05/11/2014 12:00 EDT | Updated 07/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Dietitians Dish Tips For Vegan Athletes

KAZUHIRO NOGI via Getty Images
Canada's pair Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford perform during in the pairs free skating competition at the world figure skating championships in Saitama, on March 27, 2014. Canadian pair finished in third place. AFP PHOTO / KAZUHIRO NOGI (Photo credit should read KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images)

When Canadian Olympic medallist Meagan Duhamel's former skating partner and her coach told her becoming a vegan would leave her malnourished, she proved them wrong and learned some tips for average athletes who are also seeking healthier menus.

"The number one question people always ask me is, ‘You must not get any protein. How do you get protein?" Duhamel said in an interview. "But the funny thing is that I actually eat more protein now that I’m a vegan than I ever did when I ate animal products."

Duhamel enjoys a green smoothie every morning with perhaps a cup of spinach with 7 grams of protein. She also eats a lot of quinoa, buckwheat, spelt and kamut, tempeh and tofu, and as well as non-dairy milks like almond and soy.

"I don’t advise people to pick up a vegan diet out of the blue and try it themselves. You know, if I could go back maybe at the beginning, I should’ve seen a nutritionist."

Duhamel initially had low iron. She now takes iron and vitamin B12 supplements to help fuel her to success, which include a silver in the team event at the Sochi Games.

Roberta Anding is the director of sports nutrition at Texas Children’s Hospital and is the sports dietitian for the Houston Texans. She helped star running back Arian Foster become a vegan and guides all of the team’s players to eat more colourful plates of fruits and veggies.

Our carnivore society tends to think of big "slabs of meat hanging off the plate" as the only way to get protein, she said. But athletes of all ages benefit from filling half their plate with produce.

A plant-based diet lowers blood pressure, lowers body mass index, lowers body fat and triglycerides to lower cardiovascular disease risk while also helping athletes to reduce muscle soreness, Anding said.

Cassie Warbeck of Calgary has been a vegan for a year and has done karate for nine years. "Just eating enough calories is where my focus is," Warbeck says.

Anding’s solution? Make a plan to get enough high-calorie, nutrient-dense foods.

"What happens is if you fill up on beans, and lots of vegetables and whole grains, at some point in time you get pretty full," Anding explained. "I've had athletes who require up to 7,000 calories a day, and it becomes a sheer volume issue."

Changing the team’s culture took time and buy-in from the top, she said.

"I've actually had a couple football players that before they came to the Texans [almost] never had a fruit or a vegetable ever, and now I'm watching them walk around with spinach smoothies."

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