Peak Performance on Plants: Vegan Nutrition for Competitive Athletes

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You’ve decided to go vegan or vegetarian, but you also have big fitness goals you’re determined to crush. Many athletes worry that excluding meat and other animal products from their diet will hurt their performance, but that’s simply not true. As an athlete, you need certain nutrients to fuel your body and help it recover, and you can absolutely get everything you need from plants. You just have to be a little more thoughtful about it. Peak performance is possible in plants. This guide will show you how to craft a vegan diet for athletes that checks all the boxes for macros, vitamins, minerals, and more. You’re going to learn the best plant-based sources for protein, iron, omega-3s, and other key nutrients so you can reach your full athletic potential without compromising your values. Get ready to become a high-powered plant athlete!

Protein Power: Meeting Your Needs on a Plant-Based Diet

As an athlete, protein is essential for muscle building and recovery. The good news is, you can get plenty of protein on a plant-based diet. You just have to be strategic.

Vegan Nutrition Protein

Focus on legumes like beans, lentils, and peas, which contain 8–10 grams of protein per half cup. Tofu, tempeh, and seitan are also protein powerhouses with 10–30 grams per serving. Look for extra-firm tofu and choose seitan with 40% protein or higher.

Nuts and seeds

Almonds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and cashews contain 5-10 grams of protein per ounce. Nut butters are an easy way to add protein to your diet. Look for unsweetened versions with no added oil.

Quinoa and amaranth provide 8 grams of protein per cooked cup. Use them as a base for Buddha bowls, stir fries and lettuce cups. Buckwheat, millet and teff also have 6-7 grams per cup.

Vegan Nutrition Protein Nuts

If you do intense training, plant-based protein powders can help you meet higher needs. Look for a powder with at least 20 grams of protein per scoop and a complete amino acid profile. Add to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt or juice.

The key is to include high-protein plant-based foods at each meal and snack. As with any diet, variety and balance are key. Focus on whole foods, limit processed options and you’ll have no problem fueling your performance on a plant-based diet. The planet and your body will thank you.

Fueling Your Fire: Carbs, Fats and Calories for Optimal Performance

As an athlete following a vegan lifestyle, your diet requires extra effort and planning to get enough calories, protein, and nutrients to fuel your performance.

Carbohydrates: The Primary Fuel Source

Carbs are your main source of energy, especially for high-intensity exercise. Aim for 6-10 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day. Good options include:

Carbohydrates Vegan Nutrition
  • Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats

-Starchy veggies such as potatoes, corn, and squash

-Legumes like beans, lentils, and peas

-Fruits like bananas, apples, and berries

Don’t Fear the Fat

While carbs fuel your workout, fat provides energy for longer or lower-intensity exercise. Get 20-30% of your calories from unsaturated fats like:

-Nuts and seeds

-Nut butters

-Avocados

-Plant-based oils such as olive and coconut

Protein Power

Most athletes need 0.5 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Excellent vegan protein sources include:

-Tofu (contains all essential amino acids)

-Seitan (made from wheat gluten)

-Tempeh (fermented soybean cake)

-Plant-based protein powders

Supplement as Needed

Some nutrients like iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids can be lacking in a vegan diet. Supplement when necessary and aim for a balanced, whole-foods based diet. With the right fuel and hydration, your plant-powered body can achieve peak performance.

Supplements and Nutrients: What You May Be Missing and How to Get It

As an athlete following a plant-based diet, you need to pay extra attention to getting certain nutrients that may be lacking. Here are some of the key supplements and nutrients to focus on:

Protein

While protein deficiency is uncommon, getting enough protein on a vegan diet requires some effort. Aim for 0.5 to 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Good vegan protein sources include:

  • Legumes like beans, lentils, and peas
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Seitan (wheat gluten)
  • Nut butters
  • Plant-based protein powders (made from pea protein, rice protein, hemp protein, etc.)

You may want to consider a vegan protein supplement, especially after intense workouts. Look for a powder with at least 20 grams of protein per scoop.

Iron

Iron carries oxygen in your blood and deficiency can lead to anemia. Eat iron-rich foods such as:

  • Fortified cereals
  • Lentils
  • Spinach
  • Swiss chard
  • Tofu

You may need an iron supplement. Talk to your doctor about getting your levels tested.

Calcium

Calcium is essential for bone health and muscle function.

  • Almond milk, soy milk and other plant milks fortified with calcium
  • Tofu
  • Collard greens
  • Kale
  • Broccoli
  • Almonds

You likely need a vegan calcium supplement to meet the recommended 1000-1300 mg per day. Look for calcium citrate which is well absorbed.

Vitamin B12

This important nutrient is mostly found in animal foods, so vegans must supplement. Take a B12 supplement providing at least 2.5 mcg per day or 1000 mcg once per week. Nutritional yeast is not a reliable source.

Zinc

Zinc plays a role in immune function, growth and cell repair. Eat more:

  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Cashews
  • Chickpeas
  • Tofu

Supplementing with 15–30 mg per day may be necessary for some athletes. Check with your doctor.

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