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5 Tips if You’re Thinking about Going Vegan
Every athlete strives for an edge over the competition, and being in top-level shape requires a smart, consistent nutrition plan that matches the physical demands of the sport and training.
For German national team defender Nike Lorenz, plant-based dieting has improved not only her performance on the field, but her overall energy level and recovery time. Reflecting on her decision to go vegan several years later, Lorenz opens up about the transition, how it’s impacted her game, her favorite pre-game recipes, and advice for other hockey players who may be considering a plant-based diet. Here are a few key takeaways:
1. Figure out what works best for your body and start slow.
Diets are not one-size-fits-all. It’s okay to explore and experiment and figure out what works best for you. When Lorenz changed club teams, her doctor recommended a gluten-free diet. She tried it out, but after feeling as though it wasn’t helpful, she made the gradual shift to a vegan lifestyle.
“I felt like the stuff that I was eating that was gluten-free wasn’t really good for me, so that’s when I decided to try giving up meat,” Lorenz says.
But, she emphasizes, it’s a process.
“It happened over time,” Lorenz recalls. “I’d say you have to start slowly — you may need some of the food you’re missing — you only know when you take it step-by-step.”
When Lorenz moved into her own apartment, she stopped buying meat. She learned she couldn’t digest lactose, so she removed those products from her diet as well and stuck to various nut milks instead. Then, her doctor recommended she stop eating eggs to address a problem with her blood.
The hardest part, she says, was getting rid of cheeses. “That was the last step for me. I really like any kind of goat cheese, it’s just so good, so that was definitely the toughest part.”
2. Be mindful of those cravings — and don’t be so quick to ignore them.
For Lorenz, paying attention to her body was an essential part of her diet transition.
Cutting it out all at once, especially in the beginning, isn’t always the best way to go about it. Taking it step-by-step allows you to evaluate which foods have different effects on your body, says Lorenz.
“If you’re craving something, you should have some,” says Lorenz. “If you’re craving a piece of meat for example, you should eat some, because those cravings are usually your body saying it needs something and it’s not healthy to deny those needs.”
However, Lorenz recommends going fully vegan for at least four-to-six weeks once you’ve committed to the decision and reached the point where you’ve fully cut meat, dairy, and other animal products. Otherwise, it may be difficult to get in the habit and fully transition to the vegan lifestyle. And that way, you can distinguish between a lingering craving for wings or steak, and when your body is trying to tell you something.
It’s also okay to take breaks, provided you set guidelines (when, why, etc.) For Lorenz, she knows the diet is critical to keeping her body fit for practice and play, but she may splurge in the offseason once or twice. “When I’m not in season and my parents have a barbeque, I’ll have some meat because I know it’s an exception,” she says.
3. Find your new favorite snack.
Changing your diet isn’t about depriving yourself – it’s about finding alternatives that energize and strengthen your body, Lorenz emphasizes. Even by eliminating all animal products from your diet, there are still so many options for full and delicious meals.
Finding a few favorite foods makes it easier to stay motivated with a new diet until it becomes a natural part of your routine. For Lorenz, her favorite pre-game meal consists of oatmeal with berries and cinnamon.
Think about the foods you already love that fit within your new regimen – fruits, nuts, potatoes, pasta, etc. — as a reminder that you’re not starting from scratch and there are plenty of things you already love that you can still eat. Then, connect with others who are committed to the same diet and share tips and recipes to continue to expand your selection. Keep an open mind and be prepared to try new things!
4. Have a strategy when you’re not at home.
It can be difficult to stay consistent with your eating plan when the environment around you changes. Lorenz knows this challenge all too well.
On the road, each team member gets a certain number of kilos they can pack, and for Lorenz, about a quarter of her pack is usually food so she can stay on top of her diet ahead of tournaments and big game days.
“In Germany, it’s tough,” she says. “When you go out to dinner, you worry you may not be able to find something that fits your diet. But you want to be social and go out and have something to eat.”
When she has dinner with friends, Lorenz says she’ll have some dairy if there’s no other alternative. “I’ve decided I’m okay to say, ‘I want to have dinner with my friends, so if that means I’m going to have a little cheese, that’s okay.’”
5. Track your progress and improvement.
For Lorenz, the first tangible difference she saw after going vegan was recovery time. She sprained her ankle several times in 2017 and was out for 3-4 weeks at a time. But, when she started eating vegan, that time was noticeably reduced.
“I started eating vegan and the next time I sprained my ankle, the pain was gone after a week and I was back on the field,” says Lorenz. “There was no explanation other than changing my diet. I’ve noticed I recover faster and sleep better. And when I have to study in between practice and training sessions, I’m much more focused.”
Changes in diet have different effects depending on the person, but it’s important to know your standard recovery time, sleep habits, energy level, etc., so that you can benchmark and see the impact. Its also recommended to consult with a professional.
To learn more about Nike’s hockey journey, greatest mentors, and favorite foods, click here.
For more food and nutrition advice, check out our food chat and grocery run with Olympic gold medalist and Team Great Britain midfielder Shona McCallin.