Keep energised while you stay fit and healthy and discover what your body needs to help keep you active.
Active people need high-quality fuel, and they can thrive on well-planned vegan diets. But, in addition to an understanding of healthy eating, some topics deserve special attention.
The majority of the energy in your diet should come from carbohydrates found in starchy foods such as oats, potato, pasta and fruit. Fuelling-up before exercise is vital and optimum post-workout refuelling can be achieved by eating within an hour. Carbohydrate-rich options containing a moderate amount of protein are ideal. Try:
- Houmous sandwiches or porridge with fortified soya milk and fruit
- Pasta with beans, chickpeas or lentils
- Sugary foods and drinks can be useful before sport when other forms of carbohydrate might not be tolerated, as well as during lengthy activities
Standard protein requirements are 0.8-1g per kg of body weight per day, whereas requirements for sport can range from 1.2-1.7g depending on training intensity and type.
Some people worry that vegan diets are protein deficient. In reality, plants can provide the essential protein building blocks that we call amino acids. The best sources of plant protein contain good amounts of the amino acid lysine, including beans, lentils, peas, soya, peanuts, quinoa, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds. Active vegans can hit their protein targets by eating regular meals containing protein-rich foods, including a bedtime snack. Fortified soya milk is useful because the soya variety contains much more protein than other plant milks – the quality of soya protein is similar to meat and dairy protein.
Another common myth is that it’s essential for athletic individuals to use protein supplements. In reality, this is only necessary if you’re struggling to eat enough protein-rich food. Remember that plant foods can provide fibre, vitamins and minerals, as well as protein.
Read more about vegan sources of protein here.
Calcium without dairy
It’s easy to hit your calcium target if you consume rich sources like fortified foods and calcium-set tofu. One option is to consume at least 400ml of fortified plant milk daily.
Read more about vegan sources of calcium here.
Optimising iron status
Eat iron-rich foods and combine them with a source of vitamin C to optimise absorption. Good sources of plant protein tend to be iron-rich, but kale, raisins and fortified breakfast cereal also provide iron. You can try:
- Half a grapefruit and cereal topped with raisins and ground linseed
- Chickpea and pepper curry
- Tofu and broccoli stir-fry
Read more about vegan sources of iron here.
Ensure that you’re well-hydrated before exercise and drink plenty of fluid throughout the day. If you’re training for more than an hour, a drink containing carbohydrates and electrolytes will help you refuel and replenish electrolytes. Try:
800ml water + 200ml full-sugar squash + pinch of salt
Read more about the importance of hydration here.
Getting the balance right
Enjoy a varied diet, and include plenty of minimally processed foods. Choose higher fibre starchy foods, aim for at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, and eat a really rich source of omega-3 fat daily, such as walnuts or ground linseed.
It’s essential to obtain vitamin B12 from a supplement or fortified foods, and iodine supplementation is arguably the best way of ensuring a reliable intake of this mineral. Selenium supplementation should be considered too, unless you’re eating a couple of Brazil nuts daily. Also, vitamin D supplementation is recommended for UK residents during autumn and winter as a minimum – D3 from lichen and D2 are animal-free options. The Vegan Society’s VEG 1 supplement contains vitamins B12 and D, iodine and selenium.
Read more about vegan supplements here.
Tips to take away
- Ensure your diet is varied and balanced, and includes iron, calcium, and appropriate supplementation
- Optimise performance by fuelling your body with carbohydrate-rich choices around training sessions
- Eat regular meals containing protein-rich foods
- Stay well-hydrated
Find out more at vegansociety.com/nutrition
About the author
Heather Russell is passionate about eating well and keeping fit. She trained to be a dietitian to combine her love of science with a desire to help people, and she loves food! She worked in the NHS from 2010-16, and is now using her dietetic skills to support the work of The Vegan Society.