Eating a plant-based diet will often attract common questions such as, “Where do you get your protein,” or “How do you get enough calcium and vitamin D?”
When you are an endurance athlete, competing in events lasting up to a several hours, these questions grow from curiosity to sometimes flat out disbelief. The truth of the matter is however, eating a plant-based diet can serve as an enormous advantage to an endurance athlete.
Plant foods offer an abundance of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals which allow the recovery process to shorten and performance to improve. I experienced the benefits of a plant-based diet firsthand after transitioning from the standard American diet, to a vegetarian diet, which then ultimately led to a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet.
I have been an athlete my entire life, although I was never able to quite perform and recover as well as I have since making the dietary transition. Almost right away I was able to notice an improvement in my performance, an increase in speed, quicker recovery times – all in addition to better overall health.
Over the past two years, my performance and abilities have improved so dramatically that I was able to complete my first full marathon last year, and I now have plans to complete my second in the near future.
Through my training, I have experimented with a variety of plant foods in an attempt to properly meet my nutritional needs. Thus far I have found several reliable meals that are able to prepare me for even the most challenging of workouts.
Each morning, regardless of if it is a training day or not, I start my day with a bowl of power-packed oatmeal. Oatmeal offers the body complex carbohydrates that are broken down throughout the day – supplying the body with a constant energy source. The complex carbohydrates in oatmeal are especially great for endurance athletes preparing to endure a long workout.
My morning oatmeal is packed with optimal nutrition to fuel me beyond carbohydrates. On almost any given day, you will find my oatmeal topped with crushed flax seeds, cinnamon, blueberries, raspberries, fresh-cut apples, and walnuts.
The fruits offer a variety of phytonutrients, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals. The berries offer anti-inflammatory properties that assist in preventing injury or pain during activity, while the apple offers fiber to keep you feeling full. Walnuts and flax seed are packed with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) omega-3s, which decreases inflammation along with improving brain function.
2. Mid-Morning Snack
Before lunch or right after a workout I often make a smoothie. Smoothies allow me to quickly and efficiently provide my body with the nutrition needed to fully recover and prepare for the next activity.
Smoothies, when filled with the proper foods, pack a very high nutritional punch in just a small cup. Fruits and vegetables that make have taken time to prepare and eat, can be easily consumed in a tasty liquid form. My mid-morning smoothie is made up of fresh and frozen fruits, a plant-based milk, a green leafy vegetable and a protein powder.
For fruits I often choose bananas and berries because bananas are a good source of potassium which assists in properly refueling the electrolytes lost through sweat, and berries’ anti-inflammatory properties work to heal the body of the oxidative stress it endured through exercise. The plant-based milk I chose varies between an almond, soy or coconut milk. All taste great and include protein. The green leafy vegetables that I include vary between spinach and kale, offering a high amount of vitamins in every sip of the smoothie.
The protein powders that I chose offer a variety of nutrients including super foods, probiotics, vegetables and reliable plant-based proteins. Some examples of reliable brands that offer nutritional plant-based protein powders include; Vega, Garden of Life, along with several others.
Lunch is one of the most important meals of my day. Whether I am recovering from a morning workout, or preparing for an afternoon workout, I use lunchtime to supply my body with the adequate amount of vegetables needed to push through.
Each day, I eat a large raw green salad for lunch, topped with a wide assortment of delicious toppings. My salad toppings vary between hummus, nutritional yeast, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, carrots and broccoli. If I am feeling especially hungry I include a veggie burger or freshly cooked legumes to my meal. Both options also offer protein.
The raw fresh greens in my salad restore my body with the essential amount of vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium, vitamins A, C and K, along with fiber, folate, potassium, carotenoids, and so much more
As an added bonus, green leafy vegetables are known for their ability to prevent diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and even some cancers. Therefore, it is important to ensure that each day you consume several servings of these fantastic vegetables.
Since my lunch is filled with raw foods, dinner is often made up of cooked foods. My dinnertime meal often consists of legumes, grains, and assorted grilled vegetables. In order to ensure I am eating a balance of foods, my dinner will consist of freshly cooked wild rice, legumes, grilled vegetables, and sweet potatoes with a side of fresh raw green leafy vegetables.
I use dinnertime to fill my body with energizing protein-packed foods, such as the legumes, to allow my muscles to fully recover and repair in preparation for the following day.
Legumes are high in plant-based protein, as well as fiber and minerals without the added saturated fats that is consumed when eating meat. Different types of legumes offer varying amounts of proteins, although if consuming a diet high in a variety of vegetables, grains and legumes, one should not worry much about their protein intake.
5. On The Run
Food should not be consumed during exercise unless one is partaking in an activity longer than 90 minutes. During a bout of exercise 90 minutes or longer I will consume a food made up of carbohydrates once every 30 minutes. Foods that I eat while running vary between mashed bananas, raisins, dates, figs and oranges.
These foods are of great nutritional value and are high in carbohydrates which is the body’s preferred energy source during exercise. Fats and proteins should not be consumed during exercise unless one is partaking in an ultra-endurance activity, such as a run great than 26.2 miles.
These are just a few meals that I eat while training for an endurance activity. Each meal is packed with a high nutritional value and can be eaten at any activity level.