The Essential Supplement Guide for Vegan Athletes - Amandean

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November 29, 2021 6 min read

In this article:

  • An athlete’s diet: Why you need supplementation
  • Common deficiencies in a vegan diet
  • Best nutrition & supplements for vegan athletes

An Athlete’s Diet: Why you needsupplementation

If you regularly engage inhigh-intensity exercise,sports nutrition and proper recovery are critical for performing at a high level and flourishing in health. Athletes expend more energy (aka calories) than the average person and require additional fuel and nutrients to repair and strengthen the body.

The benefits ofhigh-intensity exercise go beyondathletic performance. Strenuous exercise can improve cardiovascular health, mood,bone health,body composition, and help build stronger muscles.

Research has shown that vigorous exercise doesn't suppressimmune function. In fact, frequent exercise enhances theimmune system over time. Nevertheless, avegan athlete must have proper rest and recovery, and refuel with adequate macronutrients andmicronutrients for optimal performance.

Common Deficiencies in a Vegan Diet

Avegan diet is composed entirely of plant-based foods with noanimal products of any kind.Vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, fish, and seafood but may still include otheranimal products.

Whether an athlete chooses a vegan lifestyle for health or ethical reasons, it's possible to get the vast majority of nutrients consumed byomnivores throughwhole foods, with a few key exceptions.Meat-eaters consume much of theirdaily intake of protein, minerals, and vitamins fromanimal products. Without thosefood sources,vegan athletes need to take extra precautions, which is whysupplementation can be beneficial.

Anutritionist ordietitian can help ensure a young athlete forms a well-balanced diet and receives essential nutrients for growth. Along with a basicmultivitamin, vegans may need additionalsupplements.

Common nutritional deficiencies or concerns for avegan athlete include:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA & EPA)
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Protein and essential amino acids

Best Nutrition & Supplements for Vegan Athletes

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 deficiency is probably the most well-known concern for vegans. B12 is naturally found inanimal products and is used in making DNA, keeping blood and nerve cells healthy, and preventing megaloblastic anemia.

Withoutanimal products, vegans may require aB12 supplement, and should be intentional about consuming foods fortified with B12, such as breakfastcereals ornutritional yeasts.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is critical forbone health and is synthesized from exposure to sunlight or consumed in foods like fish, meat, and eggs. Unfortunately, it's challenging to get adequateVitamin D from sun exposure alone, which meanssupplementation is necessary.

AnNHANES study showed that about 40% of the US population has avitamin D deficiency, and some medical professionals would say this number is higher.

This fat-soluble vitamin comes in two forms: D2 and D3. Most sources ofVitamin D3 are animal sourced, however there are some new formulas on the market offering a clean source of the D3 nutrient from a plant-based, lab grown origin, which makes D3 an option for vegans.

Calcium

Calcium,vitamin D, andmagnesium are critical forbone health. With a lack ofdairy products, vegans need to be creative about finding plant-basedfood sources ofcalcium or consider takingsupplements.Fortified food sources like ready-to-eatcereals, plant-based milk substitutes, and vegetables such as broccoli and kale can all contribute to meetingcalcium needs.

Recommendedcalcium intake for adults is 1,000-1,200 mg, and teenagers need slightly more.Calcium deficiency can reduce bone strength and potentially lead to osteoporosis. Because many Americans are not consuming the recommended amount ofcalcium from diet alone,supplementation may be necessary.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are known for improving cardiovascular and brain health, and reducing inflammation. Fatty fish have the highest concentration of omega-3s, and manynon-vegans who don't want to eat the recommended two servings of fish per week will choosefish oil supplements instead.

The two types ofomega-3 fatty acids found in fish areDHA (docosahexaenoic acid) &EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the plant form of omega-3.Plant sources ofALA include groundflaxseeds,chia seeds, walnuts, soy foods, and algae or algae oil.Vegan Omega-3, made with marine algae, is the perfectsupplement for getting this crucial form of essential fat and includes both DHA and EPA.

Iron

Iron is a mineral that forms hemoglobin, the part ofred blood cells that transports oxygen to all the cells in the body. Too much iron can cause hemochromatosis, but too little can cause anemia.Iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, decreased performance, and loweredimmune function.

Iron comes in two forms. Heme and nonheme iron are both found in meat, poultry, and seafood. Interestingly, excess heme iron in the body cannot be expelled and is stored in the organs, so too much of it can lead to health issues. Plants andfortified foods, on the other hand, contain only nonheme iron.

Plant foods that supply iron include nuts, beans,lentils, vegetables, and fortified grain products. Because nonheme iron has less bioavailability than heme iron, vegans may need to consume greater quantities of iron-rich foods or takeiron supplements. Dailyiron recommendations range from 8-18 mg depending on age and gender, and pregnant women need 27 mg of iron daily.

Protein andEssential Amino Acids

Whether you're a power athlete or an endurance athlete, gettingenough protein is critical for muscle growth and repair. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes consume 1.2 to 2.0 grams ofprotein per kilogram of body weight when training. Athletes cansupplement theirdaily intake with protein-fortified foods or plant-basedprotein powders.

Vegan athletes should pay attention to consuming all theessential amino acids–the molecules that make up protein. As cells undergoprotein synthesis, they need all the necessaryamino acid building blocks. The body can produce nonessentialamino acids, but nineessential amino acids must be consumed in food.

Plant-basedprotein sources ofessential amino acids include grains like quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat. Beans andlegumes are also a great source ofplant protein. Other options include tofu,tempeh, edamame, spirulina, hemp seeds,chia seeds, andnutritional yeast. Finally, rice and beans are a classic complementary source of vegan protein, providing methionine and lysine and the other sevenessential amino acids.

Otheramino acids that have been shown to boost performance and may need to be supplemented includecreatine monohydrate andbeta-alanine.

Antioxidants

Finally, to stay healthy and build a strongimmune system,vegan athletes may want to consider anantioxidant supplement.Boswellia Serrata is a vegan-friendly extract with effective anti-inflammatory properties, which are vital for athletes who may experience joint pain and muscle discomfort.

PremiumLiposomalvitamin C can stimulate collagen production and strengthen theimmune system.Vitamin C is a powerfulantioxidant that combats free radicals and can increase daily energy.

Another powerhouseantioxidant isLiposomal Glutathione. Thissupplement helps to replenish glutathione in the body while neutralizing free radicals, which may help to reduce inflammation and aid in detoxification.

There are many reasons to go vegan, and thanks to modern supplements, there aren’t many things to hold you back! In order to excel in their sport, vegan athletes of all backgrounds just need to keep an eye on certain vitamins and nutrients, particularly protein, antioxidants, iron, calcium, omega 3-s, and vitamins B12 and D. Just like any athlete, the key lies in eating clean, training hard, and resting often!

Summary Points

  • Athletes expend more energy (aka calories) than the average person and require additional fuel and nutrients to repair and strengthen the body
  • A nutritionist or dietitian can help ensure a young athlete forms a well-balanced diet and receives essential nutrients for growth
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are known for improving cardiovascular and brain health, and reducing inflammation
  • Vegan athletes should pay attention to consuming all the essential amino acids–the molecules that make up protein
  • Boswellia Serrata is a vegan-friendly extract with effective anti-inflammatory properties, which are vital for athletes who may experience joint pain and muscle discomfort



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