Practical advice for the vegan athlete

SUPPLEAM® - Practical advice for the vegan athlete

There is no 1 size fits all in sports nutrition

A balanced diet is important. This applies whether you eat dominantly plant-based or not. There are major differences in the needs per athlete. We advise the athlete to make an appointment with a (vegan) sports dietitian to have their food analyzed and optimized.

Plant-Based diet

To ensure that eating habits meet both health and performance needs, basic nutritional requirements and sports specific nutritional requirements must be met. A poorly constructed diet can lead to deficiencies. This can also apply to a poorly constructed plant-based diet. Protein, vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids in particular run a risk of deficiency with a poorly constructed vegan diet. (1,2,3,4,5,9)

By using food strategically and continuously making well-considered food choices with special attention to achieving recommendations for energy, macronutrients, micronutrients and together with the right (sports) supplementation, an athlete can thrive on a vegan diet.

Advantages of a (more) plant-based diet on sports performance

Plant-based foods contains a relatively high proportion of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are an important fuel for the body. You need more or fewer carbohydrates depending on the duration of the sport performance. With efforts that last more than 1 hour, the body will increasingly use the glycogen stores (stored carbohydrates in muscles and liver). More carbohydrates from food therefore provide more fuel, which can improve athletic performance. (11)

It is also good for your health to eat more plant-based. You have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease with an eating pattern with less meat and more whole-grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit and plant-based protein sources.

 

Energy - Sufficient food

A shortage of energy (kcal) can be at the expense of the positive training adjustments. A large calorie deficit can negatively influence muscle mass, strength, bone density and can make you more susceptible to illnesses, injuries and even overtraining. Prevent your body from eating your own muscles, because it is used as fuel. Eat enough carbohydrates and fats so that you have them available as an energy source.

One way to calculate the need (kcal/day) of an athlete at rest (a surcharge, the PAL value is still required) is using the Spijker-Hoven formula. Other formulas such as those of Harris & Benedict or Schofield are not recommended for athletes. Make an appointment with a (vegan) sports dietitian for a reliable assessment of your needs and adjust them as necessary.

REE (kcal / d)= (11,797 x weight) + (6,487 x height [cm]) - (5,180 x age) + (186,017 x gender [male = 1, female = 0]) - 139,444


We want to show you a number of examples of the complexity and divergent needs regarding energy for sports performance:

  • An athlete who sports moderately intensively 2-3 times a week has an energy requirement of roughly 2000-2500 kcal (this can be more / less and depends on gender, height, weight, duration of training sessions).
  • Athletes who use medium-high intensity training or have a high volume of training (think of 5-6 days a week, 3-6 hours a day and sometimes 2 training sessions a day) need around 2200 to 7000 kcal (depending on gender, height, weight, duration and type of training).
  • Top athletes who train more have an even higher need. For example, think of the cyclists during the Tour de France who need around 12000 kcal per day.
  • Larger athletes (100-150 kg) quickly have a need of 6000+ kcal per day.
     

Proteins- Quantity

Sufficient proteins are important for recovery. Insufficient proteins can lead to a decrease in muscle mass, a higher risk of injuries, sickness or the absence of training adaptations. The amount of protein required varies per person. Someone who eats 100% plant-based needs more protein than an omnivore. This has to do with differences between plant-based and animal proteins, for example the reduced anabolic properties of plant-based proteins and the reduced digestibility of plant-based proteins. (8,10) To compensate for this, a higher intake is needed. Table 1 shows an overview of protein requirements per kilogram of body weight per day.

 

Table 1. Protein requirement per kg of body weight per day

Non-athlete, omnivorous

0,8g/kg body weight

Non-athlete, vegetarian

1,2g/kg body weight

Non-athlete, vegan

1,3g/kg body weight

Endurance athletes, omnivorous

1,2g-1,4g/kg body weight

Endurance athletes, vegan

1,4g-1,7g/kg body weight*

Strength athlete, omnivore

1,6g-2,2g/kg body weight (17)

Strength athlete, vegan

1,8-2,2g/kg body weight*

Average sport, according to international guidelines

1,4-2,0g/kg body weight (6)

Athletes in an energy deficit to lose weight retaining as much muscle mass possible, for example to achieve a weight class, strategic goals or aesthetic goals

1,8-2,7g/kg body weight (5,6,7,18)

Bodybuilders focused on achieving competition-level fat-free mass

≥2,2g/kg body weight
Higher protein intakes combined with strength training may have a positive effect on body composition in trained individuals.
 (5,7,17,18)

Injured athletes

2,0-2,5g/kg body weight

*estimate based on omnivorous guideline

 

Proteins - Quality

In addition to the total amount of protein intake per day, a complete and optimal amino acid profile is required. It is more difficult to get all essential amino acids with vegetable protein sources, in particular leucine, isoleucine and valine (BCAAs). These are very important in muscle protein synthesis, recovery and training adjustments in the body. Leucine in particular plays a very important role in this, because it appears that leucine is a primary trigger for muscle protein synthesis. It is therefore important to eat different types of protein sources in one day. Examples include legumes, soy products such as tofu, tempeh, vegan "chicken" pieces, vegan "minced meat", soy milk and soy yogurt, but also seitan, pulled oats, (whole-grain) grains, nuts and seeds.

Vegan protein powders

Additional proteins can be of interest, especially if you find it difficult to achieve sufficient protein through basic nutrition. If you opt for a protein shake, make sure you have a protein powder that consist of a blend of different protein sources (like pea, rice and sunflower protein) with at least 2,5-3,5g of leucine per serving. Our SUPPLEAM® Premium Plant-Based Protein has exactly this formula.

Sports supplements as support

Creatine

Research indicates that a plant-based diet can lead to reduced muscle creatine stocks, because no foods come in that contain creatine. (12, 13, 14) An interesting fact is that creatine supplementation can be most beneficial for athletes with low muscle creatine levels. A study by Burke et al. (12) shows that creatine supplementation in vegetarians saw greater improvements in fat-free mass, maximum strength and the area of ​​type II muscle fibers compared to athletes who did not have a vegetarian diet.

Beta-alanine

Carnosine, (β-alanyl-1-histidine) is found in muscles and the central nervous system and is made from the precursor beta-alanine [15]. Similar to the situation with creatine muscle stocks, research shows that vegetarians have a lower level of carnosine compared to athletes who do not have a vegetarian diet. (15, 16) β-alanine increases muscle carnosine concentrations. Supplementation with creatine and β-alanine can offer increased performance-enhancing effects in vegans / vegetarians.

BCAAs

BCAA stands for Branched-Chain Amino Acids (this is English for branched-chain amino acids). Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. BCAAs are three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are called essential because the body cannot make them themselves. You have to get them through the diet. You need a complete amino acid profile to promote recovery/muscle mass growth.

BCAAs can be of added value for people who eat dominant plant-based foods if, as an athlete, you find variety in different vegetable protein sources difficult on a daily basis, for example due to a busy lifestyle, many training sessions/competitions in succession, if you are in an energy restriction or because you have an energy limitation or have a sensitivity to certain plant-based protein sources.

Nutrition and supplements to support health

Vitamin B12, iron, vitamin D, calcium, iodine, zinc and omega-3 fatty acids run a risk of deficiency with a poorly constructed vegan diet. We will get more into dept in a following blog about nutrition and any supplements that may support health.

 

Vegan example day menu

+/- 3000-3100 kcal
210g protein // 300g carbohydrates // 90g fat

Breakfast
"Tofu scramble-avocado toast"

+/- 600 kcal
37 g of protein

  • 250 g of tofu
    (crumbled and baked with kala namak and turmeric)
  • 3-4 slices of whole wheat bread, toasted
  • ½ avocado (+/- 60g)
  • Optional: sprouts as a topping

 

Inbetween
Fruit and supplements

+/- 100-200 kcal
2g protein

  • 1 large piece of fruit or 2 small ones, for example an orange (+/- 200g)
  • 1 large cup of herbal tea
  • Supplements

Lunch
"Grilled vegetables with tempeh and brown rice"

800 kcal
35g protein

  • 200g cooked weight (brown) rice
  • 200g tempeh, baked with ketjap manis and lemon juice
  • Grilled vegetables: zucchini, onion, bell pepper, fennel grilled in oil-spice mix made with 1.5 tbsp sunflower oil, finely chopped chillies, coriander and garlic
  • Drizzle balsamic vinegar

Inbetween

"Protein shake with fruit and grains"

400 kcal
36g of protein

  • 300 ml unsweetened soy milk (or other plant-based milk). Add extra water if necessary.
  • 35g protein powder
  • 15g grains (eg oatmeal, puffed rice or puffed quinoa)
  • 2 portions of fruit, eg 100 g of blueberries and an apple
  • Optional: cinnamon, turmeric

Dinner

“Penne with cream sauce”

800 kcal
81g protein

  • 200g cooked weight penne (+/- 80g uncooked weight)
  • 200g minced seitan
  • Cream sauce made from: 200 ml vegan cooking cream (or coconut milk), onion, mushrooms, frozen spinach cubes, frozen peas, fresh basil, 1 tablespoon noble yeast flakes, 1/4 stock cube

After dinner

"Nutribullet smoothie"

400 kcal
19g of protein

  • 400 ml unsweetened soy milk or soy yogurt (add extra water if necessary)
  • 1 teaspoon chia seed
  • 1 teaspoon of broken flax seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of broken hemp seed
  • 2 dates
  • 100g frozen raspberries
  • 100g frozen blueberries
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