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Can Your Vegan Athletes Match Their Meat-eating Competitors?

In the past couple of years, veganism has become very popular. It is not considered as a specific plant-based diet anymore but as a way of life, and becoming vegan means changing your life upside down and creating a new, healthy lifestyle. But is choosing veganism a good option for athletes and does it really give them enough strength to match their meat-eating competitors?

Over the last few years, more and more athletes have completely altered their eating habits and turned to the vegan way of life. It is a well-known fact that changing your eating habits and following a vegan diet can help you create a healthier life but does it give you enough energy and does it benefit your performance?

Protein replacement and quality fats

A common problem for active individuals is feeling constant hunger after switching to a vegan diet that leads to low energy levels and affects their performance. That happens because your body needs protein and fats that can be found in animal products to use as fuel. Active athletes need more protein than the average people do. The tricky part is that protein is mostly found in animal products so switching to vegan diet means a large portion of it is eliminated and it might be a shock to your body. The same happens when you cut the fat from dairy products (2% milk is in fact 33.5% fat!) out from your diet and your body lacks fuel (in this case fat) to produce energy and burn it. For optimum performance, saturated fat in your food diet should be minimized but cutting all fat out of the diet is not the best option. It can be, for a moderately active person, but it will have a negative influence on an athlete.

The solution lies in carefully thought through, plant-based diet consisting of certain elements that are replacements for the protein intake and of course, adding good quality fats. Therefore if you are doing sports and thinking about adopting a plant-based diet, don't do it by yourself, instead, consult with the experts in the field.

In addition to replacement and alternatives for food, vegan athletes also add organic supplements like brown rice protein powder to their diet to ensure quicker muscle recovery, sufficient dietary protein intake, to gain muscles and improve their performance.

Dietary sodium and calcium intake

What also happens to vegan athletes is muscle cramping and stiffness due to lack of sodium in their body as well as lack of calcium. Calcium is necessary for your heart and other muscles to work properly and if you don't have enough of it, you can increase the risk of developing disorders like osteoporosis. It is extremely important to plan your meals wisely and make sure you are consuming calcium-rich food such as almonds, beans, sesame and sunflower seeds, spinach, kale, etc.

When training, your body produces a high sweat rate so you must make sure you have enough sodium. High levels of sodium can be found in dairy products and most prepared meats such as salami or pepperoni. On the other hand, most plant sources don't contain enough dietary sodium (except some seaweeds) and that is why it is important to increase your intake of sodium if your activity increases.

What you can do is add sea salt to your usual meals to ensure your body receives en... to subside muscle cramping. Consider using sodium tablets as an alternative way to increase sodium levels during time of heavy training and excessive sweating. Including dietary sodium will affect your general health and you will not experience a rise in blood pressure.

Blood tests and iron-rich food

When turning to veganism and cutting animal products out from a diet, active individuals usually have problem with low energy levels and exhaustion. That happens due to the lack of iron in your body and it often leads to anemia. As with sodium and calcium, iron is also lost when sweating and maintaining its stores is extremely difficult during times of heavy training. That is why it is highly recommended to take bi-yearly blood tests to monitor your iron level and take the necessary steps.

Speaking of necessary steps - the solution of the problem lies in iron-rich food in every meal such as soybean nuts, green beans, walnuts, cashews, pecans plus with a little help of vitamin C (to help with the absorption).

All in all, if you are an athlete who is thinking about altering your food habits and becoming vegan, don't hesitate because you can find dietary replacement for all the necessary elements your body needs during training. As long as you are monitoring the levels of sodium, calcium and iron, and making sure you are including enough protein in your meals you can focus on the training part and improve your performance. Make sure you are doing it right and consult with the experts to get ready to compete with (and win!) your meat-eating opponents!

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Comment by Jordan Guilford on January 18, 2018 at 3:29pm

"The main issue is that every fruit, vegetable and every meal are less and less healthy and nutritional."

Is this in reference to the reduced nutrients found in foods due to the atmosphere being too polluted? My thoughts is:

A. The animal we FORCE feed those same foods are ALSO getting less nutrients. This is without even taking into account that the animals live in torture and horror and never experience natural lives, so does their corpse have all the "normal" nutrients? 

B. We can (hopefully) over the next several generation STOP animal agriculture and thus reduce 50%(!!!) of greenhouse gas emissions and thus bring our atmosphere back to a level where foods grow with their normal nutritional qualities.

Thanks for this talk I did appreciate it.

Comment by Victoria Lim on January 18, 2018 at 5:58am

Thank you, Jordan for your comment on my article.
Regarding the article and research, opinions and researches are very divided and subsided for both sides.
The main issue is that every fruit, vegetable and every meal are less and less healthy and nutritional. And everyone who wants to become vegan should really think about it before determining that the large group of food must be excluded.
For example, I'm vegan and yes, I had muscle cramps that were really unbearable, went to the doctor and she said that it was because of the lack of sodium, that's why I wrote it.
Every doctor will tell or confirm something else, and generally, you can't take anything someone said to be 100% truth.

Comment by Jordan Guilford on January 17, 2018 at 8:16pm

Victoria this seems thoughfully written, but as someone trying to spread education for plant based athletes I have to bring up a few points:

"That happens because your body needs protein and fats that can be found in animal products to use as fuel." - I'm not sure what the point of this statement was, obviously protein and fats can also be found in plant products...without the cholesterol and saturated fat found in animal products, the carbon emissions and water usage of animal products and the animal cruelty associated with factory farming.

"What also happens to vegan athletes is muscle cramping and stiffness due to lack of sodium in their body as well as lack of calcium." This is pure speculation; the most telling thing is that then you then go on to list common foods that most intelligent athletes are consuming (vegan or not) that are high in calcium. " almonds, beans, sesame and sunflower seeds, spinach, kale," The dairy industry has brainwashed the mainstream consciousness into thinking the only way to get this nutrient is by consuming their products. You and I both know this to be false.

Per my own anecdote, I used to commonly suffer from muslce tightness and cramping, in my calves, which led to some pretty bad ankle sprains and shin splints. Since going vegan I literally have not had this problem. Maybe this is a coincidence, but you can't blame muscle tightness on veganism, it's just false.

I'm glad your putting out this content and overall trying to suport athletes making the change, I would just say try to ensure there is as little speculation as possible; or cite the research when you make such claims.

- JG

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