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Should an athlete follow a vegan diet?

With veganism becoming more popular all over the world, athletes are also considering to change their way of life. Eggs and meat play a big part in an athlete’s nutrition plan though and many are left wondering if switching to veganism would influence their performance. If applied correctly, athletes can reap the benefits of a vegan diet without interrupting their performance.

Protein

Without a doubt, one of the most important aspects of an athlete’s diet is their protein intake. And while eating animal products like dairy, eggs and meats are the easiest way to get protein, they aren’t the only source.

Grains, nuts and soy also contain natural protein. If athletes eat enough of these, they should be fine. And by enough, we don’t mean a handful. Athletes need to include cups of grains, nuts or soy into their diets.

Vitamin B12, which is naturally only found in meat, is also an essential part of an athlete’s endurance as it affects red blood cell production. However, it is possible to take B12 supplements and some types of soy milk are fortified with B12.

Iron

Iron intake is a critical part of athletes’ diets. It is used to transport oxygen to the muscles. Without this, athletes wouldn’t be able to perform any type of activity.

Vegan athletes need to include a lot of high iron foods regularly, like beans, fortified cereals or green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C helps absorb iron, which makes it equally as essential. Luckily this can easily be found in fruits.

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Iodine

Many plant foods are low in iodine due to soil depletion of this mineral. Iodine is necessary for thyroid function.

Vegan athletes can include seaweed to their diet to get the iron they need. In addition, supplements are a great way to get the iodine that you need.

Calcium

Calcium is necessary for bone health and muscle function. Luckily many plant foods contain calcium, like green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Athletes do need to be careful, though, as oxalic or phytic acids found in these plant foods can reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium.

The benefits

Despite having to use supplements to fulfil specific nutrition needs, vegan diets can be very beneficial for athletes.

Plants have high antioxidant content which ensures faster recovery after exercise and reduces the risk of chronic disease.

Because of athletes’ high demand for most vitamins and minerals, vegan diets need to be carefully considered and strategically applied. A lot of the vitamins and minerals found in animal products can’t be found in plant foods, and athletes will have to turn to supplements. But, when applied rightly, vegan diets can have many athletic benefits.

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