Meat, fish, dairy products and honey are taboo. A vegan diet means avoiding all food sources from animals, be it due to ethical, health or personal reasons. The many different successful vegan athletes are proof that effective sports performances are possible in endurance and ultra endurance sports whilst leading this lifestyle. And veganism has even taken a foothold in team sports. Pro Ice-Hockey player Christopher Fischer, who’s under contract with the Iserlohn Roosters in the German Ice-Hockey league has been following a vegan diet for 4 years now: ‘Earlier on there was a lot of fast food. I only really began engaging with nutrition as a whole because of my vegan diet, which I primarily chose for ethical reasons. Ever since I have been eating very consciously and healthily.’
‘Since I have been eating vegan I have noticed clear differences, such as reduced recovery periods. Previously I often “fell in a hole” later in the day; typically after lunch. Since the change to veganism I definitely feel fitter and I haven’t been ill at all either’, Christopher Fischer says. A thoroughly planned vegan diet covers all the nutritional requirements an athlete has. However, the change to a fully plant-based diet does require some nutritional knowledge. ‘Iron deficiencies are very common in elite athletes, but these don’t just affect vegans’, Dr Klaus Pöttgen, Team Doctor of the SV Darmstadt 98 explains. The mineral iron is, among other things, required for the transport of oxygen, and well functioning energy metabolism in the body – a lack leads to fatigue and reduced performance. Iron delivered through plant-based foods is not absorbed and utilized by the body as effectively as it is through animal products (meat). However, this can be improved by some easy nutritional strategies. ‘For example, consuming vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetables with meals, such as a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice with your whole grain müsli, or fresh slices of peppers with a bean stew’, Dr Klaus Pöttgen recommends. When following a vegan diet there needs to be particular attention that there is a sufficient supply of vitamin D and B12, omega 3 fatty acids, and the minerals zinc, calcium and iodine. Plant proteins to support muscle growth and repair can be found for example in quinoa or soy products. ‘I like adding Quinoa, nuts and spinach to my breakfast smoothies, and after training sessions or competitions I consume plant-based protein containing sports nutrition products’, Christopher Fischer says. ‘The correct mix of different protein sources is also crucial’, Dr Klaus Pöttgen ads.
Vegans often have low creatine stores in their muscles. Creatine is a substance that in part gets synthesized by the body, and also gets absorbed through food. However, creatine only really occurs in meat and fish in noteworthy quantities. Not only strength and power athletes, but also endurance-and team sports athletes can benefit from a creatine food supplement. Well-stocked creatine stores lead to the ability to train harder, which can improve sprint performances.
Putting theory into practice
CURRY-QUINOA-WOK (light, tasty and catered for athletes)
Ingredients required for 2-3 portions:
1 tbsp. Rapeseed oil
1 tbsp. Curry powder
1 tsp. Turmeric
Approx. ½ tsp. iodized salt
- 1 chopped onion
1 chopped garlic clove
4 medium-sized, peeled carrots (approx. 280g)
1 cup frozen peas (approx. 140g)
6 tbsp. chopped almonds (approx. 60g)
400 mL unsweetened, low fat coconut milk
1 small cup Quinoa (170g)
Rinse the Quinoa in a sieve with hot water, and then bring to the boil in a pot with the coconut milk. Simmer for approx. 20 min on a medium heat, and then let it expand for approx. 10 min.
Roast the chopped almonds in a pan without oil and put aside.
Cut the carrots in half lengthways and cut into slices. Heat the Rapeseed oil in a large Wok; lightly fry the cubed onion and garlic. Add the curry powder, turmeric and iodized salt and mix well. Fry the sliced carrots in the spice mix for approx. 5-7 min and then add the peas. Let it cook while stirring continuously until the vegetables are nice and soft with a bit of bite. Then stir in the ready coconut-Quinoa and the roasted almonds.
© Corinne Mäder Reinhard, Senior EU Sports Nutrition Manager PowerBar. International Olympic Committee post-graduate Diploma in Sports Nutrition
Craig, W.J., Mangels,. AR., American Dietetic Association (2009). Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets. J Am Diet Assoc 109(7):1266–1282.
Wirnitzer, K. et al. (2016). Prevalence in running events and running performance of endurance runners following a vegetarian or vegan diet compared to non-vegetarian endurance runners: the NURMI Study. Epub ahed of print.