The rise in popularity of following a vegan diet has been largely influenced by various documentaries and promoted by professional athletes around the world. But should we believe everything we hear and read about veganism and if you do decide to go vegan, what are the things you need to consider to ensure you maintain a healthy balanced diet? This article will discuss what veganism is, tips for following the vegan diet and is it really worth it.
What is Veganism?
With regards to diet, Veganism involves avoiding products that are derived from animals, such as meats, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs and bee products (i.e. honey). Therefore, the vegan diet is predominantly made up of grains, seeds, vegetables, fruits and nuts.
Why go Vegan?
Some people may choose to go vegan for ethical reasons as they do not believe in harming animals for purpose of food and clothing. Others choose to adopt a vegan diet as they believe it is healthier, reduces inflammation and promotes recovery from exercise. More often than not, the latter is influenced by anecdotal evidence from professional athletes as well as TV documentaries that use language and terminology to convince the audience that the vegan diet is the best diet to stay healthy and recover from exercise. Simply put, my advice on whether to go vegan or not is this: (1) if you choose to follow a vegan diet after watching a documentary or because your favourite footballer says it has completely changed the way he or she feels, I would speak to a nutritionist on the SENr and seek education first, (2) if you choose to go vegan for ethical reasons, speak to a nutritionist on the SENr about how you can do this whilst avoiding any nutrient deficiencies.
Things to consider if you choose to go Vegan
- Quantity and Quality of Protein
Most plant sources do not provide sufficient amounts of protein therefore you need much greater quantities to meet your daily protein requirements. However, the quality of the protein is still not as high as a source of meat or chicken due to the lower levels of leucine, which is responsible for activating muscle protein synthesis (required for lean mass gains). Therefore, you may wish to supplement with leucine to equate for this. You can see in the graphs below the low levels of leucine in wheat for example and how animal sources are much higher, whilst in the following graph you can see much greater quantities of protein are required to get a sufficient amount of leucine in wheat compared to whey, an animal derived protein source.
Calcium is important for bone health in order to reduce the risk of injury. Plant sources often contain less calcium and are poorly absorbed, so again you may want to consider supplementation here.
- DHA Omega 3
This essential fatty acid is important for brain function and cardiac health yet is mostly found in oily fish. Plant sources are often poorly converted in to DHA suggesting another deficiency to think about for vegans.
- Vitamin B12
This vitamin is a common deficiency in plant foods. It is responsible for recovery, brain and nervous system function, again highlighting the importance of supplementing with this.
The avoidance of red meat the poor absorption of iron from plants often leads to iron deficiencies. Iron is for the transportation of oxygen around the body, with reductions in VO2max and early onset of fatigue reported with low levels of iron.
- Low energy availability
Plant foods are typically low in calories, so it is important to ensure you get sufficient energy in to meet the demands of football. Consider maximising your grains, fruits and nuts to ensure you have enough energy to play.
Overall, if you choose to go vegan for ethical reasons that it is completely fine, and you should consider the points listed above to ensure you minimise the deficiencies in your diet and maximise energy levels. If you choose veganism for because you’ve watched a trendy TV documentary or your favourite footballer says it’s the best diet there is, I would suggest you seek further advice. The highest quality proteins are unavailable to the vegan footballer and it can be a difficult diet to sustain, so you should think carefully before following the latest dietary trends.