Vegan nutrition and sport: how to optimise performance with a plant-based diet

3 MIN 15 March 2024

The general guidance given to athletes who want to improve their performance on the field through sports nutrition also apply to those on a vegan diet. To begin with, a vegan diet must be balanced and focus on healthy foods, primarily to ensure health and well-being for our body, but also to keep our sports performance high. The advice is not to do it on your own but to rely on a health professional, such as a nutritionist, because to be most effective, a sports diet should be designed specifically for the individual athlete.

Vegan diets and sport: tips for proper sports nutrition

A vegan diet is absolutely compatible with the needs of an athlete, both amateur and competitive, as long as the appropriate number of calories is consumed in proportion to the physical activity carried out.

The guidelines for the vegan diet of athletes who practice endurance sports state that macronutrients must be correctly balanced. Carbohydrates should make up for approximately 60% of the calories consumed in our diet, preferably those contained in cereals, tubers and pulses. To a lesser extent those in jam, sugar and sweets.

Protein foods should account for approximately 15% of total calories, and finally lipids, i.e. fats, which are essential to provide energy for our body, must make up 25% of our diet.

Proteins, another key macronutrient for people involved in sport, are not a problem for veganism either. Although we often think the opposite, a vegan diet also contains protein foods, which are essential because they build muscle mass, as well as being a necessary component to keep physiological functions active. There are many examples of vegan protein foods:

  • Seitan, which is 75% protein, provides the full daily protein food requirement in just 100 grams;
  • Lentils provide 26 grams of protein per 100 grams, are rich in iron, magnesium, potassium, and have a high fibre and vitamin content;
  • Peanut butter provides 25 grams of protein per 100 grams, is rich in potassium, fibre and magnesium, and contains vitamin B-6;
  • Hemp seeds, which also have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Note however that plant proteins have a lower biological value than animal proteins, as well as being less digestible. The human body is unable to break down all plant proteins, so only 80% percent of plant proteins are absorbed and used by the body. The recommendation is therefore to increase protein intake: on average, a vegan athlete has a 0.3/kg higher protein requirement than an omnivorous athlete.

As we have highlighted, there is no shortage of energy sources in the vegan diet, but care must be taken not to exceed the consumption of fibre, which can cause problems in the gut. In fact, while dietary fibres are essential for the health of the body, the advice is not to exceed 45/50 grams per meal. Vegan athletes should therefore focus on eating non-whole grains, hulled cereals, seaweed and dried fruit.

It is also essential to maintain the right amount of iron, calcium, zinc and group B vitamins in sports nutrition. Similarly, it is important to include the right amount of Omega 3, a key polyunsaturated fat for people involved in sport, particularly because of its anti-inflammatory properties, which are crucial in the recovery phase. There are plant-based Omega 3 supplements derived from marine algae on the market, but some common foods such as flax seeds, chia seeds, soybeans and their oils, and wheat germ oil are also excellent sources of Omega 3. Moderate levels of Omega 3 are also found in almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, pecans and Brazilian nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

Vegan diet and sport: proper hydration is the foundation of sports nutrition

Proper sports nutrition for athletes combining a vegan diet with sport has to include adequate hydration. It is essential for athletes to drink at least 2 litres of water a day and always stay hydrated before, during and after physical activity. Low hydration reduces sports performance and increases the level of fatigue while playing sports.

An excellent strategy to maintain adequate hydration and make up for the mix of nutrients burned during physical activity has been developed by Cetilar® Nutrition. Hydral is a powder stick based on sodium, magnesium hydroxide (UltraMag® Marine) and other mineral salts with a citrus flavour, suitable for people on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Hydral can be taken before, during and after physical activity, as required, to allow our body to maintain performance.

More tips
Let’s keep in touch
Subscribe to the Cetilar newsletter and get an immediate 15% discount to use on your first purchase!

By subscribing, you agree to receive our newsletters and you declare that you are of legal age, have read the Privacy Policy and authorise us to process your data for marketing purposes.