My trainer has said on a number of occasions that I have two main things working against me as I attempt to increase my lean mass and decrease my body fat percentage: my age and my vegan diet. I’m only going to get older. This I know. And I am strongly committed to a vegan diet for ethical reasons. So I found his opinion quite discouraging at first.
But I have now come to the conclusion that he is just wrong. My first piece of evidence comes from this amazing gym in Melbourne, Vegan Strength. These guys are all vegan and I defy anyone to say that they don’t have enviable lean mass to fat body composition.
And then there’s Amber from Go Kaleo. She has a great video response to the claim that eating a vegan diet makes you “skinny fat.”
Exhibit 3, Samantha’s post the other day about vegan athletes. Clearly, these people are not under-performing and do not have compromised fitness. And yet they are vegan.
Here’s a good article from The Yoga Journal (author Rachel Seligman) about the merits of a vegan diet for sports nutrition.
According to the article, “these athletes say they stick with it because they feel—and perform—better. After six months without meat, eggs, or dairy, Jurek found he bounced back quicker even as his workouts grew harder and longer; he didn’t feel as sore or tired after one of his ultramarathons, he says. Vardaros says she rarely gets sick and outlasts her nonvegan friends in training. Heidrich says she has more energy, which has allowed her to dramatically increase her training. Not long after she committed to veganism, she completed her first Ironman Triathlon (a 2.4-mile swim and a 112-mile bike ride followed by a 26.2-mile marathon).”
Finally, my own visit to a sport nutritionist a few months ago yielded very little advice. She did a detailed analysis of the nutritional composition of my diet over a three-day period. The only thing I wasn’t doing to fuel my body for optimum performance was eating frequently enough throughout the day.
The myth that vegans (or even vegetarians) cannot be athletes flows directly from two assumptions. First, athletes requires lots of protein to gain and maintain muscle mass. And second, the only sources of quality protein are animal sources. The second assumption is off the mark.
According to The Yoga Journal article, getting enough “protein is no problem on a vegan diet. Half a cup of lentils or tofu gives you 9 or 10 grams of protein; two tablespoons of peanut butter gives you 8 grams. Beans, nuts, and grains are all good sources of protein; even veggies contain small amounts. And though meat is sometimes praised for having a complete spectrum of the amino acids our bodies need, vegans can get all the necessary amino acids if they eat a variety of foods every day.”
While I don’t think I’ve hit on a totally winning balance of fuel and activity yet, I do feel encouraged that I can continue to eat vegan. “Skinny-fat” is not the best I can hope for. I can continue to alter my body composition and stay true to my ethical commitments at the same time.
For more resources on vegan sports nutrition, see VeganHealth.org, which has a list of further readings on the topic.
12 thoughts on “Vegan Sports Nutrition”
Great post and he’s wrong and you’re right. I ride with lots of pretty strong, impressive vegan cyclists. There’s even been one in the Tour, Riding the Tour De Vegetable
American David Zabriskie Aims to Compete in the World’s Most Grueling Bike Race—As a Vegan, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304314404576414124184873028.html.
Cool. And yes, I know he’s wrong and I’m right. Now I want to PROVE it by showing results.
Two more things: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/04/17/is-veganism-good-for-everyone/plant-strong-is-the-way, Plant-Strong Is The Way by Rip Esselstyn
(Rip Esselstyn, a former professional athlete and a firefighter, is the author of “The Engine 2 Diet.”)
I’ve also been interested in this for some new ideas, http://www.thrivediet.com/. Have ordered the book!
Yes, the thrive diet looks interesting. But the recipes are all soy and wheat free. Not sure I’m ready for that, though there is a big discussion these days about how bad wheat is for us (apparently it too contributes to “skinny-fat”). Let me know how the book looks to you. I’m wary of all books with “diet” in the title.
I think ‘diet’ here is neutral as in ‘vegan diet’ not prescriptive for weight loss but either way I’m just interested in more ideas. FWIW, I don’t think wheat and soy are the bad guys. The whole ‘wheat belly’ thing is just silly. Fodder for another post under trendy food myths.
Vegans do it have it tougher. That said, what you lack in a vegan diet can be made up for with safe, legal supplements, eg. good multivitamins, vegan protein shakes, creatine (found naturally in red meat; they give this stuff to cancer patients to help them retain muscle), pre-workout shakes (like Amino Energy by ON; the caffeine in it is from green tea extract), etc. Most if not all of the world class vegan and non-vegan athletes take such supplements. Those that do not and can still compete at high levels are not only genetically gifted; they are nuclear-powered. Us ordinary mortals have to know our own limitations. My sister and my nephew are both heavily muscled vegans with low body fat. My nephew especially is most certainly gifted genetically and on top of this gift, he takes these supplements (as does my sister) and he would never even consider dessert (same goes for sis). That is why he can curl 75 pound dumbells slowly in a seated position. My sister who is 45 years old does the same with 35 pound dumbells.
I guess the real issue for me is I’m not ready to give up dessert.
That’s a tough one. I have given up on dessert for well over a year. I am uncertain I could even digest a semi-rich dessert now. But it really was something I missed at first. I am the first to admit: cherry pie tastes good; crunchy cheesies are addictive; and well-made almond flavoured anything has “hello, darling” written all over it. Although I think it very possible that the sweetness of these things would now be a bit overwhelming, and although I no longer really want dessert, I still sort of miss it in a way, I think at least because I remember how much I did like it on occasion. The point is: I am sure that with great perseverance I could get used to dessert over again. Not going to, but definitely could.
That is really interesting and commendable. I have given up dessert and all sugar (other than in fruit) in the past for one year. Cravings for that stuff went away quickly and fresh fruit started to taste sweet and satisfying. I really didn’t miss it. And it was easy. And I maintained my weight very easily with that one small change. And I felt virtuous (always dangerous for someone who is opposed to moralizing food). Then I went to visit family In South Africa. And they have these unbelievably incredible donut like things called koeksisters. And I ate one. And that re activated my sugar thing. Six years ago and I’ve never been able to let it go again! But I might at some point. I don’t consider sugar to be essential or dessert to be a food group.
I love dessert too. And I find it hard as a vegetarian, non drinker to consider limiting my food and drink choices even more. But I do try to limit dessert to twice a week, usually though not always, on the weekend.
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