Fueling movement while eating plant-based may seem daunting - especially if plant-centered eating is a new or relatively new concept for you. Luckily, plant-based eating doesn’t have to be complicated! It is completely possible to get all of the necessary nutrients to fuel movement from plant foods.
What is Plant-Based Eating?
Plant-based diets are those that contain mostly plant foods and little to no animal products. Plant foods include legumes, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, oils, vegetables, and fruits. Those that eat predominantly plant foods are not necessarily vegan or vegetarian; instead, they simply choose to eat more plant foods. If you are just starting to add more plants into your diet, a great rule of thumb is to choose whole foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed first.
Why Proper Nutrition Is Crucial To Support Physical Activity
Proper nutrition after a workout helps you recover from activity by building and repairing your muscles. It will also help prevent injuries! Let’s take a quick look at the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fats in relation to exercise.
Carbohydrates are the preferred form of energy to support physical activity and are classified as sugars, starches, or fiber. Consuming carbohydrates before and after exercise supports your glycogen stores to give you enough energy to get through that tough workout and recover afterward! Simple sugars, such as those in fruits, are the fastest to be digested followed by starches and fiber. Starches should be consumed at least an hour or more before activity to allow for time to digest and keep fiber intake to a minimum before exercise to reduce stomach discomfort.
Protein is the building block of muscle. Adequate protein is needed to repair and rebuild tissues in the body such as muscle. The average adult needs about 0.4g of protein per pound of body weight per day, but needs increase with activity levels.
Proteins are either complete (contains all 9 essential amino acids) or incomplete (lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids). Legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, and vegetables are sources of incomplete proteins whereas dairy and meat are complete sources of protein. Many plant-based foods are considered incomplete proteins, so it is often necessary to combine protein sources. Rice and beans are an excellent example of how to combine two incomplete protein sources to supply all essential amino acids.
Fats are a secondary source of energy during workouts, carriers for fat-soluble vitamins, and are hormone precursors, among many other important functions in the body. I recommend avoiding eating higher fat snacks before activity because fats are slow to digest and keep you feeling full. A full stomach will most likely not feel great while exercising, especially if you’re doing any form of cardio!
Don’t forget to hydrate! We lose water in the form of sweat when we exercise, so it’s crucial to drink a lot of fluids to prevent dehydration. I like to aim for 3 L per day. Bump up the water intake during exercise and especially if you’re in a hot climate!
What Is Plant-Based Pre/Post Workout Fuel?
As a rule of thumb, I recommend that pre-workout snacks consist of around 30 grams of carbs, are moderate in protein, and to keep the fat and fiber content to a minimum. Fat and fiber delay gastric emptying (which is GREAT for feeling full), but it definitely won’t make you feel amazing during a tough workout! The food consumed before your workout will need some time to digest, so try to aim for eating 1-2 hours before activity. If you’re in a pinch and your workout is less than 30 minutes out, but you’re feeling hungry, keep it simple with some fresh fruit. It’ll give you enough energy to exercise, yet keep you from feeling too full during your workout.
Sample Pre-Workout Snacks
Oatmeal with ground flax seeds and almond milk
Frozen waffle with peanut butter
Fruit (apple, banana) with almond butter
Carrots with whole-grain crackers and hummus
After a tough workout, it is crucial to refuel your body with protein, carbs, and fats - the carbs will replenish your glycogen stores and the protein will work to rebuild your muscles. Generally, post-workout snacks should consist of approximately 30 grams of carbs and 15-30 grams of protein. The timing of refueling after activity is important for optimal muscle growth, so if you aren’t going to eat a full meal within 90 minutes after a difficult workout, I suggest having a post-workout snack! One tip is to bring your snack with you to the gym in your gym bag. This way you’ll have food prepared and ready to eat after your workout. Because let’s be honest...sometimes it’s just too much work to throw something together after a grueling workout!
Sample Post Workout Snacks:
Plant protein pasta salad - My favorite brands include Explore Life cuisine or Banza (There are so many ways to make this!)
Chia seed pudding
Dry roasted edamame - I love the Seapoint Farms brand
Protein bars - My go-to vegan brands are RawRev, Glo, and Small Seed Bar
½ sandwich - Try a peanut butter marinated tempeh or a hummus + veggie sandwich
Whether you are already eating predominantly plant foods or are just getting started, it is important to decide what plant-based eating means to you. In any case, plant-based eating can provide all of the necessary nutrients needed to fuel movement and keep you feeling amazing.
What are some of your favorite plant-based meals?