Vegan endurance athletes, like many other athletes, need to ensure they get adequate nutrition to support their training and performance. While a well-planned vegan diet can provide most essential nutrients, there are certain supplements for vegan endurance athletes to consider adding to their diets.
(1) B12 Vitamin
Importance: Essential for nerve function and the production of red blood cells.
Sources: Found primarily in animal products, so supplementation is often recommended for vegans. This is supported by a 2023 study, where researchers suggest supplementation should be considered to prevent the risk factors associated with deficiency.
Importance: Crucial for oxygen transport in the blood and energy production.
Sources: Plant-based iron (non-heme iron) is less readily absorbed than animal-based iron, so iron supplements, especially for female athletes, should be considered since deficiency is more prevalent and can be detrimental to health and physical performance.
(3) Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Importance: Support cardiovascular health, reduce inflammation, and aid in recovery.
Sources: Algal oil supplements provide a vegan-friendly source of omega-3s (DHA and EPA).
(4) Vitamin D
Importance: Essential for bone health, immune function, and overall well-being.
Sources: Limited natural vegan sources, so consider sunlight exposure and supplementation if necessary.
Importance: Vital for bone health and muscle function.
Sources: Vegans are shown to be at higher risk of bone fractures. Plant-based sources like fortified plant milk and leafy greens provide calcium. A well-balanced vegan diet with plenty of whole foods can typically provide the needed calcium as well. However, supplementation may be necessary for some athletes.
Importance: Essential for muscle repair and recovery.
Sources: Ensure an adequate intake of plant-based protein from legumes, tofu, and tempeh, among other sources. Because endurance athletes require more protein than non-athletes, plant-based protein powders are an excellent source to meet protein requirements.
Importance: Important for immune function and wound healing.
Sources: Plant-based sources like legumes and seeds. Because endurance athletes tend to have diets that can lead to deficiency in zinc, supplementation may be necessary for some individuals. This could potentially help increase endurance as well as prevent other health implications (e.g., anorexia, loss in bodyweight, latent fatigue).
Importance: Maintain fluid balance and support muscle function.
Sources: Consider electrolyte supplements or sport drinks (e.g., Gatorade), especially during prolonged or intense exercise.
Importance: Supports energy production during short bursts of intense activity.
Sources: Can be synthesized in the body but supplementing may be beneficial for vegan athletes. Given research has showed creatine supplementation increased muscular endurance in those following a plant-based diet, which is an important consideration for endurance athletes, it also increased lean tissue mass, type II fiber area, insulin-like growth factor-1, muscular strength, power output, and brain function (memory and intelligence).
A well-balanced and varied vegan diet can provide many essential nutrients, so focusing on whole foods is key. As shown above, supplementation can be beneficial. Similar to other endurance athletes, vegan athletes might consider consulting with a registered dietitian or healthcare professional to assess their individual needs and determine appropriate supplement doses. When you’re ready to take your fitness to the next level, a plant-based fitness coach can help you get your exercise and nutrition on track.