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It may come as a shock to many, but someone can achieve a bulky, strong, and even muscular body while consuming a vegan diet. 

The misconception and stereotype of a meat-raging carnivore equating to a brawny man are no longer acceptable when we see athletes like 285-pound vegan David Carter, NFL defensive lineman, promoting a cruelty-free way of athleticism. 

If you are in the martial arts combat sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, being vegan can absolutely give you the leg-up you’ve been needing against the competition; but only if you take on the lifestyle change intelligently.

Interested in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and veganism? Here’s what you need to know: Your diet will have to be closely monitored to achieve adequate nutrition, maintain your energy levels, and fuel yourself with enough protein to spar against those consuming animal protein. With many studies proving there is an actual increase in energy levels and stamina for vegans, more athletes are switching to veganism, but it should only be done with research and strategy to avoid failed health, protein deficiency, and/or malnutrition. 

If you are vegan, precautions and self-education need to be prioritized to keep your body strong through this dietary shift. Use this guide to answer any question you have as a vegan BJJ, understand the science behind it, and prepare to revolutionize your diet! 

Why an Athlete Should Embrace Veganism 

More and more grapplers are beginning to gravitate towards veganism, with many athletes actually feeling slowed down by the digestive weight of meat. Beef and non-lean proteins can actually increase your carb/fat intake and make meat a low-nutritional option, especially compared to a plant-based diet.

In this study done on The Exercise Capacity of a Vegan, they found when comparing 76 runners ranging from vegan to vegetarian to meat-eaters, there was no distinguishable difference in the exercise capacity. Meaning, all diets offered an equal playing field of results when consumed properly.  

That study proved there was no change in performance quality. But what about the health benefits, and energy-increases that could lend itself to a higher-performing athlete? 

With more and more athletes leaning into the vegan-movement, the findings so far have been that going vegan offers you:

As Inverse describes of athlete performance, “Athletes often report major improvements when they go plant based. These improvements include feeling more energetic, experiencing accelerated recovery, and having a heightened ability to train longer and more efficiently.” 

When understanding how much protein you will need as a vegan, it’s the same as those that are not vegan. Human bodies are the same, and if anything, plant-based nutrition will be a much cleaner and cruelty-free manner in which to get the same proteins.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Veganism

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is an incredible way to get in shape, learn self-defense, and understand your own body with greater ease than many other martial art practices. It may be easier to pick up the basics of BJJ than say Kapu Ku’ailua, but it will not be easy for you if you don’t have the energy to get out of bed.

Malnutrition can cause you to feel heavy, spacy, unfocused, and weaker. If you jump into veganism without understanding what your body needs, you may suffer a real energy crash or health problems.

You can see countless success stories such as this basic guide that covers the basics of veganism (which we’re assuming you’re already aware of), The Impact of Vegetarianism on Martial Arts. Discussions like this are popping up more and more because it is working for athletes to switch to a meatless and cruelty-free diet.

Avoid the rookie mistakes altogether by understanding that if you are eliminating one thing from your diet (meat in this case) that nutritional value must be replaced by something else.

The mistakes that vegans make going into the dietary-lifestyle is not understanding how many calories they are burning per day and surpassing that caloric intake, which will be especially high for an athlete.

Eating vegan as an athlete (and even as a non-athlete) will mean:

  • Increased carbs
  • High fiber intake
  • Even more protein than you were consuming as an omnivore

What Your Body Needs as a Vegan Athlete

As Healthline describes of the body’s protein requirements per day, “The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound. This amounts to 56 grams per day for the average sedentary man. 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman.”

But this is for sedentary men and women, and will not take into account the protein requirements of a muscle building athlete.

To breakdown a numerical example of your body’s protein requirements, NASM.org says, “Exercising or training five or more days per week requires 1.2-1.7 g/kg per day. With higher intensity exercise, there is increased protein utilization for protein development and tissue repair. This roughly equates to 82-116 grams of protein per day for a 150-pound person.”

So the non-athlete will require nearly half of what the athlete’s protein intake must be at. Meaning as an athlete, you need double to triple the recommended protein.  The more active you are, the more protein you will require. However, it is important to note that many active people, vegan or not, have to watch their diet carefully to ensure they are eating enough protein for their activity level.

Without protein (even more protein than you were consuming before becoming vegan), you’ll never make it as a competitive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter. That is the sad truth and the kick in the butt that should make you take your nutritional intake seriously. Only with proper protein and carb balance will you achieve this nutritional minimum to be a successful BJJ competitor. 

Eating a Vegan Diet as a BJJ Competitor 

Some of the protein-weight in grams of the following vegan foods are:

  • 1 cup of rice – 6 grams
  • 1 cup of oatmeal – 6 grams
  • 1 cup of spinach – 13 grams
  • 1 cup of tofu – 20 grams
  • 1 cup baked beans – 12 grams
  • 2 TBSP Peanut Butter – 8 grams
  • 1 veggie burger patty – 15 grams
  • 1 cup cooked lentils – 25 grams
  • 1 cup of mixed nuts – 27+ grams
  • 1 cup of tempeh – 30+ grams
  • 1 cup of black beans – 42+ grams
  • 1 cup of kidney beans – 44+ grams

All of this compared to meat, which has 7 grams of protein per ounce.

You can consume a bowl of black beans and actually gain much more nutritional value and protein than eating a steak. This is the misconception that athletes need to be aware of. 

This study from Oxford comparing Meat Eaters to Non found that “Low meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans consumed significantly less white rice than regular meat-eaters,” as well as less rice, sugar, desserts, pizza, empty carbs, and they consumed significantly more vegetables.

What you will be doing is lowering your sugar, unnecessary fats, loaded carbs, and empty proteins. 

All of this lends itself to you leading a healthier and happier life.

You’ll Need More Than Just Protein 

But don’t make it all about protein. You will also need to get the amino acids that are offered to you from meat-products. You also need calcium, iron, and a multitude of vitamins to maintain your proper health, so do not place all of your focus on protein alone.

When asking what vegans usually are lacking, Web MD describes, “A meatless diet can be healthy, but vegetarians — especially vegans — need to make sure they’re getting enough vitamin B12, calcium, iron, and zinc. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics warns of the risk of vitamin B12 deficiencies in vegetarians and vegans… A lack of vitamin B12 can lead to anemia and blindness.”

This is how serious it can be to not get the nutrition your body requires – Take it this seriously because the stakes are high. 

Besides protein, you will also need to get plenty of:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Fiber

Vegan Protein suggestions:

Nuts, seeds, tempeh, tofu, soymilk, beans, lentils, quinoa, split peas, dry roasted edamame

Vegan Iron suggestions: 

Nuts, beans, tofu, tempeh, iron-enhanced cereals, seed bread, spinach

Vegan Vitamin C (which will help your iron absorb) suggestions:

Blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, citrus fruit, melon, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, red peppers, yellow peppers

Vegan Vitamin B12 suggestions:

Nutritional yeast, soymilk, shitake mushrooms, yeast extracts that have B12 added

Vegan Calcium Suggestions:

Fortified nut milk (non-dairy milk), collards, bok choy, soybeans, soy nuts, chickpeas, navy beans, okra, dark leafy greens, almonds, almond butter, oranges, seaweed, blackcurrants (dark fruit like blueberries and raspberries (rich in vitamins). 

Vegan Zinc Suggestions:

Oatmeal, nuts, cereals that are high in Zinc, beans, lentils, tofu, legumes, yogurts (non-dairy milk), wheat germ

Vegan Fiber Suggestions:

Brussel sprouts, banana, apples (with peel) quinoa, broccoli, figs, sweet potatoes, carrots, Black beans, lentils, chia seeds, chickpeas, dates

If you are still concerned about getting all of these vitamins and nutritional pillars, consider taking a Supplement Predisposed for Veganism.

Creating Your Vegan Diet

Now that you’re getting the idea of what needs to be done to thrive in this dietary lifestyle, let’s explore specifics.

Some ideas to get you started in a diet that supports the double-amount of protein required (as compared to a non-athlete) the vegan diet plan and recipes to get you started are as follows:

Breakfast:

  • A breakfast sandwich on sprouted-seed bread, topped with tofu that has been mixed with nutritional yeast (to offer a cheesy flavor), and pair with any vegetables you like.
  • Smoothie with mango, blueberries, banana, hemp seeds, chia seeds (to keep you fuller longer), and any other nutritional supplement you choose. Adding protein powder to your morning smoothie is a great way to start the day with a sucker punch of energy.
  • Banana muffin with fresh bananas, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts. Keep it simple like this recipe here.

Lunch: 

  • Tofu sandwich with kale and tomato salad, lemon juice and olive oil dressing, hemp seeds on top. Enjoy a side of trail mix and seaweed chips. 
  • Seitan Sauerkraut Sandwich
  • Sweet Potato and Miso Soup
  • Vegan tacos with pineapple salsa (You can use a variety of meat substitutes here such as cauliflower, beans, or meat-alternatives like Beyond Meat). 

Dinner: 

  • Spaghetti (made using a vegetable like squash or zucchini) with Lentil Bolognese topped with Vegan Parmesan Cheese made of cashews and nutritional yeast. 
  • Vegan stir-fry with vegetables, tofu or tempeh, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, peanuts, finished with Liquid Aminos (a soy-sauce substitute that tastes exactly the same but features nutrition without sodium). 
  • Vegan Spring rolls
  • Chili with a vegan meat substitute and a variety of beans

These are just a few ideas to get you started, but we’re sure you see a theme. It’s about building on top of an already healthy dish and adding as many minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants as we can.

Some resources to help make this easier are: 

Resources and Tips for Vegan Athletes

Some resources to get you started in your lifestyle change are:

  • Here are additional Chart Comparisons of high-protein foods, meat, and non-meat products. 
  • If you really miss meat, try meat substitutes like Beyond Meat
  • Utilize vegan applications when you are out looking for a restaurant to find vegan options nearby you! Some great apps we recommend are:
  • Utilize things like chia seeds, hemp seeds, and nutritional yeast (the ideal cheese substitute that actually has nutritional value, hence the name) and other enhancers like this. Not only will they add flavor and texture, but they are also easy ways to throw extra nutrition into dishes you’re already consuming. With cheesy substitutes like this, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on any dairy-rich or savory cheese dishes. 
  • Living Fuel is the hack that all athletic vegans (and humans) need. The most nutritious superfood elixir on the planet, you can literally live off of Living Fuel alone, so it is a healthier option than most supplements, which will only give you a small portion of what Living Fuel does. See the ingredients list here depicting more protein than 6 eggs, more calcium than 2 glasses of milk, and more antioxidants than 10 bowls of berries. You should be adding this to every meal if you want to live to be 110. 
  • This Dietary Reference found that “the use of iron cast pots and pans for cooking, avoiding tea or coffee with meals and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can further boost iron absorption.” So do not drink coffee with your meals, only before or a while after to avoid losing the nutritional absorption.
  • Here is a sample of An Athlete’s Workout Plan on a Vegan Diet. He describes, “Many trainees make the mistake of doing way too much volume and focusing way too much time on isolation exercises.”
  • Here is the aforementioned legend, 300-pound Vegan, David Carter’s Diet, which includes 80 ounces of healthy smoothies per day that have been enhanced with spirulina, 4 grams of protein per tablespoon. 

Final Tips for Athletes and Veganism 

BJJ is a complex sport that may take up to 10 years to achieve your black belt in. Regardless of if your goals are set that high, you will need the strength to compete and continue doing what you love most – using your body to move, play, fight, spar, and live.

If you switch to veganism and don’t eat enough protein, you will feel lethargic and as if you’ve lost energy. You will only feel an increase in your energy levels if you consume enough protein, point blank. 

Veganism has made millions feel healthier, more energetic, less lethargic, and all around more efficient. There’s no reason that a vegan diet can’t do the same for you. With countless studies showing the benefits, anti-cancer properties, and life-extending evidence – why wouldn’t you consider reducing your meat intake? 

  • Temptation will be everywhere. Avoid empty calories and mindless snacking. As a new vegan and a hungry athlete, you may feel like eating lots of pasta and carbohydrate-rich foods that do not offer you authentic nutritional value. Many vegetarians end up eating veggie-pizzas every night, but this is not the path you want to take. Outlining a diet of favorite vegan meals that are easy for you to make is the first step. Keep those on hand and if you feel like snacking on empty-carbs, grab an apple. 
  • If you aren’t ready to become a full-blown vegan, don’t put pressure on yourself! It can be a huge lifestyle transition that must be made with patience and small changes. A vegan diet is difficult to create overnight, so if you’re not interested in giving up eggs, cheese, or honey, aim for at least a vegetarian diet and don’t guilt-trip yourself. 
  • The first year of veganism is the hardest. Once you get through the hurdles at the beginning, habits will be formed, and the lifestyle change will feel second-nature. Habits take an average of 66 days to form. If you can reach the third month of veganism, the rest will be a cakewalk!  

Conclusion

As a final testament to the power of veganism, consider something so basic and obvious, that may change your entire perspective on veganism. You may have seen Patrik Baboumain in Netflix’s new show, The Game Changers, where the audience sees a closer look at this German Body Builder that has chosen a vegan diet for many years.

When asked, “How can you get as strong as an ox without eating any meat?”

Baboumain replied, “Have you ever seen an ox eating meat?” 

Author: Let's Roll BJJ

Let's Roll BJJ aims to be the leading source of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Grappling information and news on the web. Dorian, the owner and editor of Let's Roll BJJ is a purple belt in Jiu Jitsu and has been training and competing for over 6 years. Apart from being a BJJ geek, Dorian is a software developer by trade, a husband, and a father of two wonderful kids who he's recently began teaching Jiu Jitsu. When he's not training, coding, or writing, you can find him hiking, camping or occasionally binging on video games.

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