CAN SCUBA DIVERS BE VEGANS?
Between the tons of plant-based dishes crowding our Insta feed and Miley Cyrus passing out avocados like there’s no tomorrow, veganism has become quite the trend these days. So, to our delight, what was once a go-to choice for granola-munching hippies is now the easiest way to protect our environment, the animals that live in it and our health all at once.
But, while today’s influencers show us that a life without steaks and cheese is possible, many active individuals are still skeptic as to how a no-meat diet can support their lifestyle choices. Scuba divers, in particular, require a variety of nutrients to keep up with the sport’s needs, so asking them to switch from chicken and cheese to lentils and nutritional yeast seems like a bold move – at least, to them. But, what does science have to say? Can scuba divers be vegans?
The Nutritional Needs of a Scuba Diver
By now we all know that scuba diving is an exciting form of exercise. In fact, the underwater sport is often described as a fun mix of aerobics with a side of resistance training. That said, fueling your body before and after a dive is super important. So, here’s are the nutrients you need to keep your body in tip-top condition – even under water.
Despite being demonized for years now, carbs are -without a doubt- the best source of energy out there. The macronutrient is digested rather quickly which means it can help you refuel within minutes. So, once inside your body, carbs convert into glucose which is also known as blood sugar. From there, the molecule reaches your cells, tissues, and organs and provides them with enough energy to perform specific tasks – in our case, swimming around as long as possible.
It’s also worth mentioning that your liver and muscles store some of the glucose for when you need a constant stream of energy, i.e. when you are underwater. The only caveat: Your body can store a limited amount of carbs which is why you may feel tired after a while, especially when you engage in activities that recruit multiple parts of your body like scuba diving.
But, carbs aren’t the only source of energy in the book. Fats can also do the trick by converting into energy-packed bodies known as ketones. These molecules can keep you going in the absence of carbs while allowing your body to perform optimally for longer periods of time. That is exactly what you need during a long swim, so sneaking some of the nutrient pre-dive is a great idea. Pro tip: Watch out for that time window when your body switches from carbs to fat for energy; it can be tricky.
While amusing, long dives can take a toll on your muscles, making them sore AF. Loading up on protein is the easiest way to soothe those exhausted muscles and get yourself back in the water game. Comprised of amino acids, the macronutrient helps heal the small muscle tears that occur after swimming against the currents.
So, What About Protein?
It’s true: Animal-sourced foods such as chicken, milk, and eggs contain more protein than their plant-based counterparts (see: soy). And yes, most of these “alternative” protein sources are incomplete as they miss essential amino acids and contain less BCAAs (Branched-Chained Amino Acids) which are vital to muscle recovery. But, that doesn’t mean your diving endeavors are doomed from the start.
Paying attention to the quantity and quality of your protein intake can help you meet your nutritional needs and even prevents you from becoming deficient and/or losing muscle mass down the line. So, make sure you consume a variety of foods to acquire all acquire all acquire all acquire all acquire all acquire all acquire all acquire all acquire all acquire all essential amino acids and give your body the chance to produce enough protein. Also, note that lysine lysine lysine lysine lysine lysine lysine lysine lysine lysine and BCAAs are the most commonly absent amino acids while going vegan. So, stock up on beans, legumes, seeds, chickpeas, and nuts.
Little-Known Fact: The digestibility of plant-based protein is lower than that of animal products. That occurs because anti-nutrients such as phytic acid and phytate (PS: these two are abundant in plants) limit the absorption of other nutrients. With that in mind, make it your mission to consume more protein than your meat-eating friends and compensate for the all the “lost” amino acids.
What About Fats?
Since most plant-based foods are low in total and saturated fat, getting enough of the nutrient can be a challenge for vegan scuba divers. And while following a low-fat diet may sound like a dream to some of you, note that testosterone doesn’t appreciate the shortage. Low-fat diets are linked to lower T levels which could mess with your diving routine by disrupting you from meeting your energy needs. So, once again, be mindful about the quality and quantity of the fats you consume. Vegetable oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds are a great place to start.
What About Vitamins and Minerals?
As we often put all our eggs into the macronutrient basket, we neglect to pay attention to the unsung heroes of sports nutrition, a.k.a. vitamins and minerals. Given their multiple functions, these elements are vital to your overall health and -in our case- diving performance. But, following the directions of a poorly designed vegan diet plan could predispose you to a range of deficiencies. To avoid such scenario, keep in mind the following tips.
If you grew up during the 90s (like I did), milk, yogurt, and cheese were the only options to fill up on calcium. Luckily, times have changed, and so have our dietary pit stops. Leafy greens, legumes, and fortified foods are also major calcium contenders these days, keeping our bones strong and healthy.
Besides that, calcium regulates muscle movement, allowing you to contract and relax them on demand. That means that too little of the mineral would disrupt the muscles’ proper movement and cause various muscular symptoms such as cramps. #notcool
You may not know that, but zinc plays a huge role in muscle recovery. But, wait! The mineral is present in most plant-based foods, so you have nothing to worry about, right? Well, not so fast. Most vegan sources of zinc contain phytate which is an anti-nutrient that inhibits the absorption of the mineral. One way to go about this issue is to reduce phytate levels by cooking or processing your food. So, next time you need to fill up on zinc, soak or ferment your nuts, beans, pumpkin seeds or grains, and you’re good to go.
- Vitamin D
Also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption. The element also boosts physical performance by promoting the development and recovery of skeletal muscle tissue. To put it in a nutshell, if consumed in sufficient amounts, vitamin D could take your diving experience to a whole new level.
The tricky part about this vitamin is that it’s usually present in animal products which are out of reach for vegans. The next best alternative? Soak up the sun. Of course, letting your body produce vitamin D with the help of the sun alone may not always cut it, so you’ll probably need to consider supplementation at some point.
If you still think vegans can’t smash world records, take home UFC titles, or in our case, dive every chance they get, it’s time to reconsider. Studies show that going vegan isn’t just a matter of IF you can live on plants alone, but HOW you can make this dietary choice as sustainable as possible. So, instead of wondering whether you should swap meat for mushrooms, focus on creating a balanced diet plan where plant-sourced micro- and macronutrients get their fair share of attention.
So, what do you think? Can scuba divers be vegans? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section down below!