Dietary Considerations for the Vegan Athlete

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In general, vegan diets promote high satiety, or a feeling of fullness.1This may be beneficial for athletes who wish to lose excess body fat, but for some athletes this could be cause for concern due to suboptimal ingestion of certain macro and micronutrients.

Vegan athletes may find themselves deficient in zinc if their diet does not include cereal grains, legumes or nuts as all of these are main suppliers of zinc in a vegan diet.2 In addition, some vegan athletes may find themselves deficient in calcium as bioavailability- [the ability for your body to break down and use calcium] from vegetables sources, including soy milk and its products, is lower than that from dairy sources.2

If a vegan athlete observes that he or she doesn’t recover well between cardiovascular sessions or high intensity weight training, that it takes them longer to recover from injury and illness or that they notice they been sick in the previous months, they may be deficient in iron. This justification is due to the fact that iron is involved in neural, immune and cognitive function.

In addition, as vegan diets can often contain high levels of carbohydrate, this may be cause for concern as we know that high carbohydrate diets may be high in compounds that inhibit iron absorption.2 Lastly, this concern is compounded by the fact that non-haem iron absorption process is inefficient compared to haem or animal protein absorption.2 Contrary to popular belief, vegan athletes can prosper across a wide range of sports. However, vegan athletes should be aware of common pitfalls when creating meal plans and should consult with a dietician if he/she feels any of the signs or symptoms above.

The National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements website contains fact sheets for minerals and vitamins and is a fantastic resource. The website has fact sheets for consumers as well as for health professionals. Each fact sheet contains a table of content as the scope of each fact sheet is large. For example, you can see the table of contents for the health professional version of Zinc below. This website is a great resource as it offers independent, scientific based information and does not contain any biases.

In addition, I found two research articles that are a treasure throve of information for vegan athletes.

Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers

Vegetarian and vegan diets for athletic training and performance



1. Rogerson, D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. J Intl Soc Spt Nutr. 2017; 14, 36 1-15

2. Burke, L. & Deakin, V. Clinical Sports Nutrition. 2015. McGraw-Hill. 5th edition.