Veganism has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many people now choosing to cut out meat and dairy from their diets. While the most obvious reasons for this may be sustainability and animal morality, for some this lifestyle change can be to improve health or save money.
For athletes, choosing to become vegan can be seen as detrimental to their nutrition efforts, with many concerns focusing on where that all-important protein will come from. Retaining a healthy and balanced diet is pivotal for any athlete’s physical performance, but contrary to popular belief there are many ways that you can get the necessary nutrients as part of a vegan diet.
If you’re looking for advice on how to improve your vegan diet for performance, read on!
High Protein Diet Planning for Vegans
Before you launch into your diet planning, it is important to consider your macro requirements (protein, fats and carbs) when using vegan recipes. As outlined by One Green Planet, there are 3 macronutrient ratios to choose from:
(A) 30% Protein, 50% Carbs, and 20% Fats
(B) 40% Protein, 50% Carbs, and 10% Fats
(C) 40% Protein, 40% Carbs, and 20% Fats
Type A will be better suited to long-distance runners, the Type B diet for swimming athletes., and Type C will be best for bodybuilders,
Generally speaking, the protein intake for vegan athletes should between 1.2 – 1.8g protein per kilogram of body weight per day (for non-athletes it’s around 0.8g). However, this number is highly variable and dependent on the type, duration and intensity of the type of exercise you do.
Following a vegan diet means it can be much harder to get all of the nutrients you need from your meals. So it might be worth investing in a number of supplements:
- Vitamin B12 – is only found in animal products, so most vegans can be deficient
- Omega- 3 fatty acids
- Calcium & Vitamin D
Quick fact: East African runners (recognised as some of the best runners in the world!) eat very little meat. They eat a traditional plant-based diet including lots of fresh food.
Vegan Meal Alternatives
1. Breakfast bowls
Anything Goes Breakfast Bowls! These are one of my favourite breakfasts. They take about 60 seconds to make, no recipe required and they always taste amazing. If you have a well-stocked pantry and some fruit on hand, you’re all set. To make them, just throw everything in a bowl and dig in. Here are some ideas to help you get started: 1. Chopped apple, chopped dates, almond butter, coconut and roasted sweet potato. 2. Pumpkin puree, chopped apple, walnuts, hemp seeds, cacao nibs and tahini. 3. Fresh or frozen berries, hemp seeds, chia seeds, almond butter. 4. Sunflower seeds, raisins, tahini, sliced banana, cinnamon and coconut. 5. Acorn squash, pecans, cinnamon, hemp seeds, fresh or frozen berries. 5. Chia pudding, cashews, coconut, pumpkin seeds, almond butter. 6. Leftover brown rice, tahini, blueberries, cashews, maple syrup and a drizzle of coconut milk. 8. Chia and hemp pudding, peanut butter, banana and cacao nibs. 9. Coconut and chia pudding with chopped pears, chopped dates, ginger and almonds. When I'm building breakfast bowls, I like to start with a base of chia, hemp, rolled oats, quinoa flakes, flax or coconut. You can mix them with a little water or plant milk to create a pudding or you can use some leftover brown rice, quinoa, or some mashed squash or sweet potato. From there, let the topping begin! Think nuts, seeds, fruits, cacao nibs, coconut and nut butter. There are no rules and that's what makes them so fun!
Porridge is filled with slow-release carbs, and is incredibly easy to make vegan.
Recipe: Heat 50g of oats with 300ml of vegan milk (preferably fortified) and cinnamon for 4-5 minutes on the hob. Add half a banana, and sprinkle with nuts and honey.
Nutrition (approximately): 510 calories, 23g of protein, 15g fat. 70g carbohydrates
Other great alternatives: Alpro yogurt, peanut butter, cocoa powder blueberries, vanilla extract. You can also create ‘overnight oats’ by leaving ingredients in a container overnight – no need for heating up!
3. Tofu scrambled eggs
A great vegan alternative to scrambled eggs, scrambled tofu is easy to make, high in nutrients, and seriously yummy.
Basic recipe: Press 300g of tofu to remove moisture, Mix desired spices (e.g. garlic, salt & chili powder) with 3 tbsp of nutritional yeast with 3 tbsp of soya milk and heat up in a frying pan. Crumble the pressed tofu on top, then add black beans (cooked and drained) and spinach to the mix. Serve in a wrap.
Nutrition (approximately): 320 calories, 15g protein, 13g fat, 35g carbohydrates
Other great alternatives/additions: this recipe works when you combine the tofu with plain vegan yogurt. You can also add mushrooms, spring onions and tomatoes. Feel free to get creative!
Top read: Eat & Run by Scott Jurek explains how his change of diet – switching to become vegan – helped him win the Minnesota Voyageur race (an ultra-marathon) on his third attempt.
1. Stuffed sweet potato
A great vegan alternative to stuffed chicken is a stuffed vegetable! Plus baked sweet potatoes are one of the best foods for athletes as they are high in numerous minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. This recipe is by Power Hungry.
Recipe: After pricking your sweet potato, roast it in a preheated oven on 400C for 45 min- 1 hour. Slit it open, mash the inside, then add 2 tbsp of hummus, followed by 2 tbsp of chopped toasted walnuts, pomegranate and top with 1 tbsp of fresh mint.
Nutrition: 350 calories, 8.7g protein, 2.1g fat, 47g carbohydrates.
Other great alternatives/additions: You can stuff your sweet potatoes with guacamole, sweet corn, vegan sour cream and beans. We also think garnishing with vegan cheese is a winner!
2. Chickpea burgers
An incredible vegan alternative for beef and chicken, chickpea burgers are a high in protein and wonderfully simple to make. A double win for busy athletes! The following recipe is by Whole Living Lauren and makes 8 burgers.
Recipe: Place 1 cup of cooked chickpeas (that have been drained/rinsed) in a blender with ¾ cup of almond milk (177ml), half a tsp of garlic powder and sage. Combine 2 cups of oats and half cup of ground walnuts in a bowl, then add 1 diced onion (cooked until brown). Allow this to rest for 10 min before creating 8 patties that you cook over medium heat (flip after 5-7 min).
Nutrition: 205 calories, 6g protein, 8g fat, 28g carbohydrate
Other great alternatives/additions: From veggies and rice, mushrooms and nuts, to quinoa and beans, the possibilities truly are limitless with vegan burgers.
3. Loaded Toast
Quick fact: A study by the University of North Carolina found that athletes who ate 3 hours before a run were able to exercise longer than those who ate 6 hours beforehand (Muffucci & McMurray, 2000)
1. Quinoa Lentil Bolognese
If you’re looking for a great vegan replacement for spag bol, stop right here. The following recipe by Anita Bean is not only delicious but is a great source of protein, fibre and iron (to name a few!). This recipe serves 2.
Recipe: Fry 1 diced onion until softened and brown. Add 1 tsp of garlic, and a diced carrot and courgette – cook for 3 minutes – then add 125g of brown lentils, 400ml of vegetable stock and 200g of chopped tomatoes. Bring this to the boil, then simmer for 30 min. In the meantime, simmer 125g of quinoa for 20 min, season with salt and pepper. Serve these 2 together.
Nutrition: 542 calories, 28g protein, 11g fat, 77g carbohydrates
Other great alternatives/additions: Adding red peppers, squash and tomato puree will work well here. You can also serve this with steamed tenderstem broccoli for a final finesse!
2. Vegan Shepherd’s Pie
Shepherd’s Pie is a wonderful hearty meal that great for post-workout recovery. You can fill this with all your favourite veg.
Click here to see Minimalist Baker’s top recipe for Vegan Shepherd’s Pie.
3. Vegetable Tagine
These meal ideas are just a few of the delicious ways that athletes can ensure they are getting the vital nutrition that they need in their vegan diet. For non-vegan athletes, perhaps this will give you some inspiration to switch up your meal plan and see how far a plant-based diet can take you!