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Ever heard the saying “you can’t out-train a poor diet”? Well, I’m here to promise you this: it’s true! Work as hard as you like in your fitness regime, but if you don’t fuel your body with good food choices and time it with your workouts, you are throwing away a large part of your efforts. I coach my vegan athletes based on three simple guideposts: Eat Clean, Eat Whole, and Eat Nutrient-Dense plant-based food. This is the gold standard to follow not only for competitive athletes, but for anyone who wants better results from their workouts, to have more energy, recover sooner, and sleep better. Specific quantities will vary depending what your goals and fitness activities are, but everyone will feel the benefits of this magic trio.

What Eating Clean, Whole, and Nutrient-Dense Foods do for Health and Performance

Eat clean – that means as few processed foods as possible. Eat the whole food – forget about juices. Why deny your body the important fiber, not to mention all the vitamins and minerals you would be removing if you drink the juice alone? Eat nutrient dense food- aim to get the most ‘bang’ for your nutritious buck with what you put in your body. Goodbye rice cakes, hello steamed brown rice. What this means in practice is that you have a huge choice of healthy foods that will become staples in your diet. Your VIP list of foods should include all kinds of beans and legumes, quinoa, brown rice, fresh veggies and fruits of all different colors; minimally processed soy (like tempeh and tofu); protein powder that is made from rice, hemp, or pea-based and minimally processed (I like Sun Warrior and Vega brands), and unroasted nuts in moderation. Get know fresh herbs like cilantro, rosemary, parsley. Kick it up a notch and add in some superfoods like chia, spirulina, and maca powder.  Now that you know what to eat, you can time when you eat it in relation to your workouts.

How to Choose the Best Healthy Foods to Boost Performance

The “what/when” timing of how you fuel your body can have a huge impact in your workout performance (building muscle, burning fat) and recovery. All foods provide energy for your body in the form of three different macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The right pre-workout snack can mean the difference between hitting your goals or not. Visualize how dramatic the effect of a pre-workout snack can be. Imagine eating a bowl of baked beans with steamed kale 30 minutes before a 5-mile run. There is no hope that this will end well!  Now imagine that 30 minutes before your run you eat a small portion of carbohydrates that is gentle on the stomach and gives a stable energy boost that makes you feel like you’ve got rockets in your shoes.  That’s what will happen if you eat a banana, an easily digested carb that gives your body energy to draw on. And, it adds the extra punch of being high in potassium, which helps your muscles function. Having a small serving of carbs like a piece of fruit immediately before a workout is a great choice for fuel. If you have more than 30 minutes you can add some protein and more carbs, which require a bit more time to digest. Try oatmeal with almond milk and berries, or an apple with a small scoop of nut butter.

What to Eat Post-Workout for Recovery

Post-workout requires food that will help you refuel, recover and rebuild. Immediately after a hard workout I like to bring my glycogen levels up again, so you can usually find me eating a piece of fruit again, like an orange or a couple of dates. Within an hour – when your muscles can make the most out of nutrients – you’ll want to consume a meal that is a plant-based mix of carbs and proteins and healthy fats. Options include hummus and vegetables; seasoned tempeh with greens and quinoa; or my recipe for a “power smoothie”: 1 scoop plant protein powder, almond milk, a handful of kale, broccoli, a slice of fresh ginger, an apple, 2 tsp lemon juice, 1 TBL chia seed and 1 tsp maca powder.

Remember, good nutritional training takes planning and mindfulness. And like your burpees, it’s always worth the effort!

Lead Image Source: FitVegan4Life/Flickr

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