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Can following a vegan diet make you a stronger runner?

Categories: Health

There has been a big increase in recent years of the number of people following a vegan diet. The media may have had something to do with it, with documentaries like The Game Changers, the accessibility of vegan food in the super markets and restaurants and of course high performance athletes getting great results at an elite level that follow a plant based diet.

As with any diet there are healthy and unhealthy ways to follow a vegan diet.

The health benefits to leading a vegan diet include better kidney function, reduced risk of diabetes, cut risks of developing certain cancers, improve joint pain and swelling, lower risk of heart disease, high in fibre and antioxidants.

Once you’re in full training mode your body needs more energy to fuel your body for all the additional activities you’re doing. It is important to make sure your diet and food intake reflects this.

Protein is one of the key building blocks needed for building and repairs muscles. The more active you are the more you need. You need to make sure you get complete sources for protein (contain all amino acids) including soy and quinoa. Most plant based protein sources are incomplete; this is why you need a variety of food each day, including pulses, beans, nuts, grains, seeds and leafy veg). If you’re not getting enough protein eventually your muscles will break down and reduce strength and power.

Fats for endurance athletes are a vital fuel source. Once your body as used its glycogen stores it will turn to fats as the main fuel source. Dietary fat is needed to absorb some vitamins which help with recovery, immune system and bone health. Omega 3 and 6 are needed in a healthy balance. As vegans can have more grains this can increase omega 6 in relation to omega 3, which long term can lead to inflammation. Flaxseed, chia and hemp seeds all contain omega 3 if you’re not getting this from oily fish. Other foods which can lower inflammation are olives, avocado and macadamia nuts.

Minerals can be lower in vegan runners, depending on food intake. Particularly affected are sodium, calcium, iodine, zinc and iron. Low levels can cause cramps, stiffness and fatigue. Think about adding sea salt on one meal. Foods high in calcium are tahini, almonds, leafy green veg, sesame seeds or coconut, soy milk.

Weight training, impact work or when you’re on your period can affect iron levels. Chick peas, lentils, dried figs, spinach, kale and beans are high in iron combine this with vitamin c from fresh fruit will aid absorption.

Vitamins are needed to keep you healthy. Vitamin B12 is needed for healthy blood cells and nervous system. Within food it is not absorbable, so if following a vegan diet you’ll need supplements. Vitamin D is important and if you’re not getting this from eggs or dairy products and if the sun isn’t shining this can be difficult, so again a supplement may be needed again.

Have you always followed a vegan diet? If not have you noticed an improvement in your performance or lifestyle since you switched?