In the world today there are increasing numbers of people choosing to become vegan and vegetarian.
At Castle Gym we have many members who are, so we have put together a nutrition guide.
If you are thinking about becoming a vegan or vegetarian, or already are and you want to know how to train safely and provide your body with a healthy balanced diet then this guide is for you!
Vegan and Vegetarian
A vegan is someone who avoids animal products completely. This includes dairy, eggs and honey. A strict vegan will also avoid household and beauty products tested on animals and won’t wear leather, fur or any other animal-based material.
A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat meat, poultry or fish, but still eats dairy products and eggs.
Deciding to be a vegan or vegetarian could be for any reason from personal to environmental to religion.
But, for whatever reason you choose, being a vegan or vegetarian is a valid diet and done properly can give you a healthy lifestyle.
Food science has certainly made it easier to be vegan or vegetarian. There’s an increasingly popular market of fake meat/meat substitutes along with plenty of vitamins and supplements you can take.
We’ll be looking at the essentials you need in your diet to stay healthy and to give you the energy you require to train.
This one will come as no surprise. Protein is essential for cell growth and repair all around the body, not just in the muscles.
One gram of protein contains four calories, one gram of fat contains nine calories, so it’s easy to see why we need more protein than fat in order to maintain a lean body mass.
A stereotypical view, which is very outdated, is that vegans or vegetarians don’t get enough protein.
A diet of only fruits and vegetables which are low-calorie foods is unlikely to give you enough sustained energy for working out, let alone being a complete enough diet for your general health on a day-to-day basis.
Meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs are all complete protein sources. Vegetarians and especially vegans need to eat enough complete protein in order to be able to meet their training goals.
There are many plant-based complete protein sources you can have. Beans, pulses, peas, tofu, nuts and more, are all vegan and vegetarian-friendly sources of protein.
The Department of Health advises adults to avoid consuming more than twice the recommended daily intake of protein which is 55.5g for men and 45g for women.
So, if you’re training daily on a vegan or vegetarian diet, whatever type of food you choose to replace protein, ensure you’re getting enough to look after your body and your muscle repair.
Calcium and Vitamin D
Both of these are necessary for good health. Calcium is needed for the growth and development of bones and teeth. Vitamin D also contributes to strong bones.
Calcium and vitamin D are commonly linked with dairy products. Therefore vegetarians eating enough dairy should get enough calcium and vitamin D.
One way vegans can ensure they’re getting enough calcium is by consuming almonds, almond milk, broccoli, kale or tofu.
A minimum of twenty minutes a day exposed to sunlight will also ensure you get enough vitamin D. If you can’t spend that much time outside you can also eat mushrooms which are rich in vitamin D, or you can take supplements.
Iron is necessary for the synthesis of protein, in particular haemoglobin. This is essential for oxygenating the blood and carrying oxygen around the body which is super important during exercise!
To ensure you get enough iron on a vegetarian or vegan diet, spinach is a great food source.
Spinach is full of iron and is easy to consume in smoothies, eaten raw or you can add it to any of your favourite dishes as a hidden veggie.
Other iron packed foods include lentils, beans, chickpeas, chia seeds and cashew nuts. So, eating these foods with vitamin C rich products such as; oranges, peppers or strawberries will help your body with the absorption of iron.
Omega 3 and 6
Two essential nutrients for the body are omega-3 and omega-6. For a vegan or vegetarian you can find them in chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and rapeseed oil (omega-3), and pumpkin and sunflower seeds (omega-6).
Omega-3 and -6 are necessary for a healthy brain, heart and immune system. These are all essential for your overall health, plus they will help maximise your athletic performance.
Eating sources of omega-3 as part of your balanced diet can help minimise DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and help reduce fatigue and inflammation.
If you’re a vegan this is the vitamin you should look to take as part of your daily food routine. Vitamin B12 is commonly found in large amounts of red meat but there are not many plant-based sources of it.
This is why foods such as nutritional yeast, yeast extracts, dairy-free milk and breakfast cereals are often fortified with vitamin B12.
Being deficient in vitamin B12 can lead to anaemia and a lack of energy and stamina which of course is essential for training.
Famous Sporting Vegans
There are increasing numbers of famous athletes and sportsmen and women who are vegan or vegetarian.
Professional Boxer David Haye.
Champion Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton.
Olympic Cyclist Victoria Pendleton.
British Bodybuilder Pat Reeves.
German Strongman Patrik Baboumian.
Turkish Boxer Unsal Arik.
Tennis Champion Venus Williams.
These incredible athletes train, compete and live on vegan diets and are leading fit and healthy lives. They are elite champions within their fields and have years of achievements to show their outstanding abilities.
This proves that a non-meat based diet doesn’t have to impede on training goals or performance levels.
Vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are great and can absolutely be a good diet and source of sustenance for those with an active lifestyle. By taking a few careful steps you can easily get a vegetarian or vegan diet right.
Eat plenty of leafy green vegetables and pulses, wholesome nuts and seeds and add the odd vitamin supplement and you’ve got it!
If you need help with a nutrition plan that will fit your training goals be sure to ask your personal trainer or a nutritionist for advice.