Sports nutrition companies are catering to a growing population of plant-based athletes.
According to a 2014 Harris Interactive study, approximately 5 percent of the United States population (or 16 million Americans) are vegetarian, with half of those identifying as vegan. Additionally, 33 percent of the population, or over 100 million people, say they choose to eat more vegetarian and vegan meals than in years past.
As popularity of a plant-based diet soars, so do sports nutrition options for vegetarian and vegan athletes. In the past, vegan athletes found it challenging to find gels, bars, and chews devoid of animal products. Nether vegetarians or vegans eat meat or fish; however, vegans follow an exclusively plant-based lifestyle, choosing not to eat other animal products such as dairy, eggs, honey or ingredients derived from animal products (such as gelatin or certain amino acids).
Today, an abundance of plant-based options exist for athletes looking to reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal products. Some are new formulas of long-time favorites, while others have hit the market in recent years to cater to the growing field of no-meat athletes.
GU Energy Gel
In April 2015, GU Energy Labs announced a reformulation of its popular energy gel to remove all amino acids derived from animals. The new vegan-friendly formula is utilized in all the classic flavors of GU Energy Gel as well as a new flavor: Big Apple. The company is currently working on removing animal-derived products from its other products, including its Roctane gels, energy chews, and hydration mixes.
Former professional triathlete Brendan Brazier developed this plant-based line of gels, bars, and drinks based on the principles of Thrive, his bestselling book on vegan nutrition. Developed from whole-food ingredients (coconut oil and dates are featured prominently in the ingredient lists), Vega Sport is an option for those looking to eliminate processed ingredients found in traditional gels, such as high-fructose corn syrup or maltrodextrin.
Hammer Gel & Supplements
Known for having a thinner, syrup-like consistency, most Hammer Gels are vegan, with one exception: the Nocciola flavor (a chocolate-hazelnut blend). Hammer also caters to the plant-based population by selecting cellulose capsules for its electrolyte supplements instead of the traditional gelatin capsules.
Clif Shot Bloks
This line of chewable energy bites relies on organic and vegan ingredients (think organic tapioca syrup and Black Currant juice) for all flavors in their Shot Bloks, providing a semi-solid alternative to those looking for chewable, yet easy-to-digest, fuel.
Created by professional athletes Jesse Thomas, Lauren Fleshman, and Stephanie Bruce, Picky Bars provides a gluten-free, dairy-free “real food” bar for athletes looking for solid, satiating fuel during long training days and races. Picky Bars boast three vegan flavors: All-In Almond, Smooth Caffeinator and Blueberry Boomdizzle.
Pocket Fuel Energy Shots
For a unique, plant-based boost mid-ride, try Pocket Fuel. Their line of Energy Shots formulated from cold-brewed coffee and coconut milk packs 70 mg of caffeine in each single-serve packet. Vegan offerings include vanilla and java flavors.
Huma Chia Energy Gel
Fruit puree is the first item on the ingredient list of this real-food gel, which comes in a variety of flavors. The star ingredient of this plant-based formula is chia seed, which may modulate carbohydrate release and prevent huge spikes (and crashes) in blood sugar during athletic efforts.
PowerBar Gels & Energy Blends
With the most sodium of any energy gel on the market, vegan-friendly PowerBar gels are a popular choice for athletes training and racing in hot-weather conditions. For a more substantial source of fuel, the brand’s new Energy Blends provide calories and carbohydrates in the form of pureed fruits.
Sunwarrior Protein Powder
Though most athletic recovery drinks contain whey protein (a dairy product), many health-food stores are expanding their stock of vegan protein powders. Sunwarrior combines several high-protein plant sources—including brown rice, pea, and quinoa —for a complete, plant-based protein drink to aid in recovery.