Making it Without Meat

Tips to survive being a vegan athlete


Daisy Fuchs

A vegan meal of tofu, brown rice, asparagus, and soy milk.

Daisy Fuchs, Web Editor-in-Chief

Competitive level athletics are hard, as is managing a specialized diet such as being vegan. When student athletes combine the two it provides an unique challenge that require conscious thought and effort to be able to maintain top performance. Here are some tips to help balance a vegan diet with being an athlete, as well as some handy tips for all athletes in general.



  • Balance. This is absolutely key.Nutrition is all about getting the right amount of the right nutrients. You can’t eat just protein or just carbs, there has to be an even mix of everything. There are five food groups for a reason. “There is definitely a way to be a vegan and still be an athlete, you just gotta have the balance and the knowledge of what you can have in place of other things,” school athletic trainer Alexander Espinosa said. Being vegan doesn’t change the balance, it just changes the foods that need to be balanced. There is no getting out of eating those veggies!
  • Find a good protein source. Protein is obviously a major problem for athletes on a vegan diet. Working out breaks down muscles and the rebuild of muscles is where you can become stronger than you previously, making protein absolutely crucial for recovery. Luckily there are a wide variety of good protein sources that are vegan and healthy. These options include quinoa, beans, commercially made meat substitutes, and tofu. Another thing to be conscious of is iron levels, which is typically provided in red meats. Iron is especially important for athletes because it helps oxygen to be carried through the blood and typically high level athletes need more iron. Iron is fairly easy to monitor by getting it regularly checked in a quick blood draw at doctor appointments and eating iron rich food such as leafy greens.
  • Learn to cook. This makes life infinitely more healthy and interesting. Eating the same foods on repeat is easy to resort to, especially on a vegan diet, but will eventually lead to burning out on those foods. Learning to cook easily solves this problem and opens up a wide variety of food options. Also, cooking helps to make you more aware of what is in your food so you can be certain that it is indeed vegan friendly and helps you make healthy decisions about what goes into your body. And if the word “cook” inspires stress because you are pretty certain you could burn water, look for a step-by-step cookbook that will walk you through the basics. Along with very simplified cookbooks, there are some great vegan cookbooks  out there that have recipes that make vegan foods seem pretty much better than non-vegan foods, just check out your local library!
  • Calcium, calcium, calcium. Most people know about how calcium is crucial for bone health and the prevention of injuries such stress fractures and broken bones. Although, it is less commonly known that calcium is necessary for muscle function on a molecular level and without enough calcium athletes are more prone to getting cramps. Calcium is also difficult to get enough of with a vegan diet, although there are also some good stand-ins such as dairy-free milk (this comes in what seems like a thousand varieties so try a couple and find your favorite and be sure to check the calcium content), leafy greens such as spinach, non-dairy cheese, and other various fortified foods such as cereal. Dairy substitutes by no means have to be nasty, though. “[My mom will]l make like lasagna, which she makes with nut cheese which is also how we get some of our dairy,” junior and runner Audrey Lookner, whose family is vegan, said.  
  • Make sure that you have enough calorie intake. Surprisingly enough, athletics takes calories. A lot of calories. Often in today’s culture everyone hears about not eating too much, but the other side of the spectrum is very much a reality too. There is absolutely no way to reach your athletic potential if you are not consuming enough calories. The benefit of this is that you can eat. Although be careful to not get too caught up in calories, eat when you are hungry and be sure to make your calories quality ones that are packed with nutrients.
  • Hydrate. When you live in Colorado, water is a must-have. There is no season that you can’t get dehydrated in because in the winter it is dry and the summer is hot, and then because it is Colorado the weather in the spring and fall can be, and is, everything imaginable. Your body is made up of about 60% water with the heart and lungs both being higher proportions. Without proper hydration you can get anything from depleted performance to cramps to heat stroke. “They always tend to take too much of something and not enough of something else.“I think the main thing that I see is when people have low blood sugar. You feel faint and feel like they are gonna pass out when they are working out, especially when it is hot out and they are sweating a lot and get dehydrated. Not only the food part but also the hydration part,” Espinosa said. Water and hydration is not only important for vegans, it is crucial for all athletes.
  • Monitor your athletic performance. This is a good way to tell if you can handle your vegan diet. If you are just coming onto a vegan diet see if you feel any different or see if your athletic performance stays the same or improves. If you start feeling worse or see your performance declining take a look at your diet and make sure that you are getting the right amount of all of the nutrients. If you continue to have problems try talking to your doctor and be willing to consider coming off your vegan diet, for some people’s bodies being vegan doesn’t work as well and you need to do what is right for you. “I went vegetarian/vegan for six months and it took a toll on my body just because I was way skinnier and smaller then, but now I know how much to eat,” Lookner said.
  • Be sure to fuel specifically for workouts. In every sport there are harder days and easier days of training, so it is crucial to eat the same balanced diet daily, but if you know that there is a specific workout coming up, fuel for that workout. “[My mom] also makes sure that during the week that she plans out stuff so that I have enough [food] for the workout,” Lookner said. Lookner tries to eat more on days that she knows that she will have a hard workout such as a long run or intervals. Fueling after a workout is just as important as before, if not more so. Getting the right mix of carbs and proteins after working out allows the muscles to rebuild to their full potential and will help your body recover faster.
  • Enjoy food, being vegan doesn’t mean food has to be nasty. It is so much easier to be vegan and eat healthy if you like what you are eating. If being vegan means that you can’t eat some of your old favorites, like mac-n’-cheese or ice cream, find adequate substitutes that you can enjoy and love eating just as much. One of the greatest benefits of being active is that you can eat without feeling guilty, so it is okay to have that cookie every once in awhile. Also, be willing to try new foods. Some vegan foods might just sound straight up weird at first, but who knows, you might just find your new favorite food ever!



Other Resources to check out:

Eat and Run by Scott Jurek