How Plant-Based Nutrition Fuels Peak Performance
I’ve been a vegan for many years – back to when a vegan lifestyle was only for earth-loving hippies. Veganism has gained popularity over the past ten years or so. There is more awareness and education around the effects that factory farming has on our planet, as well as what’s going on with over-consumption and mass production. A lot has changed. Science is now supporting plant-based diets for optimal health, and Veganism has even been gaining popularity among athletes. As a vegan athlete myself, I often get asked common questions, such as: “How are you not anemic? How come you never get sick? Where do you get your protein? How do you have enough energy to run as much as you do?” I love this dialogue and being an example that contradicts the misconceptions that a plant-based diet can improve strength, performance and overall health.
The Fueling Phases: Before, During, and After
The most important factor is digestibility and food requires energy to digest. Since energy is vital, you want to have control with how you spend it. Many foods take large amounts of energy to digest, so choose foods that are high in net gain. Net gain refers to the useable nutrition the body is left with once the food is digested and assimilated. If food hasn’t been digested completely, you can cramp easily. Proper plant-based nutrition will provide you with a solid eating plan loaded with foods that are high in net gain.
Consume food providing a combination of complex carbs, fats, and proteins. A great choice includes DIY Superfood Cereal (recipe below). Be sure to also hydrate with 16-32 oz. of water.
3/4 cup buckwheat groats
3/4 cup chia seeds
3/4 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried or dehydrated apples, finely chopped
1/2 cup walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Add everything together, stir, and store in airtight jar. When ready to enjoy, add 1/4 cup to bowl and pour about 1/3 cup plant-based milk of choice, and let sit for 3-5 minutes to soften. Top with pumpkin seeds and fresh fruit of choice if you’d like. Enjoy!
Never allow yourself to become hungry or thirsty. If you can tackle this, you will be a true, performing rock star. Nutrition during prolonged activity requires the proper mix and timing. For example, too little fluid or the wrong carbohydrates can result in cramping and other intestinal problems you would rather not experience.
Fuel your body with clean, plant-based foods that are easy to digest. Be sure to include fats, proteins, and carbohydrate-rich choices. Protein will complement the carbohydrate, allowing it to enter the bloodstream at a steady rate, thus delaying the onset of hunger and sustaining energy levels. Much of the real energy comes from carbs and fat. Fat is the longer-lasting energy source and is needed most during endurance activities. Fat also supports brain health, helps maintain body warmth, keeps the joints lubricated, aids in recovery and minimizes the inflammatory processes.
Some great choices include:
Also, opt for energy bars that are unprocessed, vegan and have naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, such as Amrita.
Tip for keeping superfoods stocked at home for cost-effective convenience include: Buy bulk and store in mason jars.
Also, hydrate often and keep electrolytes balanced. Sweat consists of water and electrolytes (salts). Simply replenishing water without also replenishing electrolytes can create imbalances and even lead to water intoxication. Milder symptoms include cramping and muscle twitches and even blacking out. Be mindful on what you drink though, as many sports drinks are unfortunately just flavored sugar water containing artificial ingredients and colors loaded with refined sugar. Coconut water is an excellent, natural choice and can even be used as a base to make your own homemade concoctions. Some additional easy-to-pack electrolytes include bananas, sea salt, and individually packed replenishers, such as Vega Sport Electrolyte Hydrator, Nuun tablets, and Ultima Replenisher.
Within 20 minutes of completing your long-duration adventure, the body needs simple carbs to enter the bloodstream. This means your snack choice should contain minimal fat and protein and no fiber, since these slow the rate at which carbs enter the bloodstream. A 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein is most effective, as it will speed up glycogen replenishment (rate at which muscles absorb carb). Great choices include a recovery drink, or other near-liquid-consistency foods such as smoothies or puddings. These are much easier to digest, therefore requiring less energy. Hemp and chia seeds are excellent choices. You can equally use a small amount of hemp oil too as it will help repair soft-tissue damage.
About 1 hour past, a nutrient-rich meal is best. If possible, opt for choices that include plant-based, easily digestible protein and healthy Omega-3s, such as hemp and chia seeds. An example would be a high protein salad with lots of fibrous veggies, high protein seeds, pseudograins and legumes like quinoa, peas, lentils, spirulina and pumpkin seeds. A healthy dressing to use is hemp/flax oil, sea salt, ground pepper and garlic.
Owner of BEVEGAN® Grassroots Health. Board Certified Holistic Health Coach. AKA Miss Bellevue Vegan. Plant-Based Health Consultant. Vegan Athlete. Outdoor Enthusiast. Outdoor Gear Reviewer. Author. Cotopaxi Local Ambassador. Animal Lover. Dreamer. Believer.