There are many vegan diets out there: raw, low fat, macrobiotic, oil free , gluten-free , and so on. There are also lots of vegan athletes. People traditionally think of workout foods as high-carb and high-animal-protein, but the fact of the matter is that plant-based foods can meet all of your dietary needs. So, what should one eat on a low fat vegan diet to optimize athletic performance?

What to think about when choosing workout food explains both the benefits of exercising and the importance of eating well to accompany a work out. Simply put, exercising hurts muscle tissue. Your body benefits from exercising in the recovery stage, when muscle tissue is rebuilt stronger than before — if your body has the appropriate nutrients to do so. Therefore, it’s important to think about what the food you are eating will benefit, what your body needs for different functions, and at what moment your body will need certain nutrients.

Debates abound about what diets are the best in which situation, but the evidence is there that diets high in fruits and vegetables are the healthiest. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine recommends a diet of whole grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables to fuel athletic performance. Read their guideline for fitness here.

Pre-workout snacks

Snacks throughout the day can be important for athletes burning lots of calories. Obvious snacks such as raw veggies and hummus can be fun if you get creative; read our post on ten cool ways to use hummus, and try out our recipe for raw sprouted hummus.

Directly before a workout, thinking about carbs is a good idea, as they are the main energy the body burns while it is working. If you’re in a rush, fruit is a smart decision. Dried dates are also a good, sweet pre-workout treat, as are homemade energy bars (other recipes here). If you are eating well before a workout, and thus are in need of something heavier, think of complex carbohydrates or a salad with nuts and seeds.

A great vegan supplement for both before and after working out is Vega. Created by the vegan professional Ironman athlete Brendan Brazier, Vega shake powder is made of entirely plant-based nutrients. Brendan had discovered that the most important aspect of endurance sport was nutrition, and researched a whole foods, plant-based diet in order to create the foods he needed to fuel is performance. The supplements are great to throw in a smoothie, and the Vega bars make a great snack on the go.

Post-workout snacks

To avoid overeating and burdening the digestive system, choose light foods immediately post workout.  Keep it easy to digest, and get it in there within an hour after exercising. Eating properly after intensive exercise is important to get yourself into recovery mode. Protein actually isn’t what’s important directly after a workout, as it’s slower to digest; perfect post work out food is some fruit, such as a banana, with some nut butter if you’re feeling peckish.  If you’ve really been sweating it out, getting some salt in your system is a good idea to replace electrolytes. Natural sources of electrolytes also include nuts and fruits and vegetables, making a banana with raw almond butter a great option. The Global Healing Center recommends a pinch of himalayan salt and apple cider vinegar in your water to reset electrolytes instantly. And, don’t forgot, you need to rehydrate after a workout anyway! To gain the benefits of most of what I’ve mentioned in this section, try out our Banana Almond Butter Superfood Shake.

Meals for vegan athletes

As opposed to snacking directly after the gym, getting a proper meal will get more nutrients into your system. For a lighter meal, try a smoothie with hemp seeds, fruits, and dairy-free milk such as soy or almond. Sprouted grains and salads with nuts and avocado are also good ideas. Check out our guide on how to build the best salads, or simply get creative. There is no end to the fruit and veggies that you can throw in a bowl. Not interested in (or tired of) salads? No problem; check out these non-salad, raw vegan recipes.

If you aren’t a raw vegan, some whole grain rice and bean chili would make a good, heavy meal for hungry athletes. Complex carbs with the nutrients and protein in beans are a great recovery choice, so indulge in some of our chili recipes. Other ideas for protein-rich meals include lentils or quinoa.

To read further into fuelling athletic performance with a plant-based diet, read some of the tips in this post from Livestrong quoting vegan athletes and dieticians, and check out what the No Meat Athlete has to say about the matter. Finally, read what vegan bodybuilders have to say about workout nutrition, and other tricks and tips.

Image source: Cavan Images / Creative Commons