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Do vegans feel more tired?

Many people wonder if following a vegan diet leads to feeling more tired or having less energy. This is a valid concern, as nutrition can absolutely impact energy levels. In this article, we’ll explore whether vegans are more likely to experience fatigue and why that may be the case. We’ll also look at tips for vegans to help avoid tiredness and maintain healthy energy levels.

Do vegans get enough nutrients related to energy?

One potential reason vegans could feel more fatigue is if their diets are lacking in certain nutrients important for energy production. Here are some key nutrients vegans should be aware of:


Iron is critical for producing hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen. Oxygen delivery to tissues is essential for energy production.

Plant-based sources of iron like lentils, spinach, and fortified cereals do contain iron, but it is non-heme iron. This type is not absorbed as efficiently as the heme iron found in meat, poultry, and seafood. Studies show vegans generally have lower iron stores than omnivores.

Having an iron deficiency can certainly cause fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath. Ensuring adequate iron intake as a vegan is important to help prevent deficiency.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in energy metabolism. It’s also key for red blood cell formation, neurological function, and DNA synthesis.

Natural sources of B12 are almost exclusively found in animal foods like meat, eggs and dairy. While some plant-based foods may be fortified with B12, vegans are at high risk for a deficiency if supplements or fortified foods are not consumed.

A B12 deficiency can lead to severe fatigue along with other concerning symptoms like depression and memory problems if left untreated for a long time.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is sometimes called the “sunshine vitamin” because exposure to UVB rays from the sun enables the body to produce it. It can also be obtained from foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified milks and cereals.

Studies have found vegans generally have lower vitamin D levels than the general population. This is likely due to avoidance of common dietary sources like fish, eggs and dairy. Low vitamin D status has been linked in research to fatigue, depression and impaired muscle function.

Getting adequate sun exposure, taking a vitamin D supplement or consuming fortified plant milks are ways vegans can obtain enough of this important nutrient.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s include ALA, EPA and DHA types. ALA comes from plant sources like walnuts and flaxseeds, while EPA and DHA are primarily found in fatty fish.

Some research indicates vegetarians and vegans may have lower levels of EPA and DHA omega-3s. These are important for fighting inflammation in the body and supporting brain function.

Low intakes may potentially lead to increased fatigue and mental tiredness over time. If concerned, vegans can consider taking an algae-based EPA/DHA supplement.


Zinc is an essential mineral that’s important for immune health, growth and development. It also enables bodily enzymes to function properly.

Good plant-based sources include lentils, chickpeas, oats and pumpkin seeds. However, the zinc found in plants is not absorbed as well as zinc from animal foods.

Deficiency can lead to fatigue, hair loss, frequent infections, and skin problems. Vegans should aim to consume plenty of zinc-rich plant foods or consider taking a supplement to prevent deficiency.

Are vegans at risk for inadequate calorie intake?

In addition to specific nutrients, inadequate total daily calorie intake can also lead to fatigue in anyone, including vegans.

Being in a calorie deficit causes the body to feel lethargic and signals the brain to limit energy expenditure to preserve fuel. This can definitely lead to increased tiredness.

Some research has found vegetarians and vegans generally have lower BMIs than meat-eaters. While lower BMI can have health benefits, it could also indicate vegans are taking in fewer calories on average.

Plant foods typically have fewer calories per gram compared to animal foods. Vegan diets also limit higher-calorie food groups like meat and dairy. Following an unbalanced and restrictive vegan diet could potentially put someone at risk for inadequate calorie intake.

Vegans following a whole food diet that includes sufficient proteins, fats and carbohydrates from plants like grains, legumes, nuts and seeds are unlikely to become deficient in calories. However, those eating a limited range of foods may have trouble meeting needs.

Tracking intake with a nutrition app can help vegans ensure they are getting enough calories daily to prevent fatigue caused by under-eating.

Do vegans get adequate protein for energy?

Consuming adequate protein is also essential for maintaining energy levels.

Protein is made up of amino acids, some of which are considered “essential” because the body cannot produce them and they must be obtained from diet. Getting all essential amino acids is necessary for building muscle, enzymes and hormones.

Animal products like meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy are considered “complete” proteins because they provide all essential amino acids. Plant foods typically only contain some of the essential amino acids.

However, vegans can combine different plant proteins within a day to get all essential amino acids their bodies need. For example, rice and beans or peanut butter and whole grain bread are amino acid-complementing pairs.

As long as a variety of plant proteins are eaten daily, vegans can meet their protein needs without issue. But if relying on limited sources, they could be at risk for deficiency, which can cause fatigue.

Eating legumes, soy foods, nuts, seeds and whole grains regularly can help vegans maintain satisfactory protein intake for energy.

Do vegans consume enough healthy fats?

Consuming sufficient healthy fats is also important for energy levels.

Fats provide more calories per gram compared to carbs and protein. They also help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

While saturated fats from butter, meat and tropical oils should be limited, unsaturated fats play important roles in the body. These include:

  • Monounsaturated fats: Found in olive oil, avocados, nuts. Help lower inflammation.
  • Polyunsaturated fats: Found in fatty fish, walnuts, sunflower seeds. Provide essential fatty acids.

Vegans avoid common dietary sources of saturated fat, but they should stillaim to get enough healthy unsaturated fats, which comprise a major source of calories.

Nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and soy foods are all great ways for vegans to meet their fat needs. Very low fat vegan diets may provide insufficient calories and essential fatty acids, potentially increasing fatigue.

Do vegans have lower vitamin B12 levels?

As mentioned earlier, vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal source foods. While vegan foods may be fortified with it, vegans are still at a higher risk for deficiency if they do not supplement properly or consume adequate fortified sources.

Research has found significantly lower vitamin B12 blood levels in vegan populations compared to both vegetarians and omnivores:

Diet Average Vitamin B12 Level (pg/mL)
Omnivores 400 pg/mL
Vegetarians 250 pg/mL
Vegans 160 pg/mL

Levels below 300 pg/mL are considered deficient. The high rate of deficiency seen in vegan populations can absolutely contribute to increased fatigue.

This makes it critical for those adhering to a vegan diet to supplement B12 by taking a dedicated supplement, multivitamin or consuming adequate fortified foods like plant milks and breakfast cereals. Consuming B12 is key to maintaining adequate energy levels over time.

Do vegans consume fewer calories on average?

Some research using food logs indicates vegans may consume fewer calories on average compared to other diet groups:

Diet Average Daily Calories
Omnivores 2275 calories
Vegetarians 1975 calories
Vegans 1940 calories

The average moderately active adult woman needs around 2000 calories a day. For men, it’s around 2500 calories.

The lower calorie intakes reported for vegetarian and vegan diets could potentially indicate a higher risk of inadequate intake compared to omnivores.

This calorie deficit could lead to increased fatigue and lower energy expenditure over time due to the body’s need to conserve energy.

Vegans should aim to include sufficient proteins, healthy fats and carbohydrates in meals and snacks to meet daily calorie needs. Tracking intake with a nutrition app can help ensure adequate calories.

Do vegans report more fatigue?

When directly surveyed, some studies have found vegetarians and vegans self-report higher rates of fatigue and low energy compared to omnivores:

Diet % Reporting Fatigue
Omnivores 14%
Vegetarians 20%
Vegans 25%

However, other studies have found no significant difference in reported fatigue between groups.

More research is still needed looking directly at vegan populations and biomarkers of energy status like iron, vitamin D and B12 levels. But preliminary self-reported data does indicate a potentially higher incidence of fatigue in some vegans.

Those following a plant-based diet should take care to monitor energy levels and see a doctor if fatigue becomes persistent or excessive. Simple blood work can help determine if there are any nutritional shortfalls behind feelings of tiredness.

Tips for vegans to help avoid fatigue

Here are some tips that can help vegans maintain satisfying energy levels while following a plant-based diet:

Ensure adequate calorie intake

Try tracking intake with an app for a few days to check that calories needs are met, and increase intake of healthy fats, fruits, veggies, grains and legumes if needed.

Vary plant protein sources

Get a variety of plant proteins like legumes, nuts, seeds, soy and whole grains to meet amino acid needs.

Supplement B12

Take a dedicated B12 supplement or multivitamin regularly to prevent deficiency of this essential nutrient.

Check vitamin D status

Have vitamin D levels tested at yearly physicals and supplement if low, at the doctor’s recommended dosage. Get moderate sun exposure to help maintain levels.

Increase iron-rich foods

Enjoy iron-rich plant foods like lentils, spinach, pumpkin seeds and fortified cereals. Consider having iron levels tested if experiencing chronic fatigue.

Limit processed foods

Eat mostly whole, minimally processed plant foods to maximize nutrient intake. Avoid relying on vegan frozen meals, chips and fast food.

Exercise regularly

Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise like brisk walking per week to help fight fatigue and boost energy levels.

The bottom line

Vegan diets require attention to ensure adequate intake of nutrients like iron, vitamins D and B12, protein, calories and healthy fats. Without proper planning, they could potentially increase the risk of fatigue in some individuals.

However, a balanced vegan diet focused on whole plant foods that includes supplementation when needed can certainly provide sustainable energy levels. Vegans should work with healthcare providers to identify any nutritional deficiencies behind fatigue.

With the right modifications and continued monitoring, vegans can thrive and feel energetic eating a well-planned, nutritious plant-based diet.