You probably fall into one of two categories: A vegan who is interested in CrossFit or a CrossFitter who is thinking about switching to a vegan diet.
There’s a lot of fear that you can’t be vegan and also athletic. There’s a lot of talk about not getting enough nutrients and protein to succeed as a vegan who does CrossFit.
I can assure you that you can avoid meat and other animal-based products and still have a lot of strength. Let me share my tips and expertise with you.
Is It Possible To Be Vegan And Do Crossfit?
I’m living proof that it’s possible to be vegan and a bodybuilder, and I’ve been doing it for years. There’s a lot of myths going around about the vegan lifestyle.
For example, how can you get enough protein to gain muscle mass without meat? Plant-based food are a great source of protein. It’s definitely possible to have muscle growth on a vegan diet.
CrossFit is a hard fitness regimen that you can do on a plant-based diet. Like with any diet, you should monitor what you eat to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients that you need to succeed.
Are There Any Famous Vegan Crossfitters?
If you’re looking for inspiration, then here are a couple of CrossFit vegan athletes that have shown up in recent years.
Last year Jeremy Reijnders won the title of “Fittest Man in the Netherlands” after winning the CrossFit Games Open in his country. He’s been on a vegan diet since 2015 and is another person who has shown that you can gain muscle mass (read more).
It is my goal to inspire others by showing them that it is possible to thrive and perform well on a plant-based diet - fighting the myth that you need animal products to do so. I hopefully got a little bit closer to achieving that goal by winning the title 'Fittest man in the Netherlands'.
Danielle Sidell was inspired to have a plant-based diet after watching a documentary about how animal agriculture was affecting the planet. She noticed an immediate difference to how she performed in CrossFit games and how cut her body is now.
I’m leaner than I've ever been. I’m in the best shape of my life. This is my best CrossFit season ever so far also. I’m doing movements that I was never capable of before. I feel better in the gym. My aches and pains aren’t as intense either.
Meet Danielle Sidell in this video by CrossFit Games.
Tips To Succeed At Being A Vegan Crossfitter
- Take it slow at first - If you are committing to veganism, do it slowly. You don’t want to have to deal with your body feeling weird and crashing. Start by switching out only one of the animal products that you use with a plant-based alternative. For example, switch out the chicken with vegetarian chicken. You could also use vegetarian burgers. Keep doing this until you are completely vegan. If you are new to the CrossFit gym, don’t hurt yourself by trying to impress people. Build a strong foundation and get familiar with a new fitness regimen. It’s more important to stay injury-free.
- Allow yourself to learn - CrossFit has a variety of movements that are challenging and great opportunities for athletic growth. Getting a coach at a CrossFit gym will help you push yourself or prevent injuries. Coaches are a great resource for information and advice on training. Don’t be afraid of starting something new and asking for help in the CrossFit community.
- Not all plant-based diets are equal - Just because Oreos and potato chips are vegan, it doesn’t mean you should eat them. You still have to focus on getting nutrition from healthy sources. If you are noticing a gap in your CrossFit nutrition, then consider taking supplements to help. It’s best to consult with a dietitian or healthcare professional to discuss what you need for your training (1).
- Prep your meals - We’re human. Sometimes we come back from a long day at work or an intense workout session and don’t have the energy to figure out what to eat. This is a path to picking up your phone and ordering takeout. Meal prep can help prevent this issue. It helps you always have healthy recipes and easy eating options.
How Do Vegan Athletes Get Enough Protein?
It’s a common mistake for those transitioning into veganism to not replace their protein sources.
It’s possible to get all the essential amino acids that you need through plant-based protein. Here are a few foods to consider incorporating into your daily menu (2):
- Sprouted grains
What About Carbohydrates?
The vegan diet is a great source for carbohydrates. You need carbs because it’s the main source of energy. For example, fiber is a helpful carb that aids your digestive system and keeps your blood cholesterol in check.
There’s a difference between good carbs and bad carbs though, so you want to focus on nutrient-rich foods. Good examples of this include (3)
- Starchy Vegetables
- Brown Rice
Good carbs will help boost your energy during your workouts and boost the recovery process. A helpful tip is to have a carbohydrate-rich meal before and after your workouts to get the full benefits.
Do I Need To Eat Fats To Succeed As A Vegan Crossfitter?
Fats play a huge role in how your body functions. They help absorb vitamins and aid in the production of hormones.
There are some vegan diets that are low in fats, but it may not be the best choice to succeed as a vegan athlete.
You should consider adding nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconut flesh into your diet to get enough fats (4).
These foods will also help with your protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and mineral nutrition.
What Other Nutrients Do You Need?
Keeping your vegan diet with a wide variety of plants will provide you with most of the nutrients it needs. However, most of us on a vegan diet may be lacking on needed nutrients (see article here).
If you have been keeping a food journal and notice that you aren’t getting enough of a certain nutrient, then you may want to consider a supplement. Here are some common vitamins and minerals that you may be missing in your diet.
1. Vitamin B12
This vitamin is important to make the protein that helps with muscle repair and red blood cells. It’s often missing in whole plant foods, so you may want to consider taking a supplement for this.
See this post for some of our favorite vegan vitamin B-12 supplements.
Iron deficiency is something that vegan athletes need to be aware of and prevent from happening. It can lead to lower performance and muscle fatigue. There are a lot of ways to get enough iron into your diet with foods. Here are a few ingredients to consider
- Leafy greens
- Whole grains
- Brown Rice
- Dark chocolate
See this post for some of our favorite vegan iron supplements.
Zinc is an important mineral for energy production and muscle repair. Your body needs it especially if you workout intensely because it loses zinc as it sweats. You want to supplement your diet with zinc-rich foods like
- Whole grains
Omega-3 is a fatty acid that comes primarily from fish. It’s disappointing for vegans, but you can still get Omega-3 supplements. It’s not an essential nutrient for your body, but it does help with joint pain and lowers your risk of heart disease.
See this post for some of our favorite vegan omega-3 supplements.
Calcium is mostly known to help with bone health, but it also aids in muscle contraction and boosts the nervous system. Plant-based sources of protein are abundant.
- Dark leafy vegetables
- Calcium-set tofu
Helpful hint: Cooking your dark leafy vegetables reduces their oxalate content and increases calcium absorption.
See this post for some of our favorite vegan calcium supplements.
6. Vitamin D
Vegan diets can sometimes lead to a Vitamin D deficiency since the foods that commonly have them are in fish, eggs, or dairy products. Sunshine may also help you get enough Vitamin D, but you may also want to consider getting a supplement to help. Vitamin D is important for the absorption of calcium and helps bone health, muscles, and the nervous system.
See this post for some of our favorite vegan vitamin D-3 supplements.
Moving Forward On Your Vegan Crossfit Journey
There’s a lot of inspiration out there that proves that it’s possible. You just have to take the first step.
As with any person who is doing high-intensity workouts, you should monitor the protein and nutrients that you are getting to ensure that it’s adequate.
If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to reach out and discuss this further.
- Kim, Hyunju, et al. “Healthy Plant-Based Diets Are Associated with Lower Risk of All-Cause Mortality in US Adults.” The Journal of Nutrition, Oxford University Press, 1 Apr. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29659968.
- Rogerson, David. “Vegan Diets: Practical Advice for Athletes and Exercisers.” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, BioMed Central, 13 Sept. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598028/.
- Gal, Kat. “Eating Low-Carb as a Vegetarian or Vegan: Best Foods plus Meal Plan.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323470.php.
- Leonard, Jayne. “12 Healthy High-Fat Foods.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322295.php.