Athletes have A LOT to gain from shifting to a plant-based diet. By eating mainly whole, plant-based foods, you benefit from anti-inflammatory properties, which may result in less fatigue and quicker recovery. Unfortunately, sports nutrition is fraught with myths about low-carb, high-protein, paleo, supplements, and so on. In this week's guide, we're showing you that a plant-based diet is where it's at if you want to get faster, get stronger, or just make your workouts feel a little easier.
It's all about the cals (not the protein!)
If you're eating enough calories from a variety of plant foods, then you're eating enough protein. The trick to refueling properly on a plant-based diet is making sure you're actually getting enough calories since most plant foods are low-calorie. If you find yourself hungry between meals or under-fueled during workouts, add a serving of calorie-dense plant foods to your meals like nuts, seeds, peanut butter, avocado, tahini, and flax. Also, make sure you're eating plenty of whole grains (according to the science, carbs are the king of fuel for physical performance!). So stop stressing about this low-carb, high-protein bullsh*t floating around. We have a joke in our house that anytime someone tries to refute a plant-based diet with low-carb, high-protein talk, J should put an end to the absurd conversation by flashing his six pack.
Need more info about protein? Check out this post and this post to learn more.
Frequency is king
Since plant foods are generally low-calorie, it's important to re-think your meal frequency if you're really active. Whereas I might recommend eating every 3-4 hours for a "normal" person, I recommend eating every 2-3 hours for very active people. Eating more frequently helps you squeeze in extra calories and nutrition your body needs to recover and improve. This can be super easy - trail mix, whole grain cereal, apple + peanut butter, almond butter sandwich, avocado toast, an energy bar.
Check out our Snack Guide for more ideas.
Plant Foods That Boost Performance
Certain vegetables contain inorganic nitrates, which are converted to nitric oxide in the body and contribute to several mechanisms such as improved oxygen delivery and more efficient energy production. In other words, you can go longer and harder before feeling fatigued. Several studies show significant gains in performance for athletes who eat nitrate-rich vegetables before exercise.
You’ve probably heard about athletes chugging beet juice to get their nitric oxide boost, beets are NOT the richest source of nitrates. Most leafy greens pack a higher nitrate punch, and arugula is best source with 4x more nitrates than whole beets!
Known for its energy-boosting scent, peppermint may lend a performance boost to your workouts. Studies show that athletes who consume peppermint before exercise report less fatigue and perform better. Peppermint oil is powerful and can even be toxic in large doses, so the safest ways to get a minty boost are by enjoying a cup of peppermint tea or by adding a few fresh mint leaves to your pre-workout smoothie.
Bananas are a staple food for athletes- rich in carbs and electrolytes, portable and easy to digest for most. They might even be an effective whole-food replacement for sports drinks. One study compared cyclists who fueled with a regular sports drink to cyclists who fueled with bananas and found no difference in performance or recovery. If toting a whole banana on your workout seems impractical, mash bananas and carry in a zip-top bag. When you’re ready to fuel, tear of a corner of the bag and eat the mashed banana like a gel packet. A ½ cup of mashed bananas has the same amount of carbs and calories as an average gel packet.
Dried fruit can be a superior whole food alternative to sport chews, gummies and blocks. In runners completing a distance run followed by a 5K time trial, fueling with raisins and fueling with energy chews resulted in the same level of performance enhancement compared to fueling with just water. I find dates to be tastier and easier to chew than raisins, but either will do the trick!
Cherries, Berries & Citrus
Quick recovery is key to powering through a week of workouts. These fruits ease pain from exercise-related muscle damage, inflammation and oxidative stress. In short, they speed recovery time so you feel stronger for your next workout!
Nooch for immunity
Intense exercise can suppress your immunity, and a weak immune system can sideline your exercise efforts, so staying healthy is key to staying active. Just a spoonful of nutrition yeast (nooch) per day shows a 25% drop in common cold symptoms marathoners. We put nooch on EVERYTHING - popcorn, soups, pasta, and in sauces for a 'cheesy' flavor. We buy it in bulk at Whole Foods, but you can easily order it on Amazon.
We've never felt better. It's a fact that we need to exercise regularly to be healthy, prevent disease, and extend our lives. Now that we're 100% plant-based, exercise isn't easy, per say, but it's certainly easier than ever before. And we've heard that testimony repeated over and over by other people who've gone 100% plant-based. We think THAT is the ultimate selling point!
A few of our favorite plant-based athletes:
If it's helping the pros, then it can definitely help boost your weekend adventures!
Tia Blanco - pro surfer
David Carter - NFL
Baggio Husidic - MLS
Rich Roll - ultra runner
Ruth Heidrich - Ironman, stage 4 breast cancer survivor, 79 years young
Torre Washington - body builder