In 2011, American Cyclist David Zabriskie raced The Tour De France, as a vegan. Brendan Brazier, professional triathlete and creator of The Thrive Diet and the ever so popular VEGA product line, swears by veganism for optimal performance and recovery. Fiona Oakes is a vegan and an accomplished elite marathon runner with top level finishes at prestigious marathons, and holds a world record. Catra Corbett is a vegan and a prolific ultra-marathon competitor who regularly tackles courses of 100 miles or more and has a national record for extreme distance running. And still people say “you can’t be an elite athlete as a vegan. I beg to differ.
The label “vegan” essentially means you are choosing a food chain with no animals in it. Not cows or their milk, not chickens or their eggs and not bees and their honey. Vegans do not eat foods that are processed using animal products. This would include many “natural flavours” (such as vanilla, raspberry and strawberry which are derived from a gland taken out of a beaver), white sugar (which although from a sugar cane plant, is often filtered through bone char in the factory) and many wines (which use “fining agents” or “clarifiers” to filter the wine, which are often derived from animals) as well as products with gelatin in them for example.
Even with exclusions like this, veganism is not about deprivation. It’s certainly a choice. Yes, society is used to anchoring a meal based on the piece of protein on your plate. As a vegan, you just need a little creativity and you will find yourself choosing from so many fresh vegetables and fruits. The flavor profiles of your meals can certainly awaken your palate to an entirely new plethora of flavors.
In the past few decades we have come to understand that what we eat has more far reaching effects on our health than what we previously thought. Times are changing and as people start to feel the health benefits of being vegan, as well as the social responsibility to reduce cruelty to animals, veganism is becoming more of a lifestyle choice both in society and within the athletic community.
Although there is strong evidence to support that a vegetarian diet will reduce heart disease (The Framingham Study – longest heart health study in history started in 1948 and continues today), I don’t necessarily believe that all vegans are “healthy”. Unfortunately with more production of processed foods than ever, there is also potential to have a pretty unhealthy vegan diet. Simply said; the less that has been done to your food, the better.
So how can you be a healthy vegan? Simple; stick with predominantly whole foods, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains such as quinoa, nuts, seeds and healthy fats.
Ditch the Fake Meats
I am not a big supporter of processed “faux meats” like Tofurkey which are made with “natural vegetarian flavorings”, canola oil and vital wheat gluten. Just call it “FauxTurkey” already! There are better choices such as tempeh (fermented soya beans), or even organic tofu which I would get plain and flavor with real spices at home. I would suggest if you eat tofu, to have it occasionally but not daily due to high amounts of soy allergies today, as well as the possible hormonal effects of eating too many soy products.
The bottom line is Tofurkey looks like a beige football, doesn’t smell like turkey (not in my memories of Thanksgiving anyhow!) or taste like turkey! Although vegetarians who clearly have never eaten a real turkey insist “it tastes just like turkey!” Clearly it’s a processed food as it certainly didn’t come from a tree or from the ground; unless I’ve somehow missed the Tofurkey tree in my travels? If so please send us a picture of one to us here at Pez!.
Finding the Protein
As an athlete, protein is important for supporting your immune system, hemoglobin, enzymes, muscle tissue, muscle recovery, hair, skin, nails and many important aspects of general health. How does a vegan get enough protein if they are not going to use faux meat products? In my experience of building plans for athletes, getting enough protein as a vegan takes good planning, but is very doable. Once you have created your detailed plan with attention to detail, you will have a nice backbone to work from and will be getting enough iron and B12 in your diet.
But do be careful and pay close attention to your protein intake as it is certainly easy to end up on a low protein diet which that is detrimental to your health and performance. I use TrainingPeaks software to build plans and look at these details.
Let’s take a look at a few vegan meals that will offer you enough protein throughout the day and are mainly composed of whole foods with a few exceptions of soy or coconut yogurts/milk alternatives. With these meals you will be getting good nutrient density, which ranks #1 on my description of a good plan. They are also mixed with a nice ratio of carbs/protein/fats/and fibre for an endurance athlete. So let’s take a look at some simple vegan meals to get you off on the right foot!
Breakfast: 560 calories, 85gr of carbohydrates, 18 grams of protein, 15g fat, 15g fibre
Vegan Oatmeal 1 ¼ cup dry (“Stoked Oats” carries one Vegan option of oatmeal)
Fresh Berries ½ cup
Hemp Hearts 1 Tbsp (these are a great source of protein and healthy fats!)
Almond Breeze Plain 1 cup
Add some fresh grated ginger to this for a nice zing!
(Note: for those choosing to have soy, you can use 100 g of soy yogurt in place of the almond milk, in which case the stats on macro nutrients would be 560 calories; 90g carbohydrates, 21g protein, 16g fat, 14g fibre). Other alternatives are Coyo coconut yogurt and soymilk.
Lunch Option: Burrito Bowl!
Nutritional Info: 650 calories; 100g carbohydrates, 28g protein, 15g fat, 17g fibre
1 ½ cups cooked brown rice
¼ cup red peppers chopped
1 clove garlic
2-3 tbsp. of chopped onion
¼ cup Eden Organic Black Beans
2-3 tbsp. fresh cilantro
4 tbsp. Tostitos salsa
3 oz tempeh
Triple this recipe for leftovers
Grill Tempeh in a pan in slices, put aside. Use spices as desired, (I like a bit of tamari and sesame oil)
Cook brown rice in rice cooker (takes about 30 minutes but you don’t have to watch it)
Chop up onions and garlic and brown in a pan. Put aside.
Place all veggies in the pan to heat them up and soften a bit but keep them crisp.
Mash avocado into a guacamole with some sea salt and fresh lime juice, 1Tbsp.
Put a few dashes of cumin and cayenne pepper into the bean, cilantro mix and add more juice from one lime. I love lime so I add quite a bit!
Take the cooked rice and scoop the veggies on top, then the beans, then the guacamole and top with salsa! Fresh and simple. Keeps well for a few days as well for bulk meals.
Top with some salsa (Tostitos is vegan)
Option: If you want more kick, take a can of chipotle peppers and take the sauce. Mix a tsp into the guacamole and add until it’s hot enough for you!
On the Bike Food
If you are going Vegan another thing to think about is “training food”. What about all of those gels, bars and chews? With honey, gelatin, dairy or egg finding themselves on many ingredient lists, you certainly will need to pay attention and contact some companies to be sure of their “vegan” status.
Gladly you have the entire Vega line of products. Although their electrolyte solution is low in sodium at only 100 mg per serving and no carbohydrates, their recovery drink carries a nice nutrition profile with 4 g protein and 17 g carbs per serving. You would have to have multiple servings to get the proper ratios (approx. 4 servings for example if you weighed 58 kg), however that’s not an issue. Most other recovery drinks are not vegan due to the commonly used whey protein, so this is a great choice.
Other products I like that are “vegan” (see disclaimer in bold below) include; Eload Endurance Formula Sport Drink, Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix, Osmo Nutrition Active Hydration and Clif Shot’s Electrolyte Drink in Cranberry Razz and Lemonade with over 300 mg of sodium per serving and an optimal combination of carbohydrates and sodium.
During training I recommend sticking with vegan gels such as Clif Shot Energy Gels, Eload Gels, Hammer Gels, Vega Endurance Gels or potatoes (spuds!), homemade rice bars or bananas. Clif Bar carries many vegan products. If you go to their website you can click on “pick and choose em” then the box “vegan” and it will show you which products fit the vegan profile. Those include some of the Luna bars and Mojo bars.
(** Please note that although these companies do not use animal by-products some may use shared machinery, but most of those companies will carry a label that says so. Due to the cost of having individual machinery for vegan products, until veganism grows in popularity, many companies will used shared machinery. If this is of concern to you it is in your best interest to contact each company individually).
The cheapest of all training foods are spuds however! They make a great training companion as they don’t freeze, they don’t melt and you can just slice them in half with a bit of sea salt and there you go! But of course many times gels win on convenience and in the heat of summer they just make life easier on the bike!
More and more we are hearing stories of successful vegan athletes. Vegetarian athletes have been stepping up on podiums for years and I have no doubt that with well-planned diets more and more vegans will continue to step up onto podiums as well!
After much learning about vegans I can rest assured that the next healthy vegan athlete I meet will get a “hat’s off”! It takes a lot of planning and commitment! Truly though, what better thing to commit to than good health, protecting the environment and proper treatment of animals? I think it’s a great choice if it’s something you choose to do!
Anne Guzman is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Sports Nutrition Consultant with a degree in Kinesiology. Her passion lies in Sports Nutrition for endurance athletes as well as general health and wellness. Anne raced full time on the women’s Professional circuit in North America with some bouts in Europe from 2008 until 2011 and previous to cycling was a Provincial and CIAU Champion and National Bronze medalist as a Varsity Freestyle Wrestler. Currently Anne works with athletes helping them reach their potential by combining their own training plans with her nutrition plans. Anne believes that many athletes undermine their intense detailed training regimes by not backing them with sound nutrition. Her personal experience as a cyclist and athlete is a great asset to her business as she understands the needs and nuances that come with the sport. Currently Anne works with Peaks Coaching Group as well as her own business Nutrition Solutions Anne Guzman.