Strict vegetarianism or veganism is a style of eating based primarily on the consumption of foods of whole plant origin . Today, more and more people say they start with a change in their diet and stop eating meat.
We have all ever heard phrases like; "without eating animals you will have deficits", "plant-based you will not perform", "if you do not eat meat you will not increase muscle mass", "only eating vegetables you will not have strength", etc. However, we have more than enough evidence to refute these claims.
In recent years, more and more people have changed their diet and have decided to eat a diet free of animal products for different reasons. For this reason, more and more athletes are choosing to follow a plant-based diet (plant-based diet s), in which people do not consume more than 7% animal products.
Unfortunately, not all professionals know how to address nutrition focused on a vegan diet, but in accordance with the applicable code of ethics, one should always seek to give the patient the best advice backed by the scientific evidence that we have so far and without judging their decision. staff.
There is also a multitude of misinformation on the internet and on social networks that can lead vegans to adopt unhealthy eating patterns. For example, ignoring providing all the necessary nutrients; believing that the vegan diet is a panacea and eating only green vegetables, white pasta or ultra-processed vegans. Or, on the contrary, they believe that the vegan diet is not adequate or compatible with health and physical exercise and, finally, they abandon the practice of veganism due to misinformation.
1. Is veganism compatible with sports performance?
In 2009, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) stated that "Vegetarian diets, properly planned, including totally vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." diseases. In addition, they are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence, as well as for all sportsmen/athletes.
Therefore, yes you can avoid meat, eggs and fish and be an athlete without affecting your health or your performance at all. But I want to point out the expression " properly planned" , in which I agree, since if you do not plan your diet well by excluding certain foods and you do not know how to add others, you may be compromising some nutrients and have deficits with negative consequences. But I think it is important and fair to clarify that this can happen to the entire population with any type of diet if we do not base our diet on raw materials, with abundant variety and we eat with consistency and balance adapted to our caloric needs.
It is important to note that a person with a conventional omnivorous diet may also have some nutritional deficiencies due to poor planning.
With a well-planned diet and a balance of nutrients and micronutrients easily achievable in a minimally varied diet, there should be no deficiencies, with some exceptions where the context requires an extra contribution in addition to dietary supplements.
2. Does a vegan athlete need to eat more than an omnivore?
The foods that vegans eat have more fiber and water and are more filling . Therefore, it is possible that if it is not planned well, you will not eat as much. Carbohydrates have fewer calories than fat and we know that vegan protein foods share a matrix with carbohydrates and not fats, as occurs in animal protein foods. But it does not mean that the overall diet has to be less caloric if you know how to plan.
There are plant-based foods that have more calories than red meat, but the nutrients they provide are different. Red meat provides us mainly with fat, and most likely it is saturated fat. On the other hand, vegetable products have more antioxidants, fiber, AGM and AGP fats , and other micronutrients that those of animal origin do not have or have in little quantity. Therefore, in the diet of an athlete, introducing all the macronutrients of vegetables has an advantage over that extra nutrients and carbohydrates that at the same time are protectors of cardiovascular health, of the intestinal microbiome and enhancers of the immune system.
A tip to increase calories is to introduce vegetable fats , such as; Nuts or their butters, avocado, coconut, chocolate, olives, olive oil, etc.
If, on the other hand, you are in a caloric deficit or want to lose weight, the vegan diet will be ideal for you for these same reasons. Satiety with endless micronutrients that won't let your metabolism stop working properly.
If you want to provide more protein without adding fat or carbohydrates, because your objective requires it, you can always resort to a protein powder isolate (as in a conventional diet but this time of vegetable origin). In addition to prioritizing in your diet the protein derivatives of legumes, such as tofu, textured soybeans, seitan or tempeh, among others.
3. Are there really vegan athletes?
Of course! These vegan athletes and athletes do not fail them. Their motivations for adopting a whole plant diet are varied, but their performance is the highest.
These are some of the vegan athletes!
3.1. scott jurek
He is an American ultramarathon runner. In the late 1990s, he stopped eating meat and quickly adopted a strict vegan diet for health, ethical, ecological and environmental reasons.
He has won some of the toughest ultra-distance races in the world and considers his diet to be one of the keys to his performance. He is the author of the book “Run, eat, live” .
3.2. venus williams
She is an American tennis player and has won seven Grand Slam individual titles and almost fifty in WTF tournaments, in addition to the doubles won with her sister Serena.
In 2011 she was diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that was about to leave her off the slopes. He adopted a raw vegan diet, in less than a year he returned to tournaments and is still in the front row. Her sister Serena joined her a bit later in her transition to veganism.
3.3. simona quintana
She is a Chilean athlete and represented Chile at the 2019 Crossfit Games where she ranked number 37 worldwide.
She is vegan because of animals, she became aware as a result of watching documentaries and, with the appearance of pandemics, she also assures that she feels better with plant-based nutrition focused on sports performance.
3.4. lewis hamilton
British Formula 1 driver . Currently it is common to see part of his activism on social media for environmental protection, love for animals and in defense of a plant-based diet.
He had not eaten meat for several years, but the documentary What the health made him go one step further and start the transition to a completely plant-based diet. Apparently, his main motivation was to prevent health problems , since his family had a history of cancer and cardiovascular problems.
3.5. Alberto Pelaez
He is a mountain runner , winner of more than a dozen ultramarathons and three years in a row champion of the Ultratrail in Lanzarote. Take advantage of sporting events to raise awareness about animal rights.
He crossed the 657-kilometre Pyrenean mountain range and 17 mountain passes in a single stage with the slogans 'Go Vegan' and 'I don't eat animals' engraved on the jersey.
3.6. washington tower
Vegan since 1998 and animal lover. Torre is a North American Training, MuscleMania, and IFBB Pro Coach. has been promoting a strictly vegetarian diet for more than 20 years.
Being passionate about athletics and sports, Torre found a way to create an enviable physique based only on vegetables. He has been a world champion at MuscleMania and now he is dedicated to training other people.
A strict vegetarian or vegan nutrition is perfectly compatible with health and therefore with good sports performance and there is even evidence that it could provide advantages compared to a carnivorous diet.
There are many vegan athletes who show us that sports performance is totally feasible with an exclusively plant-based diet. If you are a vegan athlete you should avoid making any of these mistakes :
- Include little vegetable protein or always ultra-processed.
- Not having a sufficiently varied diet.
- Use refined and/or ultra-processed sources of carbohydrates.
- Consume more omega-6 than is necessary and/or use refined oils and do not include vegetable sources of omega 3.
- Follow a low-calorie diet.
- Do not take B12, nor take into account the contribution of iodine.
- Do not eat legumes, since they are the best source of amino acids and fiber.
The vegan or strict vegetarian diet is a totally suitable alternative for athletes of any sport modality . Like any other nutritional tool or option, it must be well planned. The vegan diet is rich in whole carbohydrates, complete proteins and unsaturated fats, it is also high in antioxidants and micronutrients that contribute to the proper functioning of the immune system and protect cardiovascular health .
Currently, there is no evidence to show that following a plant-based diet worsens or limits performance in any sport. But, it is true that it could be a bit complex to organize it if you do not have previous experience or knowledge.
So if you are an athlete and a new vegetarian, I advise you to seek advice from a specialized nutritionist to avoid making the most frequent mistakes.