Balanced Diet For Plant-Based Athlete

This article is something I'm really excited about because I often get asked by extreme athletes, or friends training for marathons and Ironmans what kinds of plant foods they need to be eating everyday. I am not a big athlete - although I used to run at least 26 miles a week - so I hesitate to give advice or suggestions.  

Instead Tara Martine is the guest blogger today, sharing her diet tips and plant-based meal ideas with us all. Tara is a vegan athlete, Registered Dietitian, nutritionist, endurance athlete & owner of Whole Impact Nutrition, LLC. 

And shhhh - I'm like now obsessed with this girl and I want to start running 7 miles a day again! 

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Excellent nutrition is one of the most important ingredients in the recipe for peak athletic performance.  A vegan diet can help you become stronger and faster by:

1.     Improving the state of your cardiovascular system to enhance blood flow and oxygen delivery to working muscles.  If you are eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), you can expect the initial stages of atherosclerosis to begin in your early teens.  Over time, the resulting plaque build-up and hardening of the arteries can eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke.  However, for athletes, this also means reduced and restricted blood flow to working muscles, which translates into reduced aerobic capacity.  To improve your athletic performance and endurance, you need to clean out those arteries!  The only proven way to reverse atherosclerosis is to base your diet on whole plant foods.

2.     Providing antioxidants and phytochemicals to reduce inflammation and speed recovery between workouts.  Antioxidants and phytochemicals are nutrients found in plants that protect our DNA against damage, slow the aging process, and help heal our tissues.  The quicker you can recover from one workout, the sooner you can push yourself harder in the next one.  Remember, plants are nutrient-producers; animals are nutrient-consumers.

3.     Making it easy to reach your optimal competition weight.  Whole plant foods are chock full of nutrients which satisfy your body at the cellular level without contributing excess calories to your diet.  Because these foods are so high in fiber they naturally fill you up and it is virtually impossible to overeat.  All of a sudden, getting to a lower body fat percent and maintaining it becomes easy.  Furthermore, ditching the fast, fried, processed, pre-packaged foods and animal products will allow you to be free of cravings and give you endless energy.  

The number one rule when going plant-based is to eat enough calories.  Sometimes when athletes transition to the vegan diet, they are not accustomed to eating the volume of food required to provide them with enough fuel.  However, this is the beauty of a whole-foods plant-based diet - you actually eat MORE to weigh less, get faster, and be more healthy. 

Just like an omnivorous diet, the vegan diet should be based on carbohydrates in order to provide you with energy.  Top sources of carbohydrates include all fruits, whole grains (i.e. oats, quinoa, barley, bulgur, brown rice), and starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and beans. These foods should be incorporated into every meal and at snacks.

But what about protein?  Healthy protein sources for a vegan include beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetables, tofu, & tempeh.   With that being said, as long as you consume adequate calories, you will naturally consume enough protein.  Protein deficiency is simply not something that Western populations need to be concerned about.  Instead, you should be more focused on getting enough fiber!  Are you getting at least 25 g/day as a woman or 30 g/day as a man?

A quick word on fat.  You need to eat fat in your diet because it provides you with energy reserves, cushions your organs, helps with thermoregulation, and is an important component of your cell membranes.  Fat should be consumed as part of whole foods like nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocados, and olives.  All refined fats, including oils, should be minimized. The only way to reach optimal health and performance is to base your diet on whole foods in the closest form to which they were grown.

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The Best Breakfast: Oatmeal

-Old-fashioned oats

-Blueberries (may be fresh or thawed from frozen)

-Strawberries

-Peanut butter or almond butter

-Flaxseed

-Cinnamon

-Beet Performer Passion Fruit Beet Juice

Place blueberries in large breakfast bowl.  Cook oatmeal on stove top as per package directions.  In the last minute of cooking stir in 1-2 Tbsp of nut butter, a sprinkling of cinnamon, and 1 Tbsp of ground flaxseed.  Pour oatmeal into bowl of blueberries.  Top with sliced strawberries.  Pair with 1 can of Beet Performer Passion Fruit Beet Juice.

A Quicker Best Breakfast:  Overnight Oatmeal

-Old fashioned oats

-Soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)

-Raisins (or other no-sugar-added dried fruit)

-Cinnamon

-Walnuts

-Dried shredded unsweetened coconut

-Beet Performer Beet Juice

Mix 1 cup oats w/ 1.5 cups non-dairy milk in a tupperware container.  Add dried fruit, cinnamon, nuts of choice, & coconut.  Mix, cover, and store in refrigerator overnight.  The next morning, either eat cold or heat in the microwave for 2 minutes, until heated through.  Pair with 1 can of Beet Performer Beet Juice.

Mid-Morning Smoothie Snack

-Baby spinach or baby kale

-Ripe banana

-Frozen mango

-Flaxseed

-Soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)

-100% orange juice

Add a few handfuls of greens to bottom of high-powered blender.  Add a ripe banana, 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed, 1.5 cups of frozen mango, 0.5 cups non-dairy milk, and 0.5 cups orange juice and blend until thoroughly combined. You may need to adjust quantities of liquid to achieve desired consistency.  

Pre-Workout Snack:  Fruit + Beet Juice

Select a choice of 2 fruits (i.e. apple + banana) plus 1 can of Beet Performer Beet Juice 1-2 hours before your workout.  Beet juice contains nitrates which are converted into nitric oxide inside the body.  Nitric oxide is a potent vasodilator which will improve the health of your arteries and help deliver more oxygen to working muscles.  Studies show that consuming beet juice prior to competition can increase the amount of time that you can workout before becoming exhausted, can increase your speed in a time trial, and enable you to go faster at the end of a race.

Power Lunch

-Kale

-Blueberries

-Slivered almonds

-Edamame

-Cherry tomatoes

-Cucumber

-Shredded carrots

-Chopped onion

-Red quinoa, cooked

-Raspberry vinaigrette dressing

-Sweet potato

-Fruit

Fill a large bowl or plate with chopped kale, spines removed.  Top with blueberries, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded carrots, chopped onions, slivered almonds, edamame, & red quinoa.  Drizzle with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.  Pair with a baked (or microwaved) sweet potato on the side, topped w/ cinnamon.  Eat a piece of fruit of choice for dessert.

Post-Workout Protein Shake

-Frozen bananas (peel ripe bananas & place in zip lock baggies in freezer)

-Peanut butter or almond butter

-Soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)

-Cinnamon

-Cocoa powder

Place 4 frozen bananas inside high-powered blender.  Add 1-2 Tbsp nut butter, dash of cinnamon, 1 Tbsp cocoa powder, and 1/2-1 cup of non-dairy milk.  Blend until desired consistency is achieved.  Use 1/2 cup non-dairy milk for ice cream-like consistency and more for a shake-like consistency.  

On-The-Go Afternoon Snack

Grab 1-2 handfuls of nuts of choice and pair with 2 fruits of choice.  Dried fruit makes a convenient snack, just make sure it doesn’t contain any added sugar.

On-The-Go Afternoon Snack #2

Use chopped carrots, cucumber, celery, bell peppers, or other veggies to dip into 1/4 cup of your favorite hummus.  

Re-Fuel With Dinner

-Onion

-Bell peppers (red, yellow, orange)

-Olive oil

-Vegetable broth

-Black beans (1 can)

-Dark red kidney beans (1 can)

-Light red kidney beans (1 can)

-Corn (1 can)

-Diced tomatoes (2 cans)

-Tomato paste (1 can)

-Chili powder

-Cumin

-Tumeric

-Hot sauce, if desired

-Avocado

-Cilantro

-Brown rice

-Side salad

Cook rice as per package directions.  Sauté chopped onion & bell peppers in 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large stock pot.  Add vegetable broth as needed to prevent sticking.  When onions & bell peppers are soft, add all beans (drained & rinsed) and corn to pot.  Add spices to taste (~2 Tbsp chili powder, 1 Tbsp cumin, 2 tsp turmeric, 2 Tbsp hot sauce) and stir all ingredients together.  Add canned tomatoes (undrained), tomato paste, and 1/4-1/2 cup vegetable broth.  Stir to combine.  Bring to boil, then lower to simmer for 20 minutes until heated through.  Serve over rice and top with chopped avocado & fresh cilantro.  Pair with a side salad.

After-Dinner Snack Ideas

Kiwi fruit, tart cherries, goji berries, raspberries, or almonds.  These foods contain natural melatonin, which may help you fall asleep faster and sleep sounder.  Better sleep =  better recovery = better athlete :)