Nutrition tips for active vegans

Author: Heather Russell

Read Time:   |  3rd August 2018

Keep energised while you stay fit and healthy and discover our vegan nutrition tips your body needs to help keep you active.

Active people need high-quality fuel and can thrive on well-planned vegan diets. But, in addition to an understanding of healthy eating, some topics deserve special attention.

Energy

The majority of the energy in your diet should come from carbohydrates found in starchy foods such as oats, potatoes, 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 carbohydrates might not be tolerated, as well as during lengthy activities

Proteins

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 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.

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 drink at least 400ml of fortified plant milk daily.

Optimising iron status

Eat iron-rich foods and combine them with a source of vitamin C to optimise absorption. Good plant protein sources 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
Image source: Getty Images

Image source: Getty Images

Keeping hydrated

Ensure that your body is 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

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.

Supplementation

It’s essential to obtain vitamin B12 on a vegan diet 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.

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

Do vegan needs to take supplements to stay healthy? Let’s find out…

Feature image source: Getty Images

Written by

Heather Russell

Heather Russell is a registered dietician with the British Dietetic Association. She worked in the NHS from 2010-16 and is now using her dietetic skills to support the work of The Vegan Society. Heather combines her love of science with a desire to help people, covering topics such as vegan nutrition, supplementation, hospital catering for vegans, and healthy living.

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