Is it healthy for sportspeople to go vegan? Here’s what you need to know

Is it healthy for sportspeople to go vegan? Here’s what you need to know

There’s been a huge increase in the number of people who are vegan or “plant-based” these days.

Concerns over ethics, the environment, and individual health have driven people away from including meat and dairy in their meals, turning to fruits, vegetables, and legumes for all their nutrients.

You or someone you know may have even decided to take on “Veganuary” this month, in which you go vegan for the whole of January.

Professional athletes and sportspeople are also among those choosing plants for their food. In fact, the vegan professional sportspeople roster now has some famous faces on it, including:

  • Arsenal’s Hector Bellerin
  • Roma’s Chris Smalling
  • Former Crystal Palace and Watford defender Adrian Mariappa
  • United States women’s national team striker Alex Morgan
  • Tennis superstar Venus Williams
  • Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton
  • Major title-winning boxer David Haye.

With all these other sporting champions turning to a plant-based diet for a myriad of reasons, you might now be wondering: could a vegan diet be a good, healthy choice for you?

Here are a few things to consider for your health if you’re thinking about going vegan as a sporting professional.

Faster recovery times

One often reported benefit of a vegan diet is that it speeds up recovery from inflammation and injury.

Research published by Molecular Diversity Preservation International looked at 77 previous studies and concluded that endurance athletes saw improved cardiovascular health and recovery time when following plant-based diets.

Indeed, many professionals have anecdotally reported this effect. Venus Williams, who suffers from fatigue and joint pain due to Sjögren’s Syndrome, told Insider that eating more plant-based food in her diet has helped to reduce inflammation and improve recovery times with the disease.

This evidence suggest that plant-based diets could allow you to overcome injuries and get back to performing sooner.

Burn excess weight

Plant-based diets are known for helping to trim excess weight, another huge benefit for sportspeople.

A meta-analysis available on the National Library of Medicine showed that vegan diets were more effective in burning excess weight than other diets.

This is likely because meat and dairy, while full of good protein and fats, also tend to be high in calories, bad fats, and salt.

By contrast, plants tend to be less calorie-dense and also generally contain less unhealthy fats, while still providing your body with what it needs.

As a result, it can be quicker and easier to burn excess weight on a vegan diet.

Beware missing nutrients

Of course, as you no doubt know, one of the major criticisms that’s often levelled at vegan diets is the ability to find the nutrients you need.

Some nutrients that you may need to keep a particular eye on are protein, vitamin B12, and DHA and EPA.


Protein is one of the most common examples of a nutrient you might miss, particularly when giving up meat. Meat is a fantastic source of protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids your body needs to build muscle and tissue.

That’s why, if you want to give a vegan diet a try, you need to make sure that you’re still eating complete, high-quality protein that provides you with everything you need.

Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based, complete sources of protein. These include:

  • Soy, including tofu, tempeh, and edamame beans
  • Mycoprotein, a type of fungus mass-produced by brands such as Quorn
  • Wholegrains, such as quinoa.

In general, most foods contain varying quantities of protein, too. So, you can combine plant-based foods to ensure that you’re getting enough complete protein.

Vitamin B12

A highly important vitamin, B12 supports cell metabolism, nerve function, red blood cell formation, and is also reported to have an impact on your bones.

Humans can’t produce B12 themselves, so meat and dairy tend to be good sources to provide your body with what it needs.

Interestingly, animals can’t produce B12 themselves either. They actually get their B12 from bacteria and dirt on the food they eat, often from soil.

Luckily, you might be pleased to hear that following a vegan diet doesn’t mean chomping down on compost with your breakfast.

Instead, it may mean that you need to supplement your B12 with multivitamins or a similar product to make sure you’re still getting enough.

Alternatively, fortified plant milks and breakfast cereals can provide you with the vitamin B12 you need.


DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are both omega-3 fatty acids that support heart and brain function.

Often, acids like these are found in oily fish or in supplements made from fish oil. But, as with many nutrients like this, fish don’t produce it themselves – it actually comes from the algae they eat.

So, you can find the benefits of DHA and EPA by taking soft gel supplements containing oil made from the algae that fish eat.

Currently, there’s no recommended daily amount for DHA and EPA as there have been few studies on humans so far. Even so, early evidence does suggest that these are important minerals.

Should you make the switch?

As with any decision like this, you need to be sure that switching to a vegan diet is appropriate for you before you do.

There’s certainly a healthy body of evidence that shows the benefits of eating nutrient-rich, plant-based food.

Equally, it’s unlikely that this will work for everyone, especially in the short term. That’s why it’s often best to start slowly. For example, you could reduce your meat and dairy intake in favour of some leafy greens a few times a week.

If you’re still unsure whether it’s right for you, make sure you speak to a dietician or nutritionist to find out whether a vegan diet is suitable for your circumstances.