge, is the book, Thrive, by Brendan Brazier. Most of you are probably familiar with the line of products by Vega, of which Brendan is the creator. Thrive is a wonderful resource for teaching you all about fueling your athletic performance on a vegan diet. Be sure you check it out, along with Vega products to fuel your vegan lifestyle at: myvega.com.
4. Cut the Junk
One thing about going vegan everyone should know, and especially athletes, is if you want to feel your best and really be healthy, vegan junk foods are a no-no. Just because Oreos and PopTarts are vegan, it doesn’t mean you get free rein to eat them. They’re not going to help your waist size, your health, or your athletic performance. If you want to go vegan, great, but cut the junk out in the process, and do it the right way. Your body will thank you!
5. Don’t Go Carb-free
For all you carb-fearing vegan athletes out there, be sure you listen up! Going carb-free on a vegan diet is not only health suicide, but also athletic performance suicide. Your body desperately needs carbs to function at its best. In fact, going without carbs on a vegan diet can throw you body into metabolic syndrome, and alter your blood sugar levels. What you should do is avoid all refined foods, all refined grains, and all sources of quick sugar like agave, maple syrup, coconut sugar, etc. Even though these might have some health benefits, they act just like sugar in your body, spike the glycemic index, and can cause blood sugar issues. Instead, choose nature’s healthy carbs. What are these? All vegetables, all raw nuts and seeds, high protein, gluten-free grains like quinoa, wild rice, amaranth, buckwheat, and gluten-free oats. Legumes and lentils are also fine if you digest them well. When choosing fruit, I always think it’s a smart choice to choose low sugar fruits as your first source above all else. This includes berries, green apples, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, and all citrus fruits. If you’re concerned with carbs, don’t be. You need them for energy, however avoiding the high sugar varieties, and high starch varieties is also important too.
6. Be Fat Smart
Vegan athletes also need to be sure to get enough healthy fats in their diet. And once again, say no to all processed fats, and go for the purely raw stuff instead. This includes avocados, raw nuts and seeds, raw nut and seed butters, raw coconut oil, first pressed extra virgin olive oil, cold-pressed hemp and flax oil, and raw coconut meat or shreds. These fats will give your body the fuel it needs and sustain your health. Since athletes burn off an incredibly large amount of calories, the body needs healthy fats to maintain optimal energy, and a healthy metabolism.
7. Supplement with B-12
Vegans can usually get all their nutrition through plant foods and plant-food supplements, however one supplement that you want to pay special attention to is B-12. B-12 is actually a bacteria made in the soil. It’s most bio-available through animals because animals eat grasses and grains from the soil as their source of B-12, which humans get by eating animal foods. B-12 is important for healthy brain cells, healthy digestion, optimal energy, and overall health. Not getting enough is extremely detrimental to your health, so be sure you choose a vegan source of B-12 to supplement with. You can use nutritional yeast, spirulina (a superfood seaweed you can take in tablet or powder form), or buy a high quality, raw foods source of B-12. I like Garden of Life B-12 or B complex. .
When learning to live as a vegan athlete, taking a high quality vegan multivitamin, eating balanced, well combined meals, and eating enough are the most basic things I’d suggest anyone do. Beyond that, educate yourself, stay inspired, and continue to see what works for you on a vegan diet. Do you have any tips to share if you’re a vegan and an athlete?