Potential Performance Effects with A Vegan Diet

We received several questions from people about a vegan diet and the impact on performance in endurance sports. We understand and respect that some people decide to implement a vegan nutritional approach for ethical reasons & you will not hear an argument from us. However, if you are considering becoming a vegan purely for overall health and fitness reasons, then we recommend keeping an open mind to alternate options, so you do not compromise performance and recovery at critical times. Here are some tips on how to optimize your diet for improving fitness and also advice should you still choose a 100% vegan diet.

  1. A Vegan Diet Lacks Omega 3 Fatty Acids – Important to Overall Health. A vegan diet can lead to potential health issues, one of which is an inadequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids. The conversion of omega-3’s that originate from plant sources is very small in a vegan nutrition regime compared to the ones from animal sources such as fish or grass-fed beef. Omega-3’s can be found in every cell and within the DHA layer of your brain. They make your muscle tissue more reactive to the muscle building effects of amino acids found in protein. A vegan diet oftentimes cannot deliver the proper dosage, and over time, this deficiency can cause health problems. What can you do as a vegan to avoid and/or limit those challenges? Implement supplements with plant-based omega-3’s such as walnut, hemp, primrose, chia and borage seed oils on a daily basis. Assess your energy levels and recovery times from workouts carefully and undergo a full blood tested on a regular basis. Schedule a test at least once per year but consider more frequently if you are training at a very high volume and/or intensity.

  2. Cold Water Fish & Grass-Fed Beef Enhance Your Diet. We recommend a predominantly plant-based diet balanced with cold water fish such as wild caught salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, herring, krill and more. Grass-fed beef also provides highly absorbable healthy omega 3s, like Linoleic Acid. Avoid grain fed beef as much as possible. Grass-fed beef tends to contain less total fat than their grain-fed beef counterparts and has more omega-3 fatty acids and CLA, which are both linked to health benefits.

  3. Balance Carbohydrates to Improve Absorption and Gut Microbiome. Carbohydrates are dominant in the vegan diet. While they deliver mostly healthy carbs, in great volume they can cause systemic inflammation, a dependence on insulin and gut microbiome problems. Balance your gut microbiome by increasing your consumption of dark leafy greens (kale, microgreens, broccoli, collard greens, spinach, cabbage etc.). Healthy fruits that are lower in fructose are also good choices as long as you keep the consumption in moderation.  Examples of low fructose fruits include blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. Be careful with the amount of agave nectar in your daily diet (separate from your sports nutrition during your workouts). This product is found oftentimes in vegetarian menus and contains a high level of fructose, therefore read the labels and/or menus! As a vegan, include fermented vegetables to enhance gut flora. Kimchi, coleslaw and pickled vegetables are all good sources. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian, we advise to include unsweetened Greek yogurt, cheese curd and/or kefir.

  4. Avoid Packaged Protein Products. If you follow a plant-based diet, eat the most natural sources of protein as often, and as much, as possible. Nuts, seeds and dark beans are all excellent choices. Soy and textured veggie patties should not be found on your daily menu. Oftentimes, they are highly processed, full of salt and refined ingredients when compared to whole foods. Again, read the labels and menu.

Final thoughts:

  • Vegans who are athletes need to closely monitor their protein intake because it can be difficult to consume an adequate amount for recovery. Inadequate protein causes muscle wasting and affects hormone production, and negatively impacts tendon, ligament and connective tissue health.

  • As mentioned above, adding cold water fish helps to avoid these problems and benefits your heart, arteries, veins, lung function and also enhances athletic performance, although compromising the true vegan diet.

  • Overall, going vegan is a personal choice. If you are looking to maximize performance, then we recommend incorporating the above basics into your diet to find the most long-term and sustainable success.

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