The vegan athlete: Opening opportunities

By Nikki Cutler

- Last updated on GMT

getty | minoandriani
getty | minoandriani
The number of vegan athletes is growing and so are the opportunities for vegan supplement sales, according to a sports nutritionist who will reveal the biggest industry opportunities at NutraIngredients’ upcoming Sports Nutrition Summit.

Giving a preview of his scheduled talk in Amsterdam next month, Phil Woodbridge, human performance exercise and wellbeing technical support officer at Buckinghamshire New University, points out that the number of vegans in Great Britain is growing fast.

In fact, that number quadrupled between 2014 and 2018. In 2018 there were 600,000 vegans - 1.16% of the population.

And the sporting community is very much in-line with this overall trend, in fact, Woodbridge says Vegan Runners UK membership is up to more than 4,000.

The good and the bad

Yet scientific research into how the vegan diet impacts athletic performance has so far have been sparse and equivocal.

Those studies that have revealed a higher likelihood of nutritional deficiencies in vegan athletes have collectively suggested that the most likely vegan diet deficiencies will be in; protein, calcium, vitamin b12, serum D3, zinc, iron, iodine, selenium and Vitamin D.

The nutritional benefits of a vegan diet that have been noted are the high CHO and fibre intake and better fat profile of the vegan diet and these reason are partly why it is often assumed to be healthier to go vegan.

Woodbridge says: “One of the widespread myths is if you go vegan you will be healthier but there’s a lot of processed vegan foods so there’s good and bad vegan diets and you still need to get the balance right."


As well as the listed nutrition deficiencies above, Woodbridge points out that another issue that vegan runners can struggle with is energy. In fact, Woodbridge says this is the main issue that vegan runners come to speak to him about and this can even lead to a suppressed immunity.

He says this is a big opportunity for the supplements industry.

“There’s an opportunity here for energy dense plant-based products that are ethical.”

In terms of other opportunities for NPD in this market, Woodbridge points out that Vitamin B12 is generally one that vegans know to supplement with and many plant-based milks are fortified with calcium and riboflavin so these are of smaller concern.

Two other lesser known vegan diet deficiencies that have been noted in scientific literature are creatine and beta analine.

“We don’t get them in a plant based diet so supplementing these in vegans may have more of an impact on performance than it will in meat eating runners.”

The Sports Nutrition Summit, brought to you by NutraIngredients is back for a second year!

Bringing together industry and research professionals in the active and performance nutrition space, the Sports Nutrition Summit aims to bridge the gaps between cutting edge science, business strategy and key regulatory developments to shine a light on the key consumers in the sports and active nutrition industry, and what you can do to meet their needs​.

Challenging you to know your market​ the 2019 programme will explore the latest scientific and product developments across the consumer spectrum - looking at active sports nutrition consumers by category, life stage and by geography.


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