When it comes to food as fuel for athletic performance, although some athletes may immediately turn to eggs, lean meats, or other foods rich in animal-based proteins to get the job done, these aren’t your only options, nor are they the most nutrient-dense or most beneficial ones.
While there is certainly still a bit of disconnect amongst the athletic world as far as selecting the best fuel for athletic performance goes, vegan athletes are continually rising up and proving that you can perform not just at — but above — par, while solely relying on plant-based nutrition, debunking the myth that herbivores fall short on having vital nutrients to fuel performance. Don’t just take my word for it, check out these 10 amazing plant-based athletes.
The good news is, it’s not even as difficult as you may think. Granted the amount and type of fuel differs based on sport, and individual considerations, generally speaking, regardless of the nature of your athletic endeavors, it all starts at the same place.
“Triathletes think performance starts with training, but it starts with fuel,” says sports nutritionist and author Nancy Clark, in an article on Ironman.com, highlighting “6 Rules of Nutrition for Endurance Athletes.”
But what does the fuel itself look like if it doesn’t consist of animal-based proteins?
Without diving into the nitty-gritty and offering a complete breakdown of exactly what you should be eating based on individual sport, body mass index, or any caloric input versus output considerations, here’s a brief look at what plant-based athletes incorporate into their diets, and what many consider as “go to” fuel when it comes to athletic performance.
Any athlete will tell you, it’s not only what you eat, but when you eat it. If there’s one thing pro-athletes can agree on, it’s pre-workout fueling, especially in the form of breakfast. Breakfast is key for a well-balanced metabolic state for daily routine activities, as well as optimized athletic performance. Although for some athletes this may look like an omelet, for many herbivore athletes, this looks like a packed bowl of oatmeal, topped with things like almonds, goji berries, and chocolaty cacao nibs. Get more creative with your oatmeal with these vegan oatmeal recipes.
If there is one appliance that most every health nut, athlete, or foodie has in their home, it’s a blender. Whether looking for pre-workout fuel, or post-workout recovery, look no further than smoothies to get the job done. Not only are smoothies packed with nutrients, blending things up gives your body a break at doing all the work of breaking things down. Although the combinations for what you can throw into a blender for an energy packed combination are somewhat endless, here are 22 amazing smoothies to kickstart your day.
Macro & Micro Nutrients
When it comes to the basis of our fuel, macro-nutrients provide us energy (calories) and include three basic groups: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carbs are the body’s main source of energy, with prime plant-based sources including whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables. Protein is used by the body for both repair and maintenance. Plant-based protein sources include beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, tempeh, amongst others. Dietary fats aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and are the most energy-dense of the three macro-nutrients. Sources include nuts, seeds, and even foods like avocado. These macro-nutrient-dense foods also contain micro-nutrients, both vitamins and minerals. For a closer breakdown of both macro and micro-nutrients and their role in helping maintain health and overall vitality, check out this breakdown of Vitamins, Minerals, and Nutrients Decoded.
Although something that tends to be overlooked (rather than being an additive to diet), these friendly bacterias should be integral parts of the equation to promote healthy immune function. While highly beneficial to all for health maintenance, probiotics are especially vital to endurance athletes. As a recovery tool, probiotics increase antioxidant absorption, and help your body fight free radicals when you need it most, post-work out. Probiotics also Support immune function, allowing you, despite fatigue, to be able to fight off any potential intruders to your fullest. What’s more, they can reduce nausea, intestinal inflammation, and bloating—which are common complaints among athletes during and after training. If you already sip on Kombucha on the regular, then you are ahead of the game. If not, here are 5 plant-based foods packed with probiotics.
If you aren’t yet convinced, here are a few more reasons to love probiotics presented in this recent Washington Post article. In addition to probiotics, consuming healthy levels of prebiotics found in foods like whole grains, garlic, bananas, and onions, help probiotics thrive even more.
While the above mentions are certainly beneficial fuel rules to keep in mind, it’s only the beginning. Here are a few more resources worth checking out when it comes to selecting the best fuel to keep you going strong:
- How to use plant-based food to meet all your dietary needs.
- Healthy foods to fuel your workouts.
- Fueling raw for endless energy.
Image Source: Rich Roll
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