24 January 2024 · Ingredients
The Veganuary campaign, which encourages people to eat a plant-based diet for the month of January, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. The campaign has been a phenomenon – becoming a household name – with an explosion of people taking part every year, for lots of different reasons including for their health, the environment and the animals. Last year, more than 700,000 made the pledge. Many more take part informally: YouGov surveys in 2023 found that 4% of UK respondents had participated in Veganuary for at least part of the month.
A great way to take the first steps on your journey is to try out a few cookbooks, such as ‘Simple, Delicious and Vegan’ that will ensure you can feel inspired by adding some new dishes to your repertoire. A vegan challenge should be an opportunity to expand what you eat, and try an exciting variety of new foods rather than simply restricting your diet. This way you will have a lot more fun!
Small and simple swaps over a few weeks can make the switch to a vegan lifestyle easier. Dairy swaps are an easy place to start with many substitutes easily available. Beans, lentils, soya and nuts are good sources of protein and often cheaper than animal proteins and can bulk out dishes like chilli and curry. Simple meals such as porridge oats topped with fruit and chia seeds are nutritious and economical.
If you are thinking about adopting a vegan diet and you happen to be an athlete, rest assured that you can not only meet all of your nutritional needs, but thrive on a vegan diet.
Lots of well-known athletes are succeeding on a vegan diet, and many share personal experiences of increased energy and reduced recovery times since making the switch.
Well-planned vegan diets are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer, and are also associated with a healthier weight and body mass index. Our recent research has shown that full uptake of plant-based diets could save the NHS around £6.7 billion over a year.
One of the mistakes new vegans sometimes make is removing animal products from their meals and not feeling full because they are eating fewer calories overall. Vegan meals tend to be lower in calories than traditional meals so make sure you plan your intake accordingly to ensure you are making up the numbers with enough carbohydrates, proteins and other nutrients.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for athletes, and it’s important to ensure that you’re getting enough of them in your diet. Some vegan sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Timing is also important. Starchy carbohydrates such as oats, whole grains and sweet potatoes can be eaten 1-2 hours pre-workout, followed by a simple carbohydrate 30 minutes before. This optimises performance by enhancing glycogen stores immediately before training.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair, and it’s important to ensure that you’re getting enough of it. Some good vegan protein sources include tofu, tempeh, lentils, chickpeas, and quinoa. As well as including quality proteins in each meal, spreading protein throughout the day is a good way to meet your needs, such as through having protein rich snacks between meals; such as a handful of nuts or seeds, or some hummus on crackers. This can reduce muscle soreness and promote muscle repair
Some evidence shows that consuming protein and carbohydrates together can enhance exercise performance and increase endurance, as well as improving protein balance after exercise. This suggests a vegan diet not only supports human and planetary health, but can also support optimal athletic performance and recovery.
Iron is also an important nutrient to consider since it is important for oxygen transport in the body, and athletes need to ensure that they’re absorbing enough of it in their diet. Some vegan sources of iron include spinach, kale, lentils, and fortified cereals and you can encourage higher absorption by consuming these foods alongside a source of Vitamin C.
This is where access to a variety of cookbooks can really come into its own. You can explore books like ‘No Meat Athlete’ to get some ideas for meals you can prep in advance or bulk dishes that are easy to make. This will ensure your meals are balanced and you’re getting all the nutrients that you need.
Transitioning to a vegan diet can take time, and it’s important to be patient with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up or make mistakes. Remember that every small step counts. By following these tips, you can ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients you need to maximise your performance. Best of luck on your journey, we’re rooting for you!
Claire Ogley is an experienced public affairs, policy and communications professional, working as the Head of Campaigns, Policy and Research for The Vegan Society in order to accelerate the vegan movement and achieve its strategic goals. She has been in the post for two years. Prior to this role she worked in a political and comms consultancy for nearly five years where she provided strategic advice, stakeholder engagement, project management and analysis of politics and media to a number of clients, specialising in the health, FMCG, charity and tech sectors.