Is Vegan Healthy for Athletics?

Veganism is gaining popularity within the sport industry. You may be questioning whether it is possible to be a vegan athlete. Are there associated risks? What should I eat to avoid these risks?

Although it is possible to be a vegan athlete, it certainly isn’t ideal because of the challenges in consuming and maintaining an adequate diet. A poorly developed diet can lead to insufficient energy consumption and macro/micronutrient deficiencies. The most notable macronutrient that vegan athletes lack is protein. Protein is necessary for muscle growth and repair, as well as reducing muscle soreness. Plant based proteins are often incomplete. Given this, it is important to eat a variety of plant proteins to meet the necessary requirements.


Micronutrients of concern include Vitamin B12, Calcium, Vitamin D, Iron and Zinc. Deficiencies in these not only present health-related issues but can also negatively impact performance. Low levels of B12 can result in blood cell changes and neurological symptoms. Calcium & Vitamin D are critical for bone health. Vegan athletes with low calcium or Vitamin D intake are at higher risk for fractures. A commonly mentioned issue for vegans is iron level. Low iron levels among athletes can reduce endurance capacity and increase energy expenditure. It can also lead to iron deficiency anemia (a decrease in red blood cells), which causes fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, and reduced exercise tolerance. Iron deficiency is elevated among females. Zinc contributes to cell growth and repair, the breakdown of protein, a well-functioning immune system, and wound healing.


In summary, if you are deciding to go vegan for health reasons, I would encourage you to weigh the risks listed above. If you decide to go vegan for other reasons, make sure that you are well informed about how you can still meet all of your nutrition needs. Working one on one with a registered sports dietitian can help make the process a lot easier!


Guest author: Ciana Bonfiglio

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Hi, my name is Katelyn Greenleaf, Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist

NuLeaf Nutrition strives to...

1. Provide scientifically-backed information to help athletes find a nutrition plan that fits their individual health/fitness goals.

2. Educate people in achieving optimal nutrition in attempts to prevent the development of chronic diseases. 

3. Improve total health by emphasizing balance in the diet and physical activity.

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