Young athletes wanting to give Veganuary a go this year or making the switch to eating a vegan diet permanently can do so without any adverse impacts on their health and performance. However, plant-based fuelling requires a little more planning and preparation, especially for growing active teenagers. Here’s how you can support your young athlete in moving to a plant-based diet the right way.
Our top tips
Make sure they eat enough!
- Eating a vegan diet can mean eating more whole foods, which tend to be high volume and have less calories. This results in getting fuller quicker, not so good for young athletes who are not only fuelling their training but also their growth and development, and who therefore need A LOT of energy
- How? Encourage eating regularly, every 2-3 hours is a good guide. Include energy-dense foods on your shopping list and on the table – things like nut butter, avocado, olive oil, nuts & seeds, and dried fruit.
Fortified foods are their friend.
- Fortified plant milk has calcium, iodine, vitamin D and B12 added; all are nutrients that can be lacking in a vegan diet. We recommend choosing fortified soya or pea milk as they have the most protein in. Organic plant milks may sound better but remember that organic plant milks are often not fortified so will leave some gaps.
- Fortified cereals like Weetabix, Cornflakes or Shreddies can give your young athlete 25% of their RDA of iron, (especially important for young female athletes), as well as B vitamins. Having a glass of 100% juice alongside or adding some fruit high in vitamin C, like a kiwi, increases iron absorption too. Dried fruit such as apricots, figs & prunes are also a good source of iron & calcium.
- Super mushrooms are UV treated and 1/3 of a pack will give 100% of our RDA of vitamin B12 as well as 60% RDA of vitamin D.
Know your plant-based proteins and bump up the volume. Whilst plant-based protein repairs muscle in the same way as animal protein, our body doesn’t fully digest plant-based protein. This means that we need higher amounts of plant-based proteins to get the same benefits.
- Help them to understand the importance of this and include a decent amount of plant-based protein in each meal as standard. Sources include beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, soy products (tofu, milk, yogurt) and meat alternatives.
- Include nuts and seeds every day. Flaxseed, walnuts, hemp and chia seeds are vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential for eye, heart, brain and immune health as well as having anti-inflammatory benefits. There are also algae-based omega-3 supplements available – check the Informed Sport website for certified, batch-tested, safe supplements.
- Eating a decent range of foods will help your young athlete gets all the nutrients they need. It is easy to become reliant on the same meals or foods for ease and convenience, especially with the busy lives we lead. Mixing it up a bit helps to get a wider range of nutrients.
- How? If you always buy apples, try adding pears to your basket next time. A mixed bag of frozen fruit, mixed seeds and a tin of mixed beans easily adds more variety. Other options are mixed peppers instead of always buying red or mixed salad leaves rather than just lettuce.
Make sure they are doing it for the right reasons, and that it is a positive thing in their life, rather than because it is on trend.
- We all know that a plant-based diet is better for the planet and eating more plant-based is something we all should be doing. However, cutting out shouldn’t mean missing out; sometimes new eating habits can be a cover to cut out food groups and be more restrictive with eating. This can cause anxiety and stress which can adversely affect health, growth and performance. If this is the case, a more flexible approach should be encouraged.