Moving while being vegan: A plan to perform like never before!

In the realm of vegetarian sport trainning, there often exists a dichotomy: those who fear a lack of protein on a meatless diet and those who tout the performance-enhancing benefits of going vegan. But like many things in nutrition, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Let's work together to uncover the optimal balance between plant-based eating and athletic excellence.

Moving while being vegan: A plan to perform like never before!

In the world of vegetarian athletes, there are two mentalities:

  1. "You're going to become less healthy if you don't eat meat; you're going to lack protein 🫠"
  2. "Transition to veganism; it will increase your physical performance tenfold 💪"

Like many things in nutrition, the reality lies in the gray area between the two (boring, isn't it?)

First, what nutrients do athletes need?

Calories: The more we move and the higher our intensity of effort, the more fuel (calories) we must ingest. We CAN meet our needs by being vegetarian. The downside to plant-based foods is that they contain a lot of water and are generally less energy-dense.

Therefore, we must be strategic to avoid ending our days in deficit and seeing the following symptoms: lack of energy, poor recovery after sport, involuntary weight loss, lack of progress from one training session to the next, etc.

To avoid these complications, include these plant foods rich in simple carbohydrates or unsaturated fats on your menu:

  • Nuts & seeds (and their butter)
  • Dried fruit
  • Avocado
  • Vegetable mayonnaise
  • Olives
  • Vegetal oils
  • Jam
  • Honey
  • Hummus
  • And our famous maple syrup, of course!

It's expected to be afraid of what you know less well. A vegetarian meal may contain less protein. And who says protein deficit says poor recovery after sport, less good muscle growth, poorly controlled hunger, cravings, etc?

The good news is that plant-based diets CAN be high in protein when done right! Considering that an athletic person needs at least 20g of protein per meal or snack (yes, 3x/day!), here are the best sources of plant-based protein and the portion required to reach the famous 20g:

  • Extra firm tofu: 1/3 of a 454g package
  • Textured vegetable protein: ½ cup dry
  • Cane lentils: a little more than ½ cane
  • Plant-based protein powder: a little less than 1 scoop
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds: ½ cup

: Endurance athletes know that what provides fuel during intense or long-term effort is not steak but carbohydrates (read: sugar)! Since most carbohydrate-rich foods come from plants, there is no shortage of veggie options. To include in your next efforts when the duration exceeds 60 minutes:

  • Dried fruit
  • Energy gels (often made from fruit jellies or maple syrup)
  • Bananas, fresh fruits, and their juices
  • Sports drinks (commercial, or homemade with ½ bottle of juice + ½ bottle of water + 1 pinch of salt)

Iron and other nutrients: Spoiler 👀 We will discuss this in more detail in our next article on supplements.

That being said, we see that a plant-based diet is entirely possible to meet the needs of sportspeople and even athletes. Get out your tofu and maple syrup, and we're good to go!

We invite you to stay tuned for the next two articles in this series, where we will discuss supplements and how to combine pleasure and plant-based eating.

Click here to read the first article on veganism 101.

By Nicolas Leduc-Savard, Dt.P., M.Sc., Dietitian – Sports nutritionist 

Marie-Pier Deschênes


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