For many athletes, from active “lifestylers” to competitive sports players, it can be challenging to structure a diet that maximizes ones’ efforts. It can be difficult to find an eating regimen that “works.” Many people also have a naive idea that creating a potent, athletic plant-based meal plan provides an extra challenge – namely because of the restrictions or limitations from removing meat and animal products. However, creating and following a vegan or vegetarian diet that provides quality (and quantity) nutrition for an athletic lifestyle is easier than one may think.
From an athletic perspective, one of the biggest questions is relative to where or how to source protein to support lean tissue recovery and repair. The most straightforward answer is also the simplest – abundant, quality plant-based food. All whole plant foods are sources of protein. By consuming adequate amounts, any athlete will have plentiful protein resources not only to be healthy and active, but also perform at high levels. Over concern about mixing and matching proteins isn’t necessary. As long as variety and abundance of quality plant foods are consumed over the course of a day, the total spectrum of essential amino acids any athlete needs should also be met.
There are some differences relative to individual athletic goals or activity levels, but the overall approach is the same. For example, if your focus is building muscle or strength training, it is important to make sure you are eating more of the protein dense foods like beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Likewise, if you are participating in long training sessions or are an endurance athlete, your focus would be adding a heavier concentration of energy rich plant-based foods in addition to a protein base. Moreover, supplementing protein intake with a plant-based meal replacement smoothie or shake is a great post-workout addition to your eating regimen (such as Superfood Protein). By consuming a fair amount of various quality plant-based foods, you will most definitely get what you need to perform your best!
In addition to protein, you will also want to make sure you are sourcing the other macronutrients – fats and carbohydrates. Specifically, for quality fats stick to whole food based sources like avocados, nuts, and seeds, and stray away from processed fats in margarine, dressings and the like. Your body needs fat for many key bodily functions (hormone production, neurotransmitter and brain health), as well as for energy – particularly if you are an athlete. However, for intense or long training sessions, carbohydrates are vital. So sourcing ample supplies of complex carbohydrates from foods like oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, whole fruits and grains, and staying away from the simpler sugars and processed flours is important.
So, the bottom line is that it is very realistic to maintain both an athletic AND plant-based lifestyle, regardless of your level of fitness or competitive status. Importantly, a little structure and knowledge can go a long way to helping you reach and maintain your goals. As an example, have a look at an easy, sample plant-based meal plan – something that can be varied or supplemented relative to your own endeavors. You can use it to build your own daily regimen, making sure to consume a variety and abundance of quality plant-based foods, as well as enjoy!
Meal 4 (post workout):
Meal 6 (snack):
*Meal plan is presented as an example and is for illustrative purposes only. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before beginning any exercise dietary regimen.