Working out as a CrossFitter is only half the battle. Diet plays an integral role, no matter what your health or fitness goals are.
For some, a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet is the preferred method for getting where you want to go.
But since CrossFit’s nutrition guidelines most often call for diets like Paleo or The Zone Diet, both of which call for eating meat, it can be a little confusing.
It leaves some to wonder, Can you be a vegan or vegetarian and still do CrossFit? Do some CrossFit athletes follow a plant-based diet? And what are the pros and cons to doing so?
Here’s everything you need to know, along with some plant-based meal plan ideas, for being a vegan or vegetarian CrossFitter.
What Is the CrossFit Vegan Diet?
Following a vegan, vegetarian or plant-based diet doesn’t change just because you do CrossFit.
The same principles—avoiding animal products in favor of vegetables, fruits, and plant-based alternatives—are the same. You just calibrate them to meet your fitness and health goals.
Base your nutrition around plants, make sure to eat enough food, and listen to your body along the way. Your training will tell you how things are going, and you can always make adjustments along the way.
- Reduced inflammation. Going vegan has been shown to reduce chronic inflammation markers in the body, which helps protect you against serious ailments like type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and heart disease.
- Potential for weight loss. Plant-based diets are proven to aid with weight loss efforts. One reason for this is that going vegan cuts out many of the high-calorie foods the standard American eats. With good portion control and regular CrossFit workouts, you can certainly lose weight with this approach if that’s your goal.
- Ethical and moral reasons. Many turn to a plant-based diet for ethical, moral, or religious reasons. Avoiding meat or saying no to things like factory farming could be a great psychological and spiritual benefit if they align with your views or beliefs.
- Increased vitamin and mineral intake. Those who follow plant-based diets tend to eat more vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin C and E, folic acid, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are associated with overall better health and health outcomes.
- Reduced risk of heart disease. Eating healthy can reduce your risk of CVD by up to 80 percent, and going vegan is one way to do that. One study found going vegan or plant-based could also eliminate the number of medications one has to take, which could offset the costs associated with this way of eating.
- Consume more fiber. The majority of Americans—95 percent, in fact—don’t eat enough fiber. This is a big deal, considering it’s an essential nutrient that helps improve gut and brain health, among other things. Switching to a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and legumes will naturally help increase the amount of dietary fiber you consume.
- May be difficult to eat enough protein. Without eating meat, eggs, or dairy, you may find it hard to consume enough dietary protein, which is essential for muscle recovery and growth in CrossFit. Some plant-based protein sources are also considered “incomplete” proteins by health experts because they lack all the essential amino acids your body needs. As such, you may need to do research to combine foods to ensure you’re eating enough protein to support your training.
- May need to supplement. Even avid vegans and vegetarians are open about the fact that supplementing certain vitamins and minerals is necessary so that your body gets what it needs. For example, many plant-based dieters supplement with iron and B vitamins, two things meat eaters typically get from eating animal protein.
- Going vegan can be expensive. CrossFit athletes tend to eat more than the average person who doesn’t exercise. Vegan and plant-based alternatives can be pricey, so you’ll need a budget to fuel your efforts if you aren’t planning to eat meat.
Vegan CrossFit – Sample Menus
The key to making a vegan or plant-based diet work with your CrossFit goals is to approach your nutrition like an athlete. Whether you’re eating meat or not, you should aim to:
- Limit intake of processed foods and place an emphasis on healthy, nutritious foods that promote overall health
- Eat the right number of calories to fuel your efforts (by tracking macros, calories, or some other method)
- Eat some protein to fuel recovery at all, if not the majority of your meals
- Eat adequate portions but not too much to avoid fat storage and weight gain
- Drink plenty of water and dial in other lifestyle factors, like sleep and stress moderation
Here are some sample plant-based menus for CrossFitters to get started:
Vegan CrossFit Breakfast
Mix and match a protein and carb to create your own breakfast.
- Two pieces of sprouted toast with tofu
- Oatmeal with a cup of almond milk and chopped nuts
- Overnight oats with almond butter and chia seeds
- Meat-alternative breakfast sausage (Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods)
- A piece of fresh fruit (apple, banana, orange)
- A serving of dried fruit
- Frozen or fresh berries
Alternatively, if weight loss is the goal, you might consider practicing 16/8 intermittent fasting. For many, this looks like skipping breakfast entirely and eating their first meal around noon, then ceasing eating again by 8pm that night.
Just be sure you’re eating enough to make up for the deficit during your eating window. Remember, food is fuel, even if your goal is weight loss!
Vegan CrossFit Lunch and Dinner
Mix and match a protein and carb to create your own lunch/dinner. Aim for at least one big serving of protein per day to ensure you’re getting enough for recovery.
Batch prepping foods can make life a lot easier and save you time and money when following a vegan or plant-based CrossFit diet.
- Meat alternative burger or other protein source (Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Amy’s, Boca, Field Roast, Lightlife Foods, etc.)
- Legumes, like chickpeas, black beans, or lentils
- Quinoa or couscous
- Baked tempeh or tofu
- Grain or bean-based soups or stews
- Large salad
- Whole wheat bun, pita bread, or bread
- Roasted vegetables of any kind (1 or 2 servings)
- Cooked sweet or white potato
Plant-Based CrossFit Snacks
To round out your intake and keep you fueled throughout the day, you can supplement with a few vegan and vegetarian snacks.
- Vegan protein smoothie (find a minimal-ingredient, plant-based protein powder made of hemp, pea, or soy protein)
- Vegan protein bars (look for ones with minimal ingredients)
- Handful of nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.)
- Hemp or chia seeds
- Vegan hummus with carrot sticks or celery
- Raw or cooked vegetables
- Vegan snack bars
- Fruit leathers
Like any athletic diet, being willing to eat lots of the same foods can make life much easier. Try cutting a meal in half or thirds and having that as a snack!
Are Any CrossFit Athletes Vegan?
A handful of CrossFit athletes have made the switch to veganism or plant-based eating in recent years.
Jeremy Reijnders has been a plant-based CrossFitter for over 5 years. He competed at the 2018-19 CrossFit games in the Team category and was also crowned fittest in the Netherlands.
Dani Sidell is a two-time CrossFit games competitor and vegan.
James Newbury is an Australian CrossFit athlete that also follows a plant-based diet.
Keep in mind, though: reaching the CrossFit games is something a very small percentage of CrossFitters will ever achieve. Hundreds of thousands participate in the Open each year and even more just go to the gym to get fit or healthy.
You don’t have to aspire to be a Games athlete to make being a CrossFit vegan work for you.
As plant-based eating continues to enjoy mainstream popularity, it’s likely more athletes will make the switch.
How To Be Vegan and Do Crossfit
To wrap things up, here are a few additional tips for those CrossFitters wishing to be vegan, vegetarian, or plant-based on the path to their fitness goals:
- Ease into it. If you’re hesitant about going vegan or plant-based, don’t jump in head first. Eat meat once a day or try going plant-based two to three days per week. This can help you psychologically wrap your head around the constraints of being a vegan and help your body adjust so your workout performance isn’t compromised.
- Meal prep! It’s worth repeating: prepping vegan meals for CrossFit training ahead of time is worth the time it takes to do. You’ll save money, spend less time in the kitchen, and always have healthy food to eat. This is key as an athlete with fitness goals.
- Listen to your body. Monitor your food intake. If you’re trying new foods, like plant-based meat alternatives, see how you feel after you eat them. Always make sure you’re eating enough.
- Freeze meals and shop in bulk. Shop for deals. Produce doesn’t last more than a week or so in the fridge, but you can make stews and soups that can be frozen for months. Reheat food throughout the week to save yourself time and stretch your dollars even further.
Like any nutrition plan or health-related goal, it comes down to how much you want it.
If you’re willing to do the work and make the adjustments necessary to make veganism or vegetarianism work for you, you can still thrive in a CrossFit setting.