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Vegan Nutrition for Athletes with The Game Changers Legend

In this world, where we are increasingly industrializing food with a high carbon footprint, the difficulty in producing and consuming foods naturally, vegan and vegetarian nutrition, which has been a popular diet in recent times, has emerged as a new trend in athletes as well as in sedentary individuals. Globally, 6% of the American population and 10% of the European population identify as vegan or vegetarian. At the same time, the average age of these populations varies between 22-38 years.

But for athletes, the situation is a little different. Because their food choices directly affect their performance and immune system. Daily The primary purpose of the food the athletes is to maintain the optimum health level by keeping the immunity the athlete strong, to ensure the continuity of the performance of the athlete, and to the sportsman’s branch, gender, training, age, etc., is to support the success of the competitions by creating a nutrition program suitable for the factors. Especially with the book “The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports” and the documentary “The Game Changers”, plant-based nutrition has become a daily preferred nutrition model for athletes.

We are faced with vegan athletes who are thriving all over the world. For example, Ultramarathon runner Fiona Oakes, ultra Ironman triathlete Rich Roll, tennis player Serena Williams, bodybuilder Patrick Reiser, Olympic lifter Kendrick Farris, Formula 1 racer Frank Medrano and finally, the German National Team, which won the World Cup in 2014, have progressed to adopt a vegan diet.

What are the effects of plant-based nutrition on athletes?

In the studies, two groups of athletes were examined as plant-based fed and animal-based fed. According to the results, it has been observed that the endurance and strength of the athletes who are vegan or vegetarian are 2-3 times higher, and the recovery speed is faster. In the first studies, it was observed that the health of those with a vegan or vegetarian diet was at an optimum level due to the low consumption of cigarettes and alcohol. The aim of a well-planned vegan and vegetarian diet is; to be healthy and have a sufficient nutritional intake suitable for people of all ages.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the vegan diet; It has been stated that it reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, hypertension, hyperlipidemia (high blood fat values), cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and cancer mortality. The reason is that the saturated fat ratios of foods such as milk and dairy products and red meat consumed by individuals are not taken into the body.

If a balanced and sufficient intake of energy and macro-micro nutrients is in question, vegetable proteins contain adequate amounts of protein for individuals of all ages. Grains and legumes are good sources for this. It does not contain saturated fatty acids, trans fatty acids, or cholesterol but is also healthier with its complex carbohydrates, fiber, iron, zinc, resistant starch, and antioxidant and phytochemical content. In addition, it is beneficial for muscle health, the heart, and the gastrointestinal system. It improves blood pressure and bad cholesterol, such as LDL, while improving menopause and insulin sensitivity. It generally supports less calorie intake due to its lower fat content; therefore, less body mass index and weight can be observed.

So, is this only possible with the introduction of meat and dairy products?

Let’s start from there. What are the types? We can classify a vegan diet as a very strict vegetarian. We can say that those who eat vegans remove every food of animal origin (meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese) from their lives and replace them with those of vegetable origin.

Vegetarian nutrition is examined in four categories:

1. Vegetarian: Instead of animal meats such as red meat, poultry, and fish, Plant-based foods such as cereals, legumes, soy, vegetables, fruits, and oilseeds are consumed.

2. Lacto-vegetarian: Meat, fish, poultry, and eggs are not consumed; only milk is consumed as an animal source in their diet.

3. Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Lacto, milk; ovo represents egg, and these people are fed by adding eggs and dairy products to their plant-based diet, but their diets lack meat, fish, and poultry. 

4. Ovovegetarian: It is the group that consumes only eggs as food of animal origin.

It depends on the amount (Craddock et al., 2016; Trapp et al., 2010). Studies are showing that vegetarian diets increase the performance of athletes, and studies have shown that the reason for this is that energy consumption is predominantly carbohydrate and increased antioxidants in line with vegetable-fruit consumption. In particular, its high antioxidant content helps reduce oxidative stress associated with prolonged exercise and minimize immune function and inflammation (Trapp et al., 2010). All in all, despite the ergogenic potential, a vegetarian diet can have the potential to impair both health and performance if food choices are consistently inadequate.

Let’s examine the energy, carbohydrate, protein, fat, and micronutrients in order.

1. Energy

Meeting energy needs is a nutritional priority for all athletes (Thomas et al., 2016). Insufficient energy intake compromises performance. Loss of muscle mass or bone density can lead to health complications, including increased fatigue, risk of injury, and disease. Energy requirements differ among individual athletes based on the specific sport, intensity, and regular training activities the athletes participate in (which will likely vary daily and throughout the season). Other influencing factors include gender, age, and body composition.

Athletes with high energy needs should be encouraged to eat frequent meals and snacks (i.e., 5-8 meals/snacks per day) and to plan appropriately so that food and snacks are readily available.

2. Carbohydrates

Carbohydrate intake is essential for athletes to maximize optimal performance, recovery, and glycogen synthesis. It is a necessary component of an athlete’s diet and should make up most of their energy intake. For those who eat vegan in terms of energy balance, a 60-65% carbohydrate rate is recommended. Current carbohydrate recommendations are 5-10 g per kg of body weight per day for most athletes who do moderate to high-intensity exercise for about 1-3 hours per day (Thomas et al., 2016). A lower intake of 3-5 g per kg is recommended for low-intensity or skill-based athletes, while requirements of 8-12 g per kg are recommended during intense endurance training (Burke et al., 2011; Thomas et al., 2016). 

3. Proteins

B growth and development, important survival role-playing. It is a macronutrient. The amount and types of amino acids, which are the building blocks, determine the value of a protein, whether it is essential or not. Vegetarians are most important in diets to provide the nutritional differences from foods containing essential amino acids. At least 1/3 of the daily protein intake should come from animal foods (33%). Of fruits and vegetables, most cereals for essential amino acids are limited. Therefore, in vegan individuals, protein imbalance may occur. This protein imbalance can be eliminated by consuming some plant foods together. For example, with a meal of dried beans cooked without meat, bulgur, or rice pilaf is destroyed, essential amino acids are balanced, and nutritional diversity is achieved.

While the amount of protein that should be consumed per day is 0.6-0.8 g per kg, the current protein intake recommendations for athletes are 1.2-2.0 g per kg per day (Thomas et al., 2016). 

4. Oils

A maximum of 10% of the energy intake in a healthy eating plan should be from fats. The trend of fat adaptation that occurs with high-fat and low-carbohydrate diets widespread today has been shown to reduce carbohydrate metabolism and performance during high-intensity exercise sessions joined in most sports (Burke, 2015; Thomas et al., 2016). Generally, a vegetarian diet is rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids but limited in omega-3 fatty acids (Li, 2003). Therefore, the diet’s fat intake should be controlled for individuals to synthesize healthy fatty acids. 

5. Vitamins and minerals

It is an essential part of diets as well as macronutrients. Iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, iodine, and some B vitamins (B-12 and riboflavin), which are found in foods of animal origin and are more absorbed in the body, are among the vitamin and mineral groups that can be deficient in this type of diet, education should be provided (Melina et al., 2016).

Finally, vegan and vegetarian individuals; include milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, legumes, edamame, tempeh, tofu, soy products, and oil seeds, while protein values from vegetables and grains should not be underestimated. We classify the fat needs as healthy fat; olive oil, avocado, oil seeds, etc. Nutrients rich in omega 3, walnuts, and chia seeds can be helpful for support. If vitamins and minerals are taken as a basis, consuming foods rich in iron and zinc are essential, and these foods can be listed as legumes, edamame, oil seeds, dark leafy vegetables, and grains. In other words, an athlete or a sedentary individual can reach their goals with a nutrition program in which macro and micronutrients are formed completely, as always.