Looking to start your year the meat-free way to help ace your health and fitness goals? We caught up with the experts to discover the benefits of going vegan, alongside some top tips to help you get started…

By Louise Pyne

Diet and fitness are so closely interlinked – what you eat fuels your body with the energy you need to train. It also helps your body to heal effectively post workout and it regulates your mood and motivation levels.

As you slip into the new year and start to evaluate your health and fitness goals, relinquishing animal products from your diet could help to jumpstart your wellbeing. As one of the biggest buzzwords surrounding health and wellbeing for the past few years, veganism is growing with a steady momentum.

The supermarket shelves, restaurant menus and even nutritional subscription boxes are all filled with vegan versions of popular foods. This makes the food trend both accessible and sustainable compared with years ago.

Health benefits of going vegan

The planet-friendly benefits of a vegan diet are plentiful. ‘On a global scale, research has found that if the majority of the world’s population were to adopt a vegan diet we would be protecting untouched habitats from being destroyed to produce more livestock feed.

We would also create less pollution in our oceans, which directly threatens human, animal and plant lives,’ shares Kim Bowman, sports nutritionist at F45 Training.

Since the pandemic, one-in-four Brits has reduced the amount of animal products they consume. What’s more, last year more than half a million people took part in Veganuary. This is a month-long initiative that strives to educate the public on the benefits of a vegan diet. So, what are the main merits for your health?

‘Research has shown that following a vegan diet can lower the risk of certain diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Adopting a vegan diet has also been shown to benefit weight loss and improve body composition (by lowering body mass index),’ says Bowman.

vegan benefits tips fitness

Top tips on going vegan

If you’re not ready to commit to going cold turkey but want to dip your toes into a meat-free diet, getting on the Veganuary bandwagon is great place to start. Follow our expert guide to ensure you get maximum nutrition when on a plant-based diet.

Start experimenting

If you are ditching animal products for the first time, it can feel like a minefield working out what to eat. Getting your kitchen stocked up with some key ingredients will ensure you never go hungry. You can also make some delicious vegan versions of your favourite foods.

Why not swap scrambled egg for scrambled tofu or chicken curry for chickpea curry. You could also whip up a comforting mac and cheese by swapping cheese and milk for plant-based versions.

Fill up on protein

Protein powers your body in so many different ways. This macronutrient helps to build muscle and keeps you feeling full. It also plays a role in hormone synthesis and immunity, so it’s crucial that you get enough, especially if you’re joining the plant-based game.

‘Ounce for ounce, the amount of protein you can obtain from plant sources including legumes, nuts and whole grains is closely on par to animal-sourced protein,’ shares Bowman.

If you lead an active lifestyle you’ll need slightly more protein, you should aim for 1g-1.5g of protein per kilogram of body weight.

Avoid processed products

Meat-free substitutes such as meatless burgers and sausages might be marketed as healthy additions to a vegan diet but some of these pre-prepared options are high in additives.

‘They can be high in sodium and processed oils and also contain less dietary fibre than wholefood sources of plant protein,’ says Bowman.

Take a multivitamin

To ensure you don’t miss out on vital nutrients such as vitamin D and vitamin B12, which can be harder to obtain on a plant-based diet, take a vegan-friendly multivitamin. Look for one with a broad spectrum of nutrients to help you easily top up your levels.

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Supplement your diet: top up your protein levels

Fill up on protein with these plant-based options.

Cocos Organic Strawberry Yoghurt (£4.99)

Made with dairy-free coconut milk and gut-friendly cultures, this yoghurt is a great source of protein, and works perfectly as a satisfying snack.

Bodyhero Protein Shake (£2.70)

This ready-to-drink shake contains 20g of protein from yellow split peas and all nine essential amino acids. Throw it into your gym bag to fuel up post workout.

Free Soul Dual-Use Vegan Blend Vanilla Powder (£24.99)

This combo of plant protein from pea, soya and rice comes with added B vitamins, calcium and magnesium for the perfect workout package.

The Protein Ball Co. Lemon & Pistachio (£1.99)

With 7g protein, these zingy balls are made with cashew nut butter, roasted coconut, lemon oil and juicy dates.

‘Going vegan has improved my energy levels’

Phoebe Schecter, NFL coach and captain of GB American football team, shares her experience of a plant-based diet…

‘I turned vegan five years ago when I started to dive into personal training and began to research what was going into my body. I wanted to make sure I was getting the best nutrition possible to fuel my workouts.

‘Ensuring I get enough protein is key for my fitness regime. A lot of people switch to veganism (which is wonderful) but don’t always appreciate what our bodies may be missing nutritionally. I used the Bio-Synergy DNA & Epigenetics Testing Kit (£219) to really help me understand – and the app is amazing at providing essential info, too.

‘To top up my diet I take some supplements. Vitamin D is a must (especially when living in the UK), but I also take magnesium, vitamin B and a female-specific multivitamin. Going vegan has really helped to improve my cardio training and energy levels. I’ve now been following a plant-based diet for so long that I also feel lighter and have much better sleep.’

What a vegan athlete eats in a day…

Here’s an example of Phoebe Schecter’s daily diet:

  • Breakfast: Porridge with oats, mixed seeds, Bio-Synergy Lean & Green, peanut butter and a mix of fruits
  • Snack: Apple with peanut butter
  • Lunch: Indian dhal with flatbread
  • Snack: Vegan chocolate/rice cracker
  • Dinner: Vegetable Thai green curry with rice

For more info on Veganuary visit veganuary.com.

Click here for a vegan-friendly smoked tofu and watercress cannelloni recipe!