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VERIFIED CONTENTAuthor: Maciej Szukała

Vegetarianism and veganism have long ceased to be just a passing fashion. For many people, it is a philosophy and principle of life to avoid consuming animal products. Increasingly, you can also read articles about professional athletes who train on a vegan diet. Is it really possible to build a sports form in this way, and if so, where to get energy?

Vege diethas become a part of the kitchen of many Poles, including those who are physically active. Even if you train hard on a daily basis, there are no contraindications for its use. After the initial period of adaptation, your form will surely return to normal and begin to gradually improve. It is enough to know which products to use to supplement the necessary nutrients in the athlete's diet.

Veganism and vegetarianism versus sport

Both dietary strategies involve excluding animal products from the diet. The difference is that vegetarians don't eat meat, fish, and seafood. Vegans are more conservative in this regard, as they also avoid all animal products, including milk, eggs, cheese, and sometimes honey.

At first glance, it might seem that diets excluding animal protein are not designed for physically active people, for whom the demand for macronutrients (especially protein, iron or calcium) is much higher than in a standard, non-training person .

Nevertheless, there are many examples of outstanding athletes - vegetarians and vegans. Australian swimmer Murray Rose won three Olympic gold medals in the 1960s as a vegetarian. A multiple winner of prestigious ultramarathons, an American with Polish roots, Scott Jurek has been a vegan for years.

These people show that success in sport is not only due to genetics and predispositions, but also perfectly balanced nutrition. What problems do athletes on veg diets face and how do they deal with them?

Main problems of athletes following a vegetarian diet

The biggest challenge for athletes who do not eat meat is to get the right amount of wholesome protein. Wholesome, i.e. one that contains a complete amino acid profile (vincluding essential amino acids), and thus allows for full regeneration after training.

Getting in the right amount of calories can also be problematic. Meatless meals are characterized by a much lower energy density than traditional cuisine. As a result, by eating a similar portion by volume, I provide fewer calories and we get saturated faster.

Another issue concerns the difficulty of supplying iron in the form of heme, which the human body is able to cope with. Deficiencies can also be related to calcium and zinc.

The current state of research indicates that diets that exclude animal products can be used by athletes without adversely affecting performance, strength or muscle mass, provided that the individual products are well balanced with each other.

Where to get protein sources?

Providing the right amount of protein guarantees not only the progress of the sports form, but above all he alth and a properly functioning body. It is worth remembering that proteins not only build skeletal muscles, but are responsible for the regeneration and production of antibodies.

They are also one of the basic building blocks of blood. What sources of protein are most often used by people on a vegan diet?


In addition to the popular soybeans, you can also eat white and red beans, chickpeas, broad beans and lentils. It is worth using them alternately because they have a different amino acid profile.

Tofu and tempeh

They are made from fermented soybeans. They are easy to digest and have a very high protein content. Contrary to popular belief, regular consumption of soy products (more specifically the isoflavones they contain) in small amounts does not increase the amount of estrogen in men. This problem can only arise if you eat very large portions of soybeans.

Opponents of this product cite a study that described gynecomastia and isoflavone-induced libido and erectile dysfunction in a 19-year-old patient. In this specific case, however, the patient consumed several liters of soy milk per day, which was therefore an amount in excess of any reasonable dose.

Meat substitutes

In organic food stores you will find many vegan products that pretend to be meat (including sausages, chops, sausages). Read their ingredients very carefully as many of these blends contain artificial preservatives, flavor enhancers and are largely based on gluten. Producers are also happy to add excess sugar and s alt to them.

Protein supplements

Physically active people can also supplement with protein by consuming protein supplements. InIn supplement stores, apart from the popular extracts of whey or casein, you will also find protein from peas, rice, soybeans, wheat and hemp.

They are perfect as a supplement and variety to the diet, although they should not be treated as the main source of protein in the menu.

Iron in an athlete's diet

A regular supply of appropriate minerals is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Among other things, thanks to iron, potassium and magnesium, your muscles function properly.

Iron is essential for the transport of oxygen by red blood cells. Although vegetarians consume a lot of it, the problem is that the vast majority of the element is in a non-haem form, which is absorbed in a maximum of 15% (heme iron even in 40%).

Iron deficiencies can be especially high in asph alt runners. Hitting your feet regularly on a hard surface causes the red blood cells to break down (an effect known as footstrike hemolysis).

To supplement iron deficiency in the diet, you need to eat foods such as eggs, legumes and green leaves, cereals, dried fruit, fruit. It is also worth taking care of increasing the consumption of vitamin C, because its presence improves the absorption of non-haem iron, e.g. from peppers.

As a last resort, you can consider supplementing with iron tablets. There are many preparations on the market that contain specially developed formulas.

Amino acids and veg diet

Another problem faced by athletes on plant-based diets is the shortage of key exogenous amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine). While in the case of vegetarians, eggs and dishes prepared with their use play a very important role, vegans must reach for legumes.

Large amounts of amino acids are found in red lentils, soybeans, quinoa, and chia seeds. Particularly noteworthy is soybean, which contains 19 out of 20 amino acids (except isoleucine).

Veg diets in strength and endurance sports

Athletes who train regularly often fear switching to a vegetarian diet. The main complaint is that the protein supply is too low for the body to regenerate properly. However, it has long been proven that huge amounts of this macronutrient are not required to perform post-training supercompensation. Currently, it is assumed that the recommended protein intake for athletes is:

  • 1.2-1.4 g per kilogram body weight in endurance sports,
  • 1.4-1.7 g per kilogram body weight in endurance and strength sports,
  • 1.8-2.0 g per kilogram body weight in sports

In the case of strength sports with the exclusion of meat from the diet, the reduction of phosphocreatine content in the muscles goes hand in hand. This, in turn, translates into a decrease in the ability to perform fast and intense effort.

One solution may be to consume exogenous creatine, but remember that it is an animal-derived protein. Fortunately, recently … creatines advertised as vegan have recently hit the shelves.

Interestingly, it turns out that in vegetarians, this supplement brings better results than in people who eat meat due to better purified receptors.

It's easy to find vegetarians and even vegans in endurance sports. It has also been confirmed many times that in the case of disciplines such as long-distance running or cycling, meat consumption is not as important as, for example, maintaining an appropriate level of glycogen in the muscles.

The basis of the diet in both groups of athletes should be complex carbohydrates, which will provide energy for hard training and will allow you to improve strength and endurance.

Vege diets and body performance

In one of the studies carried out in 2015, 6 tests (aerobic, anaerobic and checking changes in muscle mass and strength) were carried out on two groups of people - consuming all foods and excluding animal products.

The results were surprising, as there was no significant difference in VO2Max, the VO2 max capacity for working muscles, for the amount of oxygen that can be absorbed.

There are more such scientific reports and it follows from them that veg diets do not have a negative impact on exercise capacity (you can, of course, argue whether VO2Max is a reliable determinant of form, but it is certainly one of the most frequent reference points in the literature) .

The British Diet Association also believes that a properly balanced vegetarian diet is able to meet the needs of people of all ages.

What to remember on a veg diet?

When deciding on a diet that excludes such a nutrient-essential ingredient as meat, there are a few important things to keep in mind.

First of all, it is worth having regular blood tests. In physically active people, two tests are recommended - before the beginning and after the end of the racing season. It is worth paying special attention to:

  • complete blood count,
  • iron and ferritin,
  • electrolytes,
  • albumin,
  • homocysteine,
  • total protein
  • vitamin B12 and vitamin D.

It is also good to check the lipid profile (LDL, HDL), thyroid hormones (TSH, fT3, fT4), liver parameters (AST, ALT, GGTP) and inflammatory markers (including CRP, CK, ESR). ). Such comprehensive tests will allow to detect possible nutrient deficiencies and implement appropriate changes in the diet.

Performance tests are also of great importance in the case of athletes. They can be ordered for several hundred zlotys in a specialized laboratory (some of them operate at Medical Universities). They will provide an answer to the question whether a diet without meat has a positive effect on the form.

In addition to research, it is also worth considering supplementation with specific ingredients such as protein, iron or unsaturated omega fatty acids, which can increase the body's resistance. This is especially important in the first period, when the digestive system has not yet fully switched to changing the menu.

When replenishing micronutrients, regularity is very important. Taking vitamins for a few months in a small dose will have much more positive effects than reaching for high doses, but only occasionally.

How to choose products for a vegetarian diet?

There is no doubt that vegetarian and vegan diets require more creativity and commitment when composing the menu. This does not mean, however, that the people who choose them are doomed to the monotony of consumed meals. What can the sample meals consist of?

  • Breakfast - yoghurt, nuts, seasonal fruit, cereals, whole wheat bread, vegetable spreads,
  • Second breakfast - fruit and vegetable smoothies, peanut butter, light dairy products, almond or rice drink,
  • Lunch - vegetable cream soup, stuffed vegetables, vegan burgers, cauliflower cutlets,
  • Afternoon tea - seasonal fruit, mixed nuts, avocado paste,
  • Dinner - soybean stew, vegetable salads, whole wheat bread, hummus, fried tofu cheese.

The choice of products and dishes that can be prepared from them is really wide. On the Internet you will find hundreds of ideas for simple dishes that do not have to be expensive.

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