The Ultimate Guide To Vegan!
Chapter 5. Can Athletes Be Successful With A Vegan Diet?
A well-planned, balanced, diverse vegan diet is a great for all people young and old. Nutrition professionals all over the world recognise numerous health benefits of vegan lifestyles, and going vegan is also great for animals and for the Earth. But is it just as good for people with increased nutritional demands, such as vegan athletes?
Well, in short, there is absolutely no reason why it wouldn’t be, provided one is getting all required nutrients! And although high quality studies assessing the suitability of plant-based nutrition for athletic demands are yet to be conducted, a large body of anecdotal evidence already exists.
Here are just some of the famous, high-performing vegan athletes:
Jehina Malik, a competitive bodybuilder and vegan since birth!
This wonder woman is possibly the only vegan from birth in the profession, and it definitely didn’t stop her from winning he 2013 NPC Eastern USA Bodybuilding Championships in the lightweight category. Currently, Jehina is working towards her goal entering the top 5 in the USA.
Fiona Oakes is an elite marathon runner, and she is also a holder of 3 World Marathon titles who has completed over 40 marathons with a personal best of 2 hours 38 minutes.
Much like Jehina, Fiona started her vegan journey relatively early in life – at the age of six, to be exact. A huge advocate for a cruelty-free lifestyle, Fiona notes: “Veganism is everything to me. It touches every part of my life…my strengths as an athlete are that I am not an athlete for myself. I am doing it for the benefit of others, which makes me work much harder.”
Such an inspiration!
Patrik Baboumian, who likes calling himself “a vegan badass”, once won Germany’s strongest man for the 105 KG weighting, becoming the very first vegan to achieve this milestone.
He became vegan upon realisation that his previous way of eating contradicted his values for welfare and ethical treatment of living creatures big and small.
After removing himself completely from the entire animal industry, Patrick likes saying that “almost two years after becoming vegan [he is] stronger than ever before and [he is] still improving day by day.”
Cam Awesome, an 8 time national super heavyweight boxing champion, and captain of the USA National Boxing team, went vegan in 2012 following the 2012 Olympic Games disappointment as he fell short right before the event.
A fellow boxer in a local gym introduced Cam into a plant-based diet, and the athlete went vegan “cold turkey”, falling in love with the new cruelty-free lifestyle after as little as 2 weeks. He won many tournaments since then, suggesting the change was positive!
Molly Cameron is a professional cyclo-cross racer. This is a very unique, intense form of cycling where athletes have to carry their bikes over tricky obstacles too difficult to overcome while still riding a bike.
Going vegan coincided with entering the world of professional cycling for Molly, but it definitely didn’t stop her! In fact, she thinks it’s the opposite, saying: “if anything, eating organic and whole food keeps my energy level and mental focus consistent. It is the logical step when living a super active and conscious lifestyle.”
As you can see from these wonderful examples, it’s certainly possible to be a top-performing athlete whilst leading a vegan lifestyle!
This is, of course, not to say that the transition won’t require a few extra considerations, such as:
Protein needs for vegan athletes.
Whilst an average recommended daily amount (RDA) of protein for adults is 0.8-0.9 grams of protein per 1 kg of body weight per day, it is considerably higher for high performing athletes – 1.4-1.8 g/kg body weight daily.
These requirements are very important, as athletes need sufficient amounts of protein for muscle repair and/or gaining muscle mass, depending on nature of the sport.
This means that in order to hit the RDA whilst also getting all the amino acids necessary, vegan athletes need to focus on a variety of protein rich plant sources, including beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and tofu, whilst also consuming enough leafy greens.
Protein needs are perhaps easier to meet if vegan protein powders are included in the equation – there are many available options these days.
Energy needs for vegan athletes.
There is a common misconception that vegan diets are extremely low in energy, therefore it’s impossible to maintain strength and endurance whilst leading a cruelty-free lifestyle.
This is false! Many vegan foods are naturally high in energy – think nuts and seeds, for instance. If an extra energy boost is still required, there is an easy way around it too: fruit juice!
Think of natural orange, grape or cherry juices with their sugary goodness. Don’t overdo it though – “enough” and “too much” are not the same.
Don’t listen to those telling you that your athletic performance will inevitably suffer if you go vegan. Be persistent with getting enough of particular nutrients (think protein and vitamin B12), and you’ll be just fine, if not better.
As we’ve mentioned above, there is not enough scientific evidence around this topic yet, which is exactly why so many false myths are emerging.
However, our overall knowledge and experience suggests that being a successful vegan athlete is very much possible. With some extra planning, you’ll get there – we promise!