Nutrition Tips for Active Vegans

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We know that foods derived from animal products (meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy products) aren’t necessary to live a long and healthy life – in fact, quite the contrary. These protein sources aside, active people should take care to get enough protein in their diets. After all, when one is training, one is breaking down muscle tissue (you know this is happening when you feel the “burn” caused by the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles) and protein is necessary for the recovery and rebuilding process. Vegan athletes have to pay more attention to dietary choices and food combinations in order ensure the absorption of enough high-quality protein.

What May Be Missing

In addition to protein, vegans may be missing the following nutrients in their diet:

  • iron
  • calcium
  • vitamins B-12 and D
  • zinc

Iron is quite important for building muscle and endurance. If you aren’t going to get this from beef, you should try to eat the following on a regular basis:

  • whole grain cereals fortified with iron
  • legumes (beans, peas and peanuts)
  • dried fruit (especially raisins)
  • cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage)

In addition, you can combine these with foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits and berries.  This will aid your body in absorbing and utilizing iron.

In lieu of dairy products, load up on fortified soy products as well as leafy greens to keep bones strong with sufficient calcium.  Mustard greens, kale and chard are powerhouse foods in this regard, as well as dried figs. Sesame seeds are also a decent source of calcium, and a unique form of nut butter made from sesame, called tahini, is available in many Middle Eastern specialty stores and combines well with sweet as well as savory foods.


Rice and beans together make a complete protein – or almost any combination of grain and legumes. However, peanuts (which are actually legumes, not nuts) and soybeans provide complete proteins that are of the same quality as that derived from fish, poultry, dairy or eggs. Most tree nuts are also good sources of protein, and provide the additional benefit of healthy oils, such as omega-3 (also found in olive oil).

The Tough Ones

Vitamin B-12 is essential for metabolism and making use of the energy stored in food. Unfortunately, the only reliable source of this nutrient is in animal-based foods. Whole grains cereals and soy milk are often vitamin B-12 fortified, but one would have to consume a great deal in order to get this nutrient in sufficient amounts from these vegetable-based sources alone. Therefore, vegan athletes may need to take B-12 supplements.

The same is true of zinc, which is vital for healthy respiratory and digestive functions. Fortunately, these supplements are not expensive – so make certain you have these on hand, especially when in training.

By Sasha Britton for Gym Source, America’s fitness equipment provider

~The Vegan Project


  1. For vegans who love to run a lot on hard surfaces, especially with low quality shoes, keep in mind this is another way your body losses iron.

    Nettle tea (also called stinging nettle) with a bit of rosehips (vitamin c to help with absorption) is a really great source of iron and other minerals as well.

  2. Great tip Genny, thanks!

  3. Not sure where you get your information re: B12 and not being able to get enough of it from simply fortified foods. In fact, you only need a very small quantity of B12 per day – 3 MICROgrams per day (that’s 0.03g) – which of course you can get from fortified foods such as cereal and soymilk (check the nutrition labels on these items to see!). Read “Becoming Vegan” by vegan dietician Vesanto Melina for more information, who also happens to be the author of the Vegan Pyramid that you’ve posted here. I don’t take a vitamin B12 supplement, am a vegan, and have no problems with this.

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