Vegans In The Gym: How You Can Balance Nutrition
If you’ve chosen to go vegan, you’re in good company. There are plenty of elite athletes and top performers who get all the high-performance nutrition they need from a vegan diet..
You’ve chosen to train hard while eating a strict no-animal by-product diet, you may find it’s limiting your options to fulfil your calorie and nutrient needs. Every resource, every article, every fitness expert seems to offer advice that’s tailored towards eating some form of animal products.
In this article, we’re going to take a close look at one of the biggest struggles for vegan athletes - Protein - and what you can do to balance your nutrition needs through diet and supplementation.
Overcoming these obstacles will help you push harder at the gym and give your body what it needs to help you reach your fitness goals.
Overcoming Obstacles to Vegan Nutrition
The first aspect of vegan nutrition that you’ll need to consider is that you will face some unexpected obstacles.
If you are prepared for what your biggest challenges will be in eating this way, you can find ways to overcome them in the kitchen and at the gym.
In a world that caters to non-vegans, it can be tough to grab simple snacks on the go. Plenty of your meals will have to be prepared beforehand so you can avoid the temptation to skip a meal or eat something unhealthy simply because it’s the “vegan option”.
Healthy, balanced meals will take time, so here’s what other vegan trainers advise:
Cook when you can.
Namely, one of the biggest reasons people fail on their diet plans is that they claim they don’t have enough time to adequately prepare good meals.
The answer to that is to meal prep. Do your shopping on Saturdays and your cooking on Sundays. If you make the time to cook, cook enough for an entire week, not just one meal. Plan to batch all your meals, keeping them in the freezer or in sealed containers in the fridge.
That way you can simply grab a pack on your way out the door.
Lack of Nutrients
Your biggest concern when you train, vegan or not, is to find good sources of the nutrients your body needs to train well. Namely, protein.
Most protein sources cited in articles and fitness books are animal-based. The reason being that, with the exception of soya, all complete proteins come from animal products.
A complete protein has all of the amino acids your body needs, including the 9 essential aminos that your body cannot produce naturally. You can, however, give your body everything it needs from eating a variety of vegan protein sources or supplementation.
Great Sources of Vegan Protein
- Leafy vegetables
Don’t forget to snack on walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and hemp seeds as well. They also contain essential fats that will help with vitamin absorption, energy, and will help keep you feeling full.
Vegan Macronutrient Balance
When you break it down, your body doesn’t care if you are vegan or not. It still requires the same nutrients.
But if you’re going to hit the same goals and performance levels meant for non-vegan diets, typically 40% Carbs, 30% Protein, 30% Fats, you need to choose wisely.
Pick good proteins, rich in amino acids. As a guide, stick to a 75% protein intake from these sources:
- Rice, wheat, and oats
- Peas, beans, and potatoes
- Seeds (buckwheat, hemp, quinoa)
- Large nuts (Walnuts, Cashews, Almonds, pistachios)
If you can choose these sources, you won’t have an issue hitting the same macronutrient targets as everyone else.
A normal vegan diet isn’t overly difficult. Lots of people do it.
But, when it comes to performance and excelling with your fitness goals, your body requires a lot more of you. If you really want to ensure you’re hitting your goals for proper nutrition, adding supplements to your diet can be a great solution.
Supplements help overcome the gap between what you can get from vegan foods and the requirements of a healthy, athletic body.
Branched Chain Amino Acids | BCAAs
Because of the vegan’s limited protein range, it’s wise to find an alternative source of amino acids to help with muscle repair and improve workout performance.
BCAAs help the body synthesise protein and build muscle more efficiently. They also protect your muscles from catabolism during your training sessions. These are essential aminos that your body cannot produce on its own.
Most protein sources found in supplement stores are animal-sourced. Casein and Whey proteins are both by-products of milk and the main component of almost all protein powders. There are, however, many excellent protein supplements that have plant-based sources in them.
Pea protein and soy protein are among the most common. Pea proteins are non-GMO, dairy-free, and contain no gluten, making it a solid choice for those with allergies and intolerances as well.
Consider this: 1 cup of boiled spinach contains 5g of protein. So to get the same amount of protein in one scoop of pea protein powder, you would have to eat 4 cups of boiled spinach. And if you’ve seen how spinach condenses when you boil it… that’s a lot of spinach.
With daily vitamin supplements, you’re boosting your immune system, aiding your hormonal system, and reducing fatigue in your muscles. Eating enough to get ALL your vitamins is hard, even for omnivores. A daily vitamin takes away that insecurity about getting the right nutrients from all the right foods.
You can also use vitamins to get essential fatty acids that normally you find in fish. Omega-3 fatty acids improve your brain function and help prevent health problems like cancer and heart disease.
Going Beyond Healthy With Vegan Nutrition
When it comes down to it, eating a vegan diet is mainly about re-education. Most everybody grows up understanding one way of eating, so naturally, it can be difficult to learn a new diet habit.
But with some training and excellent preparation, there’s nothing that should excuse you from working hard in the gym and succeeding.