One major trend as we head into 2018 is Plant Based Eating. You can definitely expect to see even more vegan and vegetarian options in grocery stores and restaurants.
Can plant based eating be good for athletes? If it is well planned to meet nutrient needs, it can be possible. Keep in mind, completely switching to vegan and vegetarian will require some extra guidance from a dietitian, as you’ll want to carefully plan your diet to ensure you are meeting your nutrient need for protein, Omega 3, calcium and Vitamin D, B12, essential amino acids, and iron. Supplementation of some nutrients will be needed.
Even if you don’t intend to completely give up animal products, reducing your intake of meat and increasing your intake of plant based foods can offer a number of benefits. It offers you more antioxidants and fibre, and less saturated fats.
Below I have listed my 10 vegan foods for athletes. If you are looking to incorporate more plant based eating into your diet, try out some of these foods! I have broken down the list into the key nutrients that these foods provide including, protein & essential amino acids, Omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, Vitamin D, B12 and iron & why these nutrients are important.
Protein and Essential Amino Acids
Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth, synthesizing enzymes and hormones and it provides the building blocks of muscle, bones, hair and skin. While some plant based protein sources are short on all of the essential amino acids, the following vegan protein sources contain them all. Essential amino acids, in particular leucine, is needed post workout to maximize muscle growth & recovery.
- Tempeh (fermented soy based food which is also a source of probiotics. Try this recipe for Maple Balsamic Tempeh)
- Edamame (these are young soybeans and are excellent added to a stifryor or salad or even eaten on their own as a snack).
- Hemp seeds (also a source of omega 3 fatty acids, these seeds offer 10g protein in 3 tbsp. Add to cereal, oatmeal, energy bites, smoothies, salads and more!)
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
This healthy fat is important for heart and brain health, as well as managing inflammation. Heavy training can cause inflammation, leading to muscle soreness and fatigue. One way to reduce chronic inflammation and recover better from training is to include the healthy fat omega 3 fatty acids in the diet.
- Walnuts (Out of all the nuts, walnuts contain the most omega 3. Pair these with some fruit or cheese for a balanced snack). Hemp seeds, chia seeds and ground flax seeds are also sources of Omega 3.
Calcium is an mineral important in bone health and muscle contraction. Some vegan friendly foods contain calcium but may not be as well absorbed as other sources.
- Sesame seeds and tahini (tahini is made from ground sesame seeds and used in hummus, but you can use it for dressings too)
“The Sunshine Vitamin” is found mainly in salmon, egg yolks and milk. A supplement is most often required to meet your needs, however see below for a vegan food source. It is important for bone health, managing inflammation and may play a role in performance.
- Mushrooms (While not a very high source of Vitamin D, mushrooms are the only plant food that naturally contain Vitamin D). Plant based milks like soy and almond milk will be fortified and contain more.
Both B12 and iron (below) are involved in red blood cell formation. Low levels of either can result in fatigue. B12 supplements are usually necessary in vegan diets, and iron may be as well.
- Nutritional Yeast (With its cheesy flavour, this can be used to make sauces, dips, dressings and more. Or, simply sprinkle it on salads and stirfrys)
- Apricots (Also a great source of quick carbs before or after a workout, add apricots to energy bites and trail mix. Try these Turmeric and Ginger Apricot Energy Bars).
- Pumpkin Seeds (Don’t forget about these mighty seeds packed with nutrition! Add to oatmeal, trail mix, and salads or try these No Added Sugar Energy Bites)
- Lentils (Protein, fibre and iron. This recipe for Vegan Moroccan Chickpea Stew contains both lentils and chickpeas)
Keep in mind this is just a short list of the many plant based foods you can include in your diet, but this is a good place to start to get those nutrients listed above.
If you would like some support transitioning to a plant based diet or just learn how to include more plant based meals into your diet while maintaining performance, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Docherty, RD