Is it possible to follow a vegan diet and perform in physical activity as everybody else? What should you consider if you want to achieve this? Is it possible to cover all your macros with a vegan diet while training every day?
Being a sportsman is quite a sacrifice, but it is a necessity for some. Getting up earlier than most to be able to train, shower, eat and rush to work is part of a lot of people lives. Drift from the usual social party – mode to have an early Saturday or Sunday workout session is usually frowned upon and considered “crazy” business. Now, add being vegan or following a vegan diet to the equation. If this describes you, then here you will find many answers for your questions about following a vegan diet and exercising on a regular basis.
Most athletes or physically active people are afraid or concerned that a meatless diet will negatively affect their performance. Well, now we know that it’s not protein which is the basic macronutrient in sports, but carbohydrates. Guess what is the vegan diet full of. Of course, you need to be careful about which types of carbs and how many vegetable protein you are getting every day, but we will get to that later. Now I need to make you understand that you can be a successful athlete and follow a plant – based diet. Athletic performance is based on the amount of fuel you can use. This fuel, is mainly based on carbs. If you are using other sources of fuel (protein or fat) the result is a not – so – efficient energy usage. Of course, there are some exceptions such as ultra – marathons, Iron Man, Tour de France, etc.
Following up the carbs thing, most people don’t know that even though physical activity is beneficial to our health, it also produces inflammation, oxidative stress and oxygen radicals. In contrast to animal protein, a vegetable protein based diet helps to reduce and diminish the “harmful” effects of training. Vegetables, fruits and complex carbs are loaded with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which do exactly what I just told you. Again, guess what is the plant – based diet is full of. Having said that, animal protein does exactly the opposite, it contributes to oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and the production of oxygen radicals. In the same regards, the physical stress of training weakens the immunes system of athletes and physically active people, which is again boosted by a plant – based diet.
Having said that, I should remind you that there is nothing to be afraid of, if you are covering all of your macronutrient needs, of course, protein being one of them.
So, how do physically active vegans cover their protein needs?
Vegan diet and exercise: Protein
Protein needs do no change, but they are not as high as most physically active people think. No need for three chicken breasts, ten eggs and two protein shakes a day. That is just using protein as carbohydrates, which is toxic, inefficient and overly expensive. I will not get into detail about percentages, because they are specific to each sport and performance level. I am talking to you, who trains once a day or even five times a week, because you like it. How you will get your protein is from vegetable protein sources.
The only trick is to complement two vegetable protein sources which lack the amino acids that the other one has. Long story short, always mix cereals and legumes. Every day 😊. Now, in today’s world we have many vegan friendly products, which come packed with high – biological value vegetable protein. Just look for them in your local supermarket, but be careful, because some of these products have A LOT of added fat. Also, there is the possibility to use a protein powder supplement. More on that at the end of the article, in the vegan friendly supplements part.
Some food options high in vegetable protein:
- Peanut Butter
- Whole – Wheat Pasta
- Brown Rice
- Wheat / Bulgur
- Hemp Seeds
Vegan diet and exercise: Carbohydrates
As I said before, carbs are the most important macronutrient when it comes to physical activity. Both the brain and the muscles use sugar as an energy source, and performance is based on having available sugar throughout the whole training session or competition. The moment your blood sugar goes down, either physical or mental exhaustion kick in. The difference between a well-trained person and one who is not is the amount of time they can efficiently use the volume of sugar they have stored (please remember that I am trying to do this as simple as possible, I know there is much more to it).
So, you will be please to know that it is really hard to eat too few carbs on a plant – based diet. The usual carbs distribution is something around 65 – 68% of the whole daily calories. The trick is knowing which kind of carbohydrates are good for you. When in doubt, always use complex carbs. You can always check – out this article to know more about what the hell are complex carbohydrates.
The beauty of the plant – based diet is that most of the carbs you consume also have vegetable protein in them, son 2×1. In order to follow a vegan diet and do physical activity, you need to understand that you should have carbs before and immediately after every training. No, you won’t gain fat. You will just replenish your muscle glycogen levels and repair your broken tissue, so you can increase your performance levels and take advantage of the anabolic period that comes after the stress training produce to your metabolism. Keep in mind that it’s complex carbs that you need, not refined sugar or pastries, even if they are also considered vegan.
Vegan diet and exercise: Fat
This is a little bit trickier. Most of the people I have interacted with in regard of becoming vegan or following a vegan diet always think that you can have as much fat as you want. “I am not eating saturated fat sources, because I don’t eat meat. I only eat good fat” (while gorging on some french fries with vegan – friendly mayo). Even though you should have a relatively high intake of fat while following a plant – based diet, you should understand that it is polyunsaturated fat the main one you should use. The only reason why you should have fat in your mind while elaborating your vegan diet is because there is not meat or animal protein, which usually bring fat to the table, regardless of the type. Having said that, we only need 7 – 11% of fat from the total daily caloric intake. Be mindful about the amount of oil in your diet. Add seeds and nuts but avoid oil. Try to use avocados and olives instead.
Vegan diet and exercise: Supplements
As stated before, protein is really important to have a safe macronutrients supply and to build lean and strong muscle. I leave you two really good options:
In order to avoid muscle catabolism and to maintain a steady blood sugar level, maltodextrin is a really good and safe option for vegans. More on this supplement here.
Amino acids are the simplest and smallest form of protein and today’s industry manufactures them in a way that they serve as intra – workouts. Just be careful with the source of the amino acids. Two really good options as well:
Super Food Supplements:
In regard of superfoods, there are A LOT of products out there today. These serve as sources of minerals, antioxidants or other beneficial substances, and are almost 100% plant – based. This, in my opinion, is the best super food supplement out there:
Most of the times, simple, practical and real things are the best options for these situations, often better than processed artificial supplements. Remember, I strongly recommend that you consult your doctor/certified nutritionist before taking this or any other supplements.