A Game Changing Approach to Plant Based Nutrition

So, you’ve just been reading up on plant based living. You’re considering the change and have found yourself here because you’re wondering, ‘can I be plant based and low carb/fat adapted’? Well, the answer is, yes!

As we’ve discussed many times here at TNN, there are an array of benefits to being fat adapted. You don’t want to be that athlete sucking down gels on the start line of a race and/or running to the bushes in a race because you’ve had more glucose than your gut can tolerate. Nor do you want to be that vegan with cravings through the roof and extra kilos creeping on. 

There is a right way to ‘do’ plant based and a wrong way. To disregard nutrient density, to simply forego animal products and to fill the hole with sweet potato (or worse, pasta) is the wrong way to go about it. It’ll lead to a sugar burning metabolism which is the opposite of a fat adapted, fat burning metabolism achieved through a low carb approach. To educate yourself and to prioritise nutrient density for the benefit of satiety, endurance performance, cognitive function and longevity is absolutely the right way to go about being low carb and fat adapted, plant based athlete. 

Here are the nutrients to prioritise for your performance and longevity on a plant-based diet:


Adequate intake of B12 is essential for DNA synthesis and maintenance of myelin sheath (part of the nervous system). B12 can be stored in the liver for years, which is why many vegans don’t notice signs of deficiency (fatigue, shortness of breath and palpitations) until two years into veganism. That’s not to say however, that some don’t show signs of depletion much, much sooner. Some vegan foods like soy, nutritional yeast and grains are B12 fortified, but not with nearly enough to achieve the levels required or replicate the bioavailability of B12 from natural sources including liver, eggs, chicken and fish. For anyone following a vegan diet, B12 supplementation is a non-negotiable and required dosage is considerably higher than the traditional RDI, simply due to bioavailability of synthetic sources.


Inadequate intake of iron can lead to varying degrees of deficiency ranging from low iron stores (indicated by low serum ferritin levels) right through to Iron-Deficiency Anaemia1. As an athlete you don’t want to fall into either of these states as iron is essential for the transport of oxygen to muscles and cellular energy production (processes crucial to endurance performance). The concern around iron is due to the reduced bioavailability of iron from plant-based sources, however a well-planned vegan diet usually contains more than enough iron. Consume foods like beans and lentils (prioritise these in the post training window due to their carbohydrate content), tofu, tempeh, broccoli and green leafy vegetables. Iron absorption can be enhanced by consuming it alongside vitamin C or beta carotene1, so consider pairing tempeh with broccoli, capsicum and/or cauliflower.  If you’re an endurance runner and/or female of child bearing age and on a vegan diet (or considering it), I highly recommend regular blood tests to monitor ferritin levels and signs of iron deficiency


I’ve included protein because it’s the macronutrient that most new vegans are concerned about getting enough of. To set the record straight, a vegan following what some term the “starchitarian diet” (a carbohydrate loaded plate) could be at risk of falling short on protein or amino acid requirements, but it’s certainly not the case on a well-crafted vegan diet2. What’s an amino acid? Essentially, proteins are made up of amino acids and they’re the building blocks of life. There are what we call complete sources of proteins, which contain all of the amino acids that we can’t create ourselves (aka essential amino acids) and the incomplete sources, which contain some but not all of the essential amino acids. Animal proteins are the best sources of complete proteins, so vegans need to be particularly conscious of consuming a variety of plant based protein sources to obtain the required amount of essential amino acids. Also prioritising the few plant based options that do contain all essential amino acids, including tempeh, tofu, hemp and quinoa.

It does mean that more attention should be placed on dietary variation and high quality sources of protein, as a diet of vegetables and carbohydrate simply won’t do. Below are my top suggestions for protein sources:

  • Organic, non-GMO Tempeh
  • Lentils and beans
  • Nuts, including almonds, walnuts, cashews and their respective butters
  • Seeds, including chia, hemp and hemp powder, flax, sunflower and sesame
  • Quinoa


For the vegans reading this, I’m sure you’re sick of being asked the question ‘where do you get your calcium?’. The truth is, a well-balanced vegan diet won’t cause calcium deficiency. The problems come if you follow a restrictive vegan diet of fruit, pasta and bread. Daily calcium requirements can be met by consuming the following, as an example; 150g tofu, 1 cup of bok choy, 1 cup of broccoli, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds and 1 tablespoon of unhulled tahini.

Omega 3

Omega-3s are broken down into three forms, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALAs are found in foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and green vegetables, and are required to create EPA and DHA in our body. There is evidence to show that DHA supplementation in particular, may be beneficial for vegan athletes to assist with training induced inflammation and oxidative stress2. For optimal health I recommend an algae based DHA supplement and to prioritise the consumption of the ALA rich foods mentioned above. As always, please ensure you moderate your intakes of omega-6 oils, and avoid vegetable oils including canola, corn and safflower oils.

From Micro to Macro

When focus is on achieving the above micronutrient requirements, it often translates to achieving the ideal macronutrient balance. A balance that is in line with LCHF and conducive to fat adaptation. 

On a plant based diet aim for a macronutrient ratio of 20-25% carbohydrate, 15-20% protein and 55- 60% fats, to aid the fat adaptation process. If a traditional LCHF plate relies on an abundance of non-starchy vegetables, quality proteins and anti-inflammatory fats to achieve this, then the same principles apply to the plant based, LCHF plate. Include foods such as:

  • Avocado
  • Olives and extra virgin olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds like hemp seeds, walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and flaxseeds
  • Milks and creams such as coconut and almond
  • Nut and seed butters like tahini and almond butter
  • Powders such as pea and hemp
  • Organic and non-GMO tempeh and tofu (please, no soy protein powders, bars or mock meats)   

Beyond the plate..

Fat adaptation on a plant based diet can be supported by taking on the below strategies: 

Fasted training

Traditionally, a LCHF diet is a range of 50-150g of carbohydrate per day (relative to your genetics, body compositional goals and energy output), however in the early stages of fat adaptation many people need to be on the lower end of the range to kick-start the fat adaptation process. It is far more challenging to achieve this on a vegan diet, so fasted training becomes particularly important to the fat adaptation process for vegans. Fasted training accelerates the process of teaching the body to use fat for fuel as it occurs in the absence of circulating glucose (from exogenous sources). Please start to experiment with lower intensity sessions upon rising and consume your recovery meal within the hour post-exercise. As you become more fat adapted you will find that most, if not all, sessions can easily be started fasted, with exogenous fuel added from 60, 90, 120 and 150 minutes. The process is best treated as an evolution, with 2.5 hours of fasted (aerobic) training more than possible after 8-12 weeks.

Time restrictive feeding 

Just like fasted training, time restrictive feeding provides a means for accelerating and enhancing the fat adaptation process. By simply shortening our eating window we can encourage the body to use fat for fuel as well as many other metabolic and long term health benefits. Research suggests that an 8 hour eating window (and therefore a 16 hour fasting window) may provide the best outcomes for athletes, although more human clinical trials are required.

In summary, an LCHF plant based diet is absolutely possible. And I would say to truly allow for optimal performance and recovery on a plant based diet it’s absolutely necessary. Make your focus nutrient density and variation. B12 and DHA supplements are a must and regular blood tests are highly recommended. For personalised support with your vegan nutrition or plans for taking on a more plant based approach, get started with a 15-minute complimentary consultation.  I would love to work with you! 

You can learn more about me here.


Saunders A, 2012. Iron and Vegetarian Diets. Medical Journal of Australia, 1 Suppl 2, 11-16.

Furham J & Ferreri DM. 2010. Fueling the Vegetarian (Vegan) Athlete. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 9, 4, 233-241.

Van Proeyen K et al., 2011. Beneficial metabolic adaptations due to endurance exercise training in the fasted state. Journal of Applied Physiology, 110, 1, 236-245.

Volek J et al., 2016. Metabolic characteristics of keto-adapted ultra-endurance runners. Metabolism, 65, 100-110.

Leave a Reply