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Vegan Nutrition with CrossFit

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Vegans are individuals who, whether for health, environmental or ethical reasons, avoid all animal products.

Similar to the Paleo way of eating, veganism puts a strong emphasis on whole, non-processed foods. These foods, however, do not include any red meat, poultry and fish, nor animal-derived products such as dairy, eggs, gelatin or  honey.

Some tips to help you transition from Meat to Plant Based: 

You mention that some seeds contain calcium. You should include at least one suggestion…also site your sources so that people can follow up with your information. 

GET ENOUGH PROTEIN!!!! NUMBER ONE ON THE LIST!!!

One of the common mistakes made by vegans is to cut out animal products without replacing them by high-protein equivalents. Since we need protein for muscle function and repair, getting too little can make reaching those PRsharder and the post-workout soreness last that much longer! To get your fill of all the essential amino acids your body needs consume a wide variety of protein-rich plant foods throughout the day. Great sources of plant-based proteins include:

  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Sprouted grains
  • Seitan
  • Tempeh
  • Tofu
  • Nuts
  • Seeds.

Keep in mind that vegans need about 10% more protein than meat eaters. That means attempt to add protein to every meal and snack!

BE SMART ABOUT YOUR CARBOHYDRATES

Vegan diets are higher in carbohydrates, which can be an advantage, especially for performance in high intensity met cons. That being said, it’s important to put an emphasis on getting your carbohydrates from non-processed foods. BEING VEGAN DOES NOT GIVE YOU A GREEN CARD TO JUST EAT PROCESSED FOODS!!! MAKE SURE YOU’RE EATING THE RIGHT THINGS!

Yes, Oreos and potato chips are consideredvegan foods. But they’re unlikely to help you achieve the nutrient-rich, performance-boosting diet you’re after! Instead, focus on foods such as

  • Oats
  • Brown Rice
  • Quinoa
  • Starchy Vegetables
  • Fruit

And don’t forget to include a carbohydrate-rich meal pre and post-workout, on days where you have < 24 hours between sessions. This will help provide your muscles with the energy they need to boost performance and recovery.

CHECK YOUR FATS

Some vegan diet variants put an emphasis on keeping dietary fat levels very low. This can, however, be counterproductive — both from performance and health standpoints.

Fats play, amongst others, an important role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and production of hormones. So getting enough is important. The trick to achieving a good balance lies in getting your fats from whole foods such as

  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Avocados
  • Coconut flesh

Unlike oils and margarine, these foods will provide fat while also contributing to your protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and mineral needs.

SUPPLEMENT WHEN NEEDED

A varied vegan diet with a strong emphasis on whole foods will provide your body with most of the vitamins and minerals it needs. That being said, there are some exceptions you might want to keep an eye out for:

1) Vitamin B12 (I daily supplement with this)

Our bodies use B12 to make protein, for muscle repair and to produce enough oxygen-transporting red blood cells. Because whole plant foods lack B12, vegans should rely on fortified foods and / or supplements to ensure an adequate supply. We can achieve adequate intakes through either:

  • 3 micrograms from fortified foods consumed each day
  • 10 micrograms from a daily B12 supplement
  • 2000 micrograms from a weekly B12 supplement.

2) Iron

Iron is important for oxygen transport in the body and energy production. Too little can lead to muscle fatigue, lowered performance and a weaker immune system. Research shows that at similar levels of iron intake, vegetarian athletes have lower iron stores, because iron from plant-foods is less well absorbed. They encourage vegans to aim for a 40-80% higher iron intake than omnivores

  • Iron-rich plant foods include:
  • Leafy greens,
  • Tomato puree,
  • Asparagus,
  • Heart of palm,
  • Leek, lentils,
  • Beans,
  • Dried fruit,
  • Nuts,
  • Whole grains,
  • Molasses,
  • And, my favorite, dark chocolate.

To boost iron absorption, aim to consume your iron-rich foods in combination with a source of vitamin C (i.e. fruits and veggies). Soaking and fermenting foods can also help increase iron absorption.

3) Zinc

Zinc is a mineral involved in energy production, immune function and muscle repair. Intense exercise increases zinc losses through urine and sweat, further increasing requirements. Also, vegetarians and vegans seem to have lower zinc intakes and/or reduced absorption. To maintain adequate zinc status, vegans should thus aim to up their intake of zinc-rich whole foods such as

  • Legumes
  • Tofu
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Whole grains

4) Omega-3s

  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds

5) Calcium

Calcium is critical to bone health but also needed for muscle contraction and a healthy nervous system. Findings from a large study showed that vegans with calcium intakes of less than 525mg per day have a 30% increased risk of bone fractures. So it’s worth getting enough!

Vegan sources of calcium include:

  • Dark leafy veggies
  • Calcium-set tofu
  • Almonds, have some of the highest calcium nuts
  • Poppy seeds contain 126 g of calcium in 1 tbsp.

Cooking the veggies will reduce their oxalate content, helping increase calcium absorption. Getting enough vitamin D will also help increase absorption.

6) Vitamin D

Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D plays a critical role in the absorption of calcium. It’s also necessary for your bones, skeletal muscle and nervous system. Few foods contain vitamin D but 15 minutes of sun-exposure mid-day (without sunscreen), on a day where sunburn is suffices to get your fill. But, since this can be difficult to achieve depending on the time of the year and/or your geographical location, supplements might be worth considering.

So wrapping it all up…

A whole food-based vegan diet can provide your body high levels of many of the nutrients needed both for health and optimal CrossFit performance. And, when well planned, can rival many diets considered as more conventional.

Keep these points above in mind and you’ll be on your way to ringingthat PR bell in no time! 

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