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There are different approaches when it comes to sports nutrition, the most common ones being the high in protein from meat and the use of drugs which causes numerous problems for ones health at a later stage of their life.

As time passes more and more sportsman and sportswoman are turning to a plant-based diet as science and personal observation are showing that not only this diet is healthy but also when planned right gives them extra energy that results in better results.

The key to fuelling peak performance is getting the right balance of energy and nutrients. There are two main sources of energy that fuel muscle – glucose and fatty acids, also athletes who normally eat enough to satisfy their hunger will most likely meet their protein needs and get a boost in iron too.

Let’s look into the components of a vegan diet and their affect on sports nutrition.

Water

Hydration not only involves providing the body with enough fluids to function during exercise but also to prevent subsequent injuries and illnesses, ie., heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke.

Beginning practice or competition with an adequate hydration level is nearly as important as maintaining that hydration during exercise. To ensure proper pre-exercise hydration, the athlete should consume approximately 500 to 600 ml of water or sports drink 2 to 3 hours before exercise.

During exercise, hypohydration is associated with an increase in core body temperature and cardiovascular strain and a decrease in stroke volume and serum sodium levels. The human body loses over 2 litres of water every hour, which means that the heart beat will elevate by about eight beats per minute.

It also matter the temperature of the water you drink. Cold water can send a shock to the system on a hot body, warm water won’t satisfy your thirsty and you will want to drink more. The right one is cool water in small sips.

Energy to burn

The fuel of choice for your muscle depends on the type, intensity, and duration of the activity performed and off course the fitness level of the person performing activity. The body has two distinct systems that unlock energy – aerobic system and anaerobic system.

The more oxygen a person consumes and uses per minute, the more fit they are. When the heart and lungs are able to provide sufficient oxygen to your muscle, aerobic metabolism is used to meet energy needs. The primary fuels used in aerobic are fatty acids and glucose. The aerobic system predominates in endurance sports using large muscle groups, such as distance running, swimming and biking.

Aerobic activities improve cardiovascular fitness and help reduce body fat as a result a fit athlete can work longer, more vigorously and achieve quicker recovery at the end of aerobic session.

On the other hand when your heart and lungs can’t provide muscle with sufficient oxygen, the muscle have to rely on anaerobic metabolism to meet energy needs and glucose is the only fuel that can be used for energy. Anaerobic metabolism does not completely metabolize glucose and fragments of lactic acids build up causing burning pain and muscle fatigue.

Any exercise starts with anaerobic system and power sports involving sudden intense movements and speed sports also rely largely on anaerobic metabolism.

Calories

As carbs in whole grain should be the primary fuel source in distance events, people who try to cut back carbs often compromise their performance. A vegan diet, which includes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds come packaged with a vast array of important vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, all extremely important to peak performance.

Many athletes restrict energy intake to maintain a low body weight and feel a constant lack of energy that is because they are eating too little. When you increase food intake, your metabolism generally returns to normal and energy level skyrocket.

Small amounts of glucose are stored in the liver and muscle tissues as glycogen. These glycogen store are generally sufficient to support daily activity but must be constantly replenished by carbohydrate intake. 

Protein

When protein intake comes solely from plant foods, the requirements of intake for vegans may be higher than for non-vegans due to a reduced digestibility of certain plant protein. However for those consuming soy-based plant protein, like tofu, soy shakes and tempeh no increase in protein intake is generally required.

Athletes who eat carbohydrate rich diets tend to use less protein for fuel than those on a higher protein diet as carbohydrate has a protein-sparing effect.

Strength athletes on the beginning a workout regimen to build muscle mass need to make sure to eat plenty of high protein plan foods, such as legumes and soy foods. Consume a protein powder shake before or after working out also helps. However once you reach the point where you are not gaining additional muscle mass, this additional dose of protein won’t be necessary.

Endurance athletes usually need less protein as they become better trained, as protein turnover may become more efficient with training. To endurance athletes it’s easier to meet their protein requirements through diet only as they eat more calories.

Vitamins and minerals

A vegan diet is normally higher in certain vitamins and minerals than others. Not surprisingly an athlete’s need for vitamins and minerals is often higher than it is for a sedentary individual. This is because many of these nutrients play roles in the use of body fuels.

Vitamins – most B vitamins are involved in the metabolism of energy-giving nutrients. B6 is necessary for processing amino acids; B12 and folate are involved in new cell synthesis, including red blood cells. Insufficient intake of most B vitamins can impair aerobic power by reducing the breakdown of lactic acids. Fortified foods or supplements are essential for all vegans, whether athlete or not.

Vitamin C is necessary for the production of collagen, synthesis of carnitine and the transport and metabolism of other nutrients. Vegan athletes generally consume several times the recommend intake for vitamin C so no need for supplements here.

Vitamin D can be in short supply if fortified foods are not used and/or sunshine exposure is inadequate.

Vitamin E can be limited if a total fat intake is low, mainly from nuts. seeds, grains and vegetable oil.

Minerals – studies of iron deficiency is almost non-existent and vegan tend to have a better iron status than lacto-ovo vegetarians. Vegan female athletes however have demonstrated have reduced iron status so include beans and dark green leafy vegetables on their diet is recommended. Iron absorption is increased markedly by eating foods containing vitamin C along with foods containing iron.

Zinc is necessary for the metabolism of energy-giving nutrients and for healing of injuries. It is important for vegan athletes to include plenty of zinc-rich food in their daily diets, such as legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.

Calcium is critical to bone health, muscle contractions, nerve impulses and numerous body reactions. Fortified foods and orange juice in a diet in addition to calcium-rich foods can normally do the trick.

Other minerals to take a look at are chromium, copper and magnesium but vegans normally can get enough of them when ingesting nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and nutritional yeast.

Important tips for vegan athletes

  • Pay attention to hunger signals. Inadequate calorie intake can hinder muscle growth.
  • Protein needs may be higher in the early stages of strength training.
  • Eating a high protein snack after working out can increase muscle mass
  • Female endurance athletes should have their iron levels checked periodically.

Teen athletes and other with high calorie needs like endurance athletes have to follow a few set of rules to boost calorie intake like:

Include refined grain in meals.

Use olive oil on salad or to sauté vegetables

Snack nuts, seeds or trail mix

Add avocado, tofu or tempeh to salads or mix it into grain dishes to increase calorie, protein and fat.

Add silken tofu to fruit smoothies.

Sample menu

Breakfast:

1 ½ cup tofu

3 slices whole-wheat toast

1 tbsp vegan margarine

2 tbsp dried fruit

1 cup orange juice

Snack:

½ cup trail mix

Lunch:

2 whole-wheat pita pockets

1 cup hummus

1 cup fresh fruit

Green salad and tomatoes with olive oil and seeds

Snack:

1 cup soy yogurt

1/4 cup granola

Dinner:

2 cup quinoa with vinaigrette dressing

1 cup barbecued seitan

2 cups steamed kale with olive oil

Snack:

2 rice cakes

1 tbsp nut butter

Source – books “Vegan for Live” (Jack Norris & Virginia Messina), “Becoming Vegan” (Brenda Davis & Vesanto Melina), “Thrive Fitness” (Brendan Brazier).
Website – www.konn.org

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