You’ve got the vegan life down to a “T”. You’ve seen a performance improvement in your running and you frankly feel better than you’ve ever felt.
But you’ve got friends who went keto and they report similar things. You don’t want to give up on your veganism just to take advantage of keto. And you wonder if doing both would have a negative impact on your training.
We’re not exactly rational beings. We make most of our decisions based on emotion and a large portion of those emotions are fear-based.
Making such massive changes in your diet can be tough. You want to do what’s best for your body while maintaining performance.
Today that fear will go the way of the grapefruit diet. Here’s how you can go vegan, be keto, and have an active lifestyle.
1. Active Lifestyle Fear #1: Vegan Keto Will Cause Deficiencies
Since you probably already follow the vegan diet, you know that vegans eschew as many animal products as possible both in diet and other areas of life. You’ve probably figured out how to get your B12 from fortified foods such as soy products and rice milk and maybe supplements.
You probably know too that non-heme iron is harder for your body to absorb. Thus you eat fortified wholegrain cereals, legumes, and tofu in large quantities. You eat foods that help with absorption.
Essentially, you’re already used to combating deficiencies every meat eater goes out of their way to warn you about. But suddenly you’re afraid of deficiencies again.
With keto, you’re cutting down on your carbs but not eliminating them altogether. This means some of the fortified foods (and soy!) you’re already eating are out.
This is the toughest area when going keto while vegan, but it’s not impossible. Here are a few ways to recoup some of those vitamins.
You can get a little bit of this vitamin from nutritional yeast, fortified unsweetened almond milk, and nori. But since you’re keeping carbs at an all-time low, you’ll have a hard time getting enough.
Sources vary on how much you need. If you’re young and healthy, you only need 2.4 micrograms. But if you’re older, you might need closer to 6 micrograms.
The great thing about B12 is that it’s like Vitamin C. Your body will just pass what it doesn’t use. This means that if you take a 6 mcg dose and only need 2.4, it won’t be toxic.
Thus, if you’re going to use supplements (highly recommended!), go for the larger dose of B12 than the smaller.
If you’re a good vegan, you’re already getting your iron through keto-approved sources. Swiss chard, seeds, and nuts (in moderation — nuts can drive up your carbs), are all iron-rich foods.
If you’ve been a bad vegan and filling up on silly things like french fries instead of good iron-rich foods, you might have an iron deficiency. But you should go to your doctor before you self-diagnose.
Don’t take iron supplements unless you’ve been prescribed such. You can take too much iron and thus introduce free radicals into your system.
So, eat the appropriate amount of leafy greens in your daily salad and you’ll get enough iron and still be vegan keto.
DHA and EPA
Non-vegans would get these from eggs or fatty fish. DHA and EPA are the two essential omega-3 fatty acids. They provide the main building blocks of cell structure and they’re good for your heart.
But you’re not eating eggs and you’re not gonna try fish oil, yuck! So, how do you get your omega-3 fatty acids, remain vegan, and go keto?
Simple. Use algae-based omega-3 supplements. This is essentially the vegetarian version of fish oil and it’s just as rich in omega-3.
2. Active Lifestyle Fear #2: Vegan Keto Diet Will Hamper Performance
Maybe you’re a marathoner or you do triathlons. You hear people in your sport say they’re “fat adapted.”
When they describe it, it sounds similar to keto. But you’re afraid that if you cut out most carbs, you won’t have the energy for training. And what do you eat during races anyways if you’re not eating high-sugar foods like Gu and gels or even just fruits?
How Fat Adaptation is Different Than Keto
Admittedly the two are similar. The difference is a bit more subtle than you’d think from the general information available.
This is why it’s difficult to find a good source on the subject.
But the real difference is in the degree to which you’re restricting carbs and what systems you’re targeting with your intake. With fat adaptation, the goal is to subsist mainly on fats.
The claimed advantage of this for athletes is lack of need during hard or long efforts. With carb-dependent athletes, they’re having to fuel with carbs or fruits every half hour after the first hour.
The thing is, you can become at least mostly fat adapted and not go keto. Essentially, you’re focused solely on reducing carbs and increasing fat. You’re not doing this to the degree where you enter ketosis.
Fine, But Will Ketosis Hamper Performance?
If you do it wrong, yes. If you do it right, no.
Fat adaption does change the way you race and train, which can be advantageous. You won’t need to carry as much fuel! But that has nothing to do with performance.
Why? Because while you’re increasing the use of fat during extreme efforts, you’re also increasing the need for oxygen to convert fat to energy. 20% more than carb conversion actually.
You can continue to train and improve while on the keto-vegan diet. You’ll be on equal footing as your peers if you pick the right foods and eat enough.
3. What Do Athletes Need to Eat on a Vegan Keto Diet to Maintain Performance?
If you’re an ultra athlete who does high-volume or high-intensity training, you could burn in excess of 1,500 calories in one training session. And depending on your basal metabolic rate, you normally burn 2-3k calories in a day.
For extreme athletes, that’s up to 4,500 calories a day. That’s a heck of a lot of chard.
To be truly ketogenic, you need your macronutrients to be something like:
- Fat: 65-80%
- Protein: 10-25%
- Carbs: 5-10%
This means that to maintain weight as an athlete who burns the max of 4,500 calories a day, you’ll need at least 2,900 calories from fat (that is, approximately 11 oz = 320 grams fat), at least 450 from protein (4 oz = 113 grams protein), and at least 225 from carbs (2 oz = 57 grams net carbs).
If you’re increasing muscle mass or in a build phase, you’ll need more than that.
The great thing about keeping track of macros percentages is that you’re less likely to undereat. Undereating can lead to injury and illness for an endurance athlete. And, undereating is a surprisingly common mistake.
Will Eating More Carbs During Races and Hard Exercises Kick You Out of Ketosis?
The idea behind being fat adapted is that you won’t need that sugar spike from carb intake during a race. The reality is, sugar is a powerful drug. You might want that quick burst of power to kick it up that hill.
The question is: if you do that, will you ruin your keto streak? Will it kick you out of ketosis?
Two things to remember:
- If you’re doing it right, you’re counting macros.
- If you’re counting macros percentages, you’re fine to use that sugar burst as long as you account for it in your percentages later. AND, you take your carbs before the exercise, not after. When you take the carbs before exercise, you will use them. If you take them after exercise, they will rise your blood sugar levels and kick you out of ketosis.
Staying in ketosis is an overall effort.
A Quick Example of What You Might Eat During the Day
As a vegan, you’re going to have a hard time finding good information about keto meals out there. That’s why I’ve compiled a couple of example meals to give you a picture of what you might need to eat as an athlete on this diet.
If you weren’t vegan, you could easily load up on eggs, cream, butter, and healthy meats. Even if you were vegetarian, you’d at least have eggs and cream.
But take heart, dear vegan athlete! This is entirely possible. So, let’s dig in.
- Breakfast: Coffee with coconut cream (full fat), keto-vegan coconut yogurt with raspberries and chia seeds, handful of almonds.
- Lunch: Kale Avocado Salad with Walnuts and extra virgin olive oil. Mushroom Zucchini Stir-Fry with sunflower seeds and spinach.
- Dinner: African Peanut Soup with Keto-Vegan Bread. Low-Carb Roasted Curry Vegetables.
- Dessert: Keto-Vegan Chocolate
- Breakfast: Coffee with coconut cream (full fat), Berry Cauliflower and Greens Smoothie Bowl without bananas.
- Lunch: Tomato Mushroom Spaghetti Squash, guacamole and low-carb chia seed crackers.
- Dinner: Zucchini Noodles with Tomatoes and Hemp Pesto.
- Dessert: Chocolate Almond Avocado Pudding.
You’ll want to eat ample amounts of this food if you’re deep in your training. And to get the calories, you might need to snack between even if you’re in ketosis. Remember, undereating is surprisingly common, and you are wise enough to avoid that.
Being a Keto-Vegan Athlete is Totally Possible
While it might mean giving up a few things, continuing to be vegan while going keto is totally possible with an active lifestyle. If you’re a healthy and dedicated athlete, you’re already tracking what you need to track.
Thus it’s easy to adjust your macros and go keto. If you need more meal plans and ideas what to eat, get my 7-day meal plan to jumpstart your transition to keto.