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Category Archives: Sports Performance

How to be the healthiest vegan

How to be the healthiest vegan

You are most likely well aware of the benefits of being a fat adapted athlete. It’s a fallacy however, that this is a luxury only enjoyed by meat eaters. We are frequently asked this question and today, I set the record straight. 

As an athlete wanting to maximise performance and minimise recovery time, your micronutrient requirements are already greater than that of your inactive peers. Combine these requirements with a vegan diet, where nutrients including B12 and iron aren’t as readily available, the importance of what you consume and the quality of your digestion grows significantly.

Before we explore the possibility of becoming a fat adapted vegan, our top 5 nutrient considerations for vegan athletes are:

  1. B12

Adequate intake of B12 is essential for DNA synthesis and maintenance of myelin sheath (part of the nervous system). B12 can be stored in the liver for years, which is why many vegans don’t notice signs of deficiency (fatigue, shortness of breath and palpitations) until two years into veganism. That’s not to say however, that some don’t show signs of depletion much, much sooner. Some vegan foods like soy, nutritional yeast and grains are B12 fortified, but not with nearly enough to achieve the levels required or replicate the bioavailability of B12 from natural sources including liver, eggs, chicken and fish. For anyone following a vegan diet, B12 supplementation is a non-negotiable and required dosage is considerably higher than the traditional RDI, simply due to bioavailability of synthetic sources.

  1. Iron

Inadequate intake of iron can lead to varying degrees of deficiency ranging from low iron stores (indicated by low serum ferritin levels) right through to Iron-Deficiency Anaemia1. As an athlete you don’t want to fall into either of these states as iron is essential for the transport of oxygen to muscles and cellular energy production (processes crucial to endurance performance). The concern around iron is due to the reduced bioavailability of iron from plant based sources, however a well planned vegan diet usually contains more than enough iron. Consume foods like beans and lentils (prioritise these in the post training window due to their carbohydrate content), tofu, tempeh, broccoli and green leafy vegetables. Iron absorption can be enhanced by consuming it alongside vitamin C or beta carotene1, so consider pairing tempeh with broccoli, capsicum and/or cauliflower.  If you’re an endurance runner and/or premenopausal female and on a vegan diet (or considering being one), we highly recommend regular blood tests to monitor ferritin levels and signs of iron deficiency.

  1. Protein

We’ve included protein because it’s the macronutrient that most new vegans are concerned about getting enough. To set the record straight, a vegan following what some term the “starchitarian diet” (a carbohydrate loaded plate) could be at risk of falling short on protein or amino acid requirements, but it’s certainly not the case on a well managed vegan diet2. What’s an amino acid? Essentially, proteins are made up of amino acids and they’re the building blocks of life. There are what we call complete sources of proteins, which contain all of the amino acids that we can’t create ourselves (aka essential amino acids) and the incomplete sources, which contain some but not all of the essential amino acids. Animal proteins are the best sources of complete proteins, so vegans need to be particularly conscious of consuming a variety of plant based protein sources to obtain the required amount of essential amino acids. Aim for a regular dose of quinoa (prioritise this in the post training window), tempeh, tofu, chia seeds, kale, broccoli, hemp seeds, hemp protein powder, nuts and seeds.

It does mean that more attention should be placed on dietary variation and high quality sources of protein, as a diet of vegetables and carbohydrate simply won’t do. Below are our top suggestions for protein sources:

  • Tempeh and tofu
  • Lentils and beans
  • Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, cashews and their respective butters
  • Seeds, including chia, hemp, flax, sunflower and sesame
  • Quinoa
  • Green leafy vegetables, including broccoli and kale
  1. Calcium

For the vegans reading this, I’m sure you’re sick of being asked the question ‘where do you get your calcium?’. The truth is, a well balanced vegan diet won’t cause calcium deficiency. The problems come if you follow a restrictive vegan diet of fruit, pasta and bread. Daily calcium requirements can be met by consuming the following, as an example; 150g tofu, 1 cup of bok choy, 1 cup of broccoli, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds and 1 tablespoon of unhulled tahini.

  1. Omega-3

Omega-3s are broken down into three forms, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALAs are found in foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and green vegetables, and are required to create EPA and DHA in our body. There is evidence to show that DHA supplementation in particular, may be beneficial for vegan athletes to assist with training induced inflammation and oxidative stress2. For optimal health we recommend an algae based DHA supplement and to prioritise the consumption of the ALA rich foods mentioned above. As always, please ensure you moderate your intakes of omega-6 oils, and avoid vegetable oils including canola, corn and safflower oils.

In summary, eating a well balanced vegan diet is absolutely possible, but to truly allow for optimal performance and recovery it’s more than just a question of adequate energy and protein intake. Priority needs to be placed on nutrient density and variation. B12 and DHA supplements are a must and regular blood tests are highly recommended. For personalised support with your vegan nutrition, please book your complimentary 15-minute consultation with Elly here. You can learn more about Elly here.

References:

  1. Saunders, A, 2012. Iron and Vegetarian Diets. Medical Journal of Australia, 1 Suppl 2, 11-16.
  2. Furham, J, & Ferreri, DM, 2010. Fueling the Vegetarian (Vegan) Athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 9,4, 233-241.

Image credit here.

 

Nutritional ketosis and exogenous ketones for performance

Nutritional ketosis and exogenous ketones for performance

Before we begin on ketosis, please note this is not intended to discuss all of the research around ketosis, as science has proven its therapeutic benefit for the treatment of chronic conditions including epilepsy, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Rather, this article serves as a summary of the key points, benefits and areas of considerations for… Continue Reading

5 Signs That You’re a Fat Adapted Athlete

5 Signs That You’re a Fat Adapted Athlete

Fat adaptation is the metabolic reorchestration from a predominant fuel source of glucose to a predominant fuel source of fat. In other words, when you are fat adapted, your body can recognise fat as its primary fuel source rather than carbohydrate. This is the preferred metabolic state of the human. The process of fat adaptation… Continue Reading

The Real Food Athlete – now available!

The Real Food Athlete – now available!

**NOW AVAILABLE** We are beyond excited to share that The Real Food Athlete is now available worldwide. The Real Food Athlete is a culmination of our work since starting The Natural Nutritionist in 2011, and the formula we have used for the success of now thousands of athletes worldwide. Get your hands on a copy… Continue Reading

New Recipe: Freedom Fuel Sports Chews

New Recipe: Freedom Fuel Sports Chews

Did you know our Freedom Fuel (FF) doubles as sports chews? Simply make one serve and cut in squares to consume during training and racing. They are packed full of natural energy and electrolytes, and the addition of gelatin is perfect to support your gut health.  Ingredients (Serves 1; ~20g carbohydrates, 5g fat) 1/3 cup cold water 3½ tablespoons gelatin… Continue Reading

Real Meals for Athletes is here!

Real Meals for Athletes is here!

Our next ebook, Real Meal for Athletes is now available online! Are you new to real food? Stuck for ideas? Or simply looking for quick and nutrient dense ways to fuel your week? In Real Meals for Athletes we provide you with: * The Why: your guide to real food; * The What: information on building… Continue Reading

Join us on the Gold Coast in February!

Join us on the Gold Coast in February!

This one’s for the ladies today team. Perhaps you could hit forward and share with a friend? **FEMALE TRIATHLON RETREAT** Join Holistic Endurance on the Gold Coast this February for 4 days of training and 3 nights away in sunny QLD! Learn from two of Victoria’s leading female Triathlon Coaches as they share with you the foundations of… Continue Reading

Get your VFuel now at The Natural Nutritionist

Get your VFuel now at The Natural Nutritionist

We are thrilled to share that we have now partnered with Wild Plans, the Australian distributor of VFuel. Not familiar with VFuel? It is the world’s first endurance gel that includes digestible (read: fructose free) carbohydrates in combination with saturated fats (medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil). Say good bye to gastro-intestinal upset and extend the… Continue Reading

Why we recommend Generation UCAN’s SuperStarch

Why we recommend Generation UCAN’s SuperStarch

One of the very few sports nutrition products we recommend here at TNN is Generation UCAN’s SuperStarch. Here’s why: A stable blood sugar supply and low insulin equates to enhanced fat burning and decreased exogenous fuel requirements. Need I say more?  The benefits of SuperStarch SuperStarch is made from non-GMO corn starch which is cooked to slow… Continue Reading