Vegan athlete and health and fitness writer Lisa Gawthorne shares her advice for sports people thinking about adopting a vegan diet.
My transition to becoming a vegan athlete was from a vegetarian background. I have been veggie since age six so it wasn’t a massive leap for me – it just meant cutting out dairy and eggs to go fully plant-based. As soon as I went vegan, within days I noticed a change to my skin, I started sleeping better and I felt more energetic. It was this increased energy that gave me a heightened focus on my fitness as I needed an effective way of using all this new energy!
I have always had a love of fitness, and in particular running and weight training, and I have to say that after turning vegan, every area of my fitness witnessed really good improvements. I felt fitter, I was certainly faster and stronger and yes, some of this was down to scheduled training sessions but the majority I have to put down to being in tune with what my body required and thrived on in way of fuel. In the early days, I kept a note of what seemed to work for me in the way of pre workout and post workout recovery foods, and have really enjoyed seeing so many PB’s in race distances, weight lifting and cycling.
But enough about me! I have some really useful tips to share with any budding sports people that are considering adopting a plant-based diet.
Don’t listen to people who tell you that you need meat to be strong or fast – This is the biggest load of baloney! My muscle mass is higher than most of my pals that eat meat, I am lifting heavier now that I have ever lifted and I am a faster runner and cyclist than ever before. My story is certainly not an isolated one either. Plants can make you strong – check out the vegan power lifters, weight lifters and Olympic athletes on the Great Vegan Athletes website to see just how strong and powerful you can be without consuming any meat, fish or dairy. You will be inspired for sure.
Harness the power of vegetables – Vegetables are not the underdog. They are not only tasty but they are super healthy and are rich in phytonutrients to nourish your body, to boost your immune system and to give you helpful energy boosts. Vegetables look after your insides and make you look great on the outside as they are busting with high antioxidant levels and various useful vitamins. They are great for skin health and the body can easily metabolise them – they do not take a long time to be broken down in the stomach stressing the gut out like meat does. Think beyond peas and carrots though – look at jackfruit, butternut squash, okra, artichoke, and asparagus – all delicious and great to throw in soups, stews or as accompaniments to your vegan sausages!
Get creative with food – There are so many fabulous vegan cookbooks, online vegan recipes, forums, magazines and shows on TV that let you learn that there is so much choice and that life goes beyond mushroom risotto! Since turning vegan, I have been so much more curious about new foods and mixing them up to taste new flavours and create new meals. The Nutribullet has also been a godsend for making shakes, soups and sauces in a rainbow of colours and flavours. The nice thing about being a vegan in today’s world is that you don’t have to miss out on anything, including the sweet treats – I love vegan cookies, cupcakes, ice cream, yoghurts, cheesecake. If you are avoiding sugar, we make some fantastic sugar-free gummy bears check out Free From Fellows – we just won best food and drink product in the health food sector for this one too!
Rotate your foods – It’s easy to get stuck in a rut with your favourite type of food but food rotation is key along with mixing your protein sources too. With an average meal, I will mix two to three vegan protein sources that may include beans, nuts or tofu as examples. Some people thrive off meal planners and this may work for you if you like to plan ahead. It’s also useful to plan around when you are training – i.e. pre workout snacks and post workout recovery meals can all be easily planned on a weekly basis.
Join a group – If you run, Join vegan runners or search for local vegan sports clubs that match your interest – there are quite a few now including vegan body building clubs, vegan cycling clubs etc. The useful thing about joining these kinds of clubs is that you are surrounding yourself with like-minded people and you can all share advice on races, competitions, clothing, nutrition etc.
Follow some inspirational vegan sports folk – Good tips are always worth listening to and never more so than when they come from people you respect in your field or indeed any field of sport, as it all requires focused discipline. Lewis Hamilton, Scott Jurek, Patrik Baboumian and Kendrick Farris are all worth a follow – from F1 to endurance running and power lifting – they are all super successful vegan sports people showing people how it’s done.
Share your success – People often say vegans are noisy but why not be noisy if you are helping yourself …and others… and the planet…. and the animals?! My advice is shout it from the rooftops, help turn the old myths around and be part of living global change. It’s all extremely empowering stuff and highly motivating for others to hear, you won’t believe how effective even one person can be. In the last ten years – I easily know over 50 people who say they have gone vegan as I inspired them, and many of them have gone on to see great improvements in their fitness too, as well as their overall health. This is soul enriching stuff.
Tune into good information sources – My go to vegan sources are: Veganuary, The Vegan Society, One green planet, Plant Based News, Livekindly, Weanimals, Viva!, PETA, GVA and Vegan Runners. That covers sport, fitness, health, food, recipes, animal welfare, charities and everything else you could possibly want to know about being vegan!
Top up online – I try to shop locally to support my local stores but I also top up online as there are some wonderful new vegan ranges now stocked at Ocado, Holland & Barrett and The Vegan Kind – they are probably the three most frequently used retailers I use online as they have a great range of foods including sports nutrition that is suitable for vegans.
Do not worry about B12 – I have never had a vitamin deficiency and my B12 level has never been low at any point of testing. I put this down to the fact that my diet is rich in B12 because the almond milk I have is fortified with it and it is added to quite a lot of breakfast cereals. Everyone is different but don’t let any worries about inadequate levels of B12 hold you back, the likelihood is you will get enough from fortified foods and if you don’t have them in your diet you can get a B complex vitamin supplement or B12 booster from most health food stores. It really isn’t the big issue the media makes out to be!
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