Does Being Vegan Affect Your Performance?

Hi everyone, the article we published a few weeks ago on vegetarianism has garnered a few responses in the community. Thankfully, most of them were in support of us. Unsurprising, given that the article was quite balanced. Responding to that, our friend our Cate Palmer from Media Gurus has written an article on whether the next step up – veganism, can affect your sporting performance. Enjoy!

The dietary practice of veganism been hitting the mainstream as of late. Numerous public figures have championed various vegan approaches to nutrition, claiming that they offer health, ethical and environmental benefits. While numbers are hard to come by, current estimates show that about 20% of the world population is subsisting on a predominantly plant-based diet. Even if only a percentage of these people are vegan, that is still millions of people who avoid consuming any animal products.

Comfreak / Pixabay

With the increasing popularity of veganism, questions started being asked about its purported benefits. While the health-effects of vegan nutrition have been studied in some detail, the impact of veganism on performance in physical activities still remains relatively unexplored. Some sport figures like Scott Jurek swear by their vegan lifestyle, claiming they are able to achieve comparable results to athletes who include animal products in their diet.

The jury is still out on whether veganism as food-philosophy is a valid (or even superior) choice when it comes to sports and fitness, but there seems to be some agreement on how particular vegan food choices can be beneficial in specific contexts. In the rest of this article, we will try to give an overview of what these instances are.

Protein Intake and Strength Training

The most immediate effect of going vegan for most people will be a reduction of protein intake. Meat, eggs and dairy products are some of the most protein-rich foodstuffs available, so vegans need to find suitable plant-based replacements in order to maintain a balanced diet. However, this might not be enough for engaging in strength-based fitness activities and sports, which require greater protein intake for building muscle mass. While there are plenty of vegan friendly foods that contain proteins such as hemp seed, tofu beans, legumes, or soy, their protein content per unit of weight is much less efficient when compared to meat or eggs. In other words, you need to eat bigger quantities of food in order to match protein intake of vegetarian or omnivorous diets, in addition to possible taking protein supplements. So while it is possible to perform well in power sports while being vegan, it requires careful planning.

3dman_eu / Pixabay


Carbs and Endurance Sports

In contrast to strength-based activities, endurance sports are less dependent on proteins. The main purpose of protein in endurance training is to aid in muscle recovery, and the recommended intake level can easily be reached on a vegan diet. What matters more for endurance are carbohydrates. They are the fuel which keeps the body going, so a carb-rich diet becomes a priority. Luckily, staple vegan whole foods such as organic vegetables and fruit are great sources of carbohydrates, which makes it easy to sustain the necessary energy for endurance sports. Furthermore, glucose from carbohydrates is essential for synthesizing acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter. Endurance sports are as much a test of will, as they are of fortitude, so keeping your brain well supplied with nutrients is equally important.

Iron, Calcium and Sodium Deficiency

The main criticism of vegan diets is that they are lacking in a number of key nutrients, including iron, calcium and sodium. This insufficiency can have significant downsides for vegans looking to engage in sports, or other high-intensity physical activities. Dietary iron is necessary for the production of red blood cells, so reduced intake of iron-rich products such as red meat can lead to reduced tolerance to aerobic exercise, as well as anemia in extreme cases. A decrease of sodium consumption which results from the elimination of dairy products from the diet, combined with excessive sweating from physical activity, can lead to muscle stiffness. Finally, inadequate calcium supply makes muscles more prone to cramps, which is especially detrimental for vegans engaging in sports such as cycling or running. Luckily, each of these essential nutrients can be added to a vegan diet through supplements and an increased intake of particular foodstuffs such as leafy green vegetables for calcium, Peanut butter for iron, and sea salt for sodium.

geralt / Pixabay

Easier Weight-Loss

An increased body-weight can have significant effects on performance due to increased energy-consumption. Since vegan foodstuffs are generally low on fat and rich in carbs, this makes maintaining, as well as losing weight much easier. Furthermore, vegans consume a lot of fiber, which is essential for healthy digestion. In general, leading a vegan lifestyle means you have to carefully consider what you eat, which makes tracking calories, avoiding unhealthy food, and sticking to diets much easier.

Reinventing your diet to become vegan can be a challenging task. Finding suitable replacements foods with all the necessary daily nutrients is not easy, but it can be done with discipline, careful planning, and a bit of good will. And the benefits for physical fitness will easily make it worth it the end. Once again, thank you Cate for the wonderful and insightful article. Don’t forget to check out the links below as well, which I have prepared specially for you:


Also published on Medium.

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