Vegan Athletes: Healthy and Possible

Do you think athletes can be vegan?

Common belief

Some people believe that being a vegan athlete goes against human nature. Nevertheless, a long list of world-famous plant-based athletes proves the contrary: Olympic athlete Carl Lewis, professional tennis player Venus Williams, ultra-runner Scott Jurek, Germany's "strongest man" Patrick Baboumian, and many more. The same popular belief seems to associate strength and full athletic potential with a diet rich in animal protein, loads of carbohydrates, and synthetic protein powders. Fear of lacking in essential minerals such as iron, B vitamins, iodine, zinc, vitamin D, and certain fatty acids are the main arguments against veganism.

However, the benefits of a vegan diet are many!

Dish with cucumber, avocado, broccoli, and green pepper

Healthy Vegans

What makes vegan athletes so strong and healthy?

Training and recovery are the two elements that might separate top athletes from the average population. While planning physical exercises will be somewhat similar to all, nutrition is what makes the real difference. The better the diet, the better the quality of recovery. And the better the quality of recovery, the better the performance. Easily digestible, high quality, nutrient-dense, alkaline-forming foods will reduce the amount of stress produced by an overworking digestive system. Nutritional stress will trigger chronic inflammatory diseases.

Plant-based Nutrition Standard

Being a vegan athlete implies that you must follow some strict rules.

First, it is vital to get sufficient calories required by your physical activity. Get the right proportions to benefit from enough protein, carbohydrates, fatty acids, and micronutrients.

Knowing how to get the best out of foods is the key to a healthy vegan diet. Combine whole grains and legumes to get complete protein (containing all essential amino acids), such as dishes based on rice and lentils and hummus. Remember that organic soy products, buckwheat, einkorn, quinoa, and hemp are powered by all essential amino acids and are, therefore, sources of complete protein.

Adding vitamin C to iron-rich foods will increase iron absorption: do it with bell peppers and lentils, lemon juice, and parsley. Vitamins A, K, D, E are soluble in fat only, so remember to put some virgin olive oil on your carrots! Adding nutritional yeast will ensure B12 intake, while iodine will be found in regular consumption of algae. 

Fermented foods (such as miso, tempeh) are a good source of K2 vitamin and natural probiotics. Sprouting grains are a fantastic means to increase the nutritional potential of the food. After growing, the wheat grain vitamin C content will be increased by 600%, vitamin A by 300%, and B6 vitamin by 200%! Grains are easy to sprout and use in salads, for instance, or in Essene bread recipes, for the bravest.

Also, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, and hemp are the best sources of essential fatty acids. 

These are only a few examples of essential vegan habits, and we must be aware that no perfect diet exists, and that vegans and non-vegans are identically prone to nutrient deficiencies.

A white table with a vegan recipe with avocado and other vegetables

Possible Nutritional Deficiencies

Overall population and vegans

Studies on a sample of the French population point to a general deficiency in zinc, magnesium, iron, vitamins C, D, E, B6, B1, and E. A decline in the nutritional density of food since World War 2, the use of fertilizers, and a diet based on too many refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, changes in the general population's gut health are some of the reasons that impact both vegans and non-vegans.

We must remember that multidimensional factors at the source of optimal nutritional absorption: individual genetic backgrounds, individual adaptations in enzyme activity, the interaction between nutrients, the effect of medication on nutrient absorption. Thus, supplementation seems to be a necessity for everybody, but better if supervised by nutrition experts.

A properly conducted vegan diet guarantees optimal vitality, health, rapid cell regeneration, and, therefore, better performance.


Author: Nutritionist Marie-Noëlle Bourgeois

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