I’ve gotten a lot of questions from people about if the vegan diet is good for performance. I understand that some people “go vegan” due to ethical concerns but if you are considering becoming vegan for purely overall health and performance then I suggest you look to other diets. I tried a vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian diets during my career. At times my performance and recovery were compromised. Here are my tips on how to optimize your diet for performance and also a few tips if you still choose a vegan diet.
1.The Vegan Diet Lacks Omega 3s That Are Important To Overall Health. There are several potential health issues with a vegan diet, one of which is a lack of adequate omega-3 fatty acids. The conversion of omega-3s that originate from plant sources is very, very small in comparison to those coming from fish or grass-fed beef.
Omega-3s are in every cell and within the DHA layer of your brain. A vegan diet cannot deliver the proper dosage and, over time, this deficiency can cause huge health problems.
Supplementing with plant-based omega-3s can be implemented with walnut, hemp, primrose, chia and borage seed oils, if taken daily. Additionally the fresh water algae astaxanthin (found in supplements like BioAstin), is also a good source.
2.Diets Are Better with Cold Water Fish & Grass-Fed Beef. I recommend a predominantly plant-based diet be balanced with cold water fish such as wild caught salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, krill and more. Grass-fed beef also provides highly absorbable healthy omega 3s, like Congugated Linoleic Acid. Grain fed beef is a big zero.
3. Balance Carbohydrates to Enhance Absorption and Gut Microbiome. Carbohydrates rule the vegan diet and — while there are healthy carbs — in great volume they can cause systemic inflammation, a dependence on insulin and a whole host of gut microbiome problems.
Increasing your consumption of dark leafy greens is a great way to balance the gut microbiome. Healthy fruits and vegetables (i.e., that are lower in fructose) are also good choices, if eaten sparingly.
Examples of low fructose fruits that I recommend are dark berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries). In contrast the worst fruit-based food, which is found everywhere in vegetarian menus, is agave nectar!
Vegans should also include fermented vegetables to enhance gut flora. Kimchi, cole slaw and pickled vegetables are all good sources. If you’re a lacto-ovo vegetarian. Then you can include full-fat unsweetened Greek yogurt, cheese kurd and kefir.
4. Avoid Packaged Protein Products. If you are on a plant-based diet try eating the most natural sources of protein as possible. Nuts, seeds and dark beans are best. Soy and textured veggie patties should be out!
Vegans who are athletes need to closely monitor their protein intake because it can be difficult to consume an adequate amount for recovery. Inadequate protein causes muscle wasting and affects hormone production, and negatively impacts tendon, ligament and connective tissue health.
As I mentioned above, adding cold water fish helps to avoid these problems and benefits your heart, arteries, veins, lung function and also enhances athletic performance.
Overall going vegan is a personal choice but if you are looking to maximize performance then I would incorporate the above elements into your diet to find the most success.