By Jackie Freeman

You may have noticed lately that many professional athletes are adopting a vegan lifestyle--eating only plant-derived foods. Learn why they're making the switch and how you can keep your body moving healthy and strong when you're eating like a vegan. We'll share tips and recipes to keep you full, increase energy, and help reduce muscle aches, along with great meal ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Why Pro Athletes Go Vegan

It turns out that eliminating meat and animal products from your diet may help reduce inflammation, improve performance, and help cardio fitness. While a vegan diet may not be the best solution for every athlete (or aspiring athlete), there are steps you can take to make sure you are on the right path to success. Read on to see what to include in your plant-based power-eating plan.

Building Blocks of a Vegan Pro Athlete Diet

Protein

Protein is important for every athlete, because it helps rebuild muscle tissue after training. As an added benefit, eating enough good sources of protein will keep you full throughout the day. This Crazy Creamy Chickpea Curry will fuel you up for the long haul.

Crazy Creamy Chickpea Curry | Photo by Allrecipes Magazine

Essential Fats

Animal-based foods, like milk products, have a lot of fat, which is important for athletes. Fat provides energy, aides in the absorption of vitamins, and helps quicken the recovery process. Flax, chia and hemp seeds (and their oils) are great ways to incorporate these essential fats into your diet, as well as extra virgin olive oil and avocados. Try adding hemp flour to your baked goods, or flax or hemp to your salad dressings, like this Vegan Mexican Quinoa Bowl with Green Chile Cilantro Sauce.

Vegan Mexican Quinoa Bowl with Green Chile Cilantro Sauce | Photo by Buckwheat Queen

Want to really start your day right? Reach for this protein-packed Blueberry Vanilla Graham Protein Smoothie, loaded with both flax and hemp seeds.


Related: Learn the right way to make healthy smoothies.


Iron

Both vegan and non-vegan athletes often have low iron levels, because iron is lost in our sweat, as are calcium and salt. Eating foods that are iron-rich will help you build your iron and increase your energy. To absorb the most iron in your diet, pair your dishes with foods packed with vitamin C (like bell peppers and oranges). Worried about finding good sources of iron? Look no further than pumpkin seeds, kale, peanut butter, molasses, apricots, lentils, split peas, and prunes. Add a handful of iron-rich chopped kale to this creamy Vegan Red Lentil Soup, which also freezes great.

Vegan Red Lentil Soup | Photo by mrapharrison

Salt

When we work out, we sweat…a lot! Low sodium levels can result in muscle cramps and stiff joints. When switching to a vegan diet, reach for seaweed or sprinkle a little extra sea salt on to your meals. Add a few extra pinches of sea salt to this Vegan "Grated" Parmesan Cheese, then sprinkle on top of your pasta, salads, or soups.

Vegan Grated Parmesan Cheese | Photo by Buckwheat Queen


Related: Get smart tips for freezing, thawing, and reheating soup.


Calcium

Calcium is important for muscle contractions, whether you're running or biking for a long period of time. Help reduce muscle aches, by reaching for foods that have a high calcium content, such as dark leafy greens, beans, almonds, broccoli, and sesame seeds. Loaded with broccoli and tahini (ground sesame seeds) for calcium and cashews for healthy fats, and chickpeas for protein, the Broccoli Cauliflower Chickpea Bowl is perfect for lunch, dinner, or a substantial snack.

Broccoli Cauliflower Chickpea Bowl | Photo by Buckwheat Queen


Related: Here's how to build the most nutritious Buddha bowls.


Other Vitamins and Minerals

Getting the right blend of vitamins and minerals is key to a healthy diet. If you eat right, you can find everything you need in your food. "Eating a rainbow," a combination of whole plant foods in as many colors as you can find like in Mexican Bean Salad, will likely get you most of the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, proteins, and amino acids your body needs. Otherwise, you might consider taking a supplement or two. You may want to consider adding a B12 supplement to your diet, as this key nutrient is often found in animal products or fortified foods.

Mexican Bean Salad | Photo by lutzflcat


Related

Testing the vegan waters? Check out our entire collection of top-rated vegan recipes for every meal of the day, with ratings and reviews by home cooks like you.

Advertisement