Are you looking to get more active or taking part in a special event but wondering how you can power yourself with a vegan diet? Our expert nutritionist, Lucy-Ann is here with some tips to help you transition towards a healthy plant-based diet that optimises general health, as well as effectively fuels the body for sports and fitness performance.
Aim for plenty of variety, particularly with regards to sources of fresh plant protein…
- The importance of protein is 2-fold for the vegan athlete… firstly, protein is it vital for muscle repair and regeneration, and secondly, protein compliments the carbohydrate element of the diet, allowing carbs to enter the bloodstream at a steady rate, thereby delaying the onset of hunger, as well as sustaining energy levels.
- So… as you progress with a good vegan diet, turn your attention to fresh plant-based proteins - lentils, sprouts, chickpeas, edamame beans, other beans, hempseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts and other nuts, and fermented soya foods such as tempeh, and tofu.
- Focus less on processed foods and proteins such as soya burgers and sausages, soya mince and soya cheese.
- For those who like to follow, or function best on wheat and gluten-free diets, be aware that “vegan” burgers and sausages often contain wheat flour, and if your health and digestion is noticeably better without wheat and gluten, you will need to avoid these products!
Spreads and healthy fats
- Try avocado, tahini and hummus as spreads on bread, oatcakes, corn cakes or rice cakes.
- Make sure you embrace foods that are rich in healthy fat (e.g. avocado, hempseeds, nuts and olives), and add healthy oils to meals (e.g. flaxseed oil, hempseed oil, walnut oil, olive oil, avocado oil etc.). This will improve your intake of essential fatty acids and ensure a good daily quota of omega-3 fats. You will find such oils in all major supermarkets.
Top up regularly and stay hydrated
- Regards timing of eating and “key” timings for exercise and working out, ensure you are well-fuelled prior to a workout, eating a small carbohydrate-rich meal 2-3 hours before. If you work out early in the morning, just some water or a piece of fruit will suffice, as long as your workout is no longer than 60 minutes. In addition take on board easy-to-digest protein and carbohydrate within 45 mins of finishing a gym session for optimum recovery and muscle regeneration – a plant protein/nut milk and banana “shake” is perfect, OR 1-2 bananas with some nuts and raisins.
- If you sweat a lot during training, include some natural salt with at least one meal – choose sea salt, herb salt, celery salt, or Tamari sauce.
Get your minerals in
- Calcium is an important mineral (along with magnesium) for strong bones and muscles. Make sure you include calcium-rich foods in the diet daily such as tofu, sesame seeds or Tahini (sesame seed spread), almonds, leafy green veggies, sunflower seeds and beans.
- Iron is a vital mineral too, for oxygen transport to the working muscles. Take note of these top vegan iron-rich foods – tofu, beans, raisins, prunes, apricots, goji berries, blackstrap molasses, split peas and lentils and soups made with these, and pumpkin seeds and peanut butter.
- Make a point of eating raw leafy greens, and all vegetables every day – e.g. watercress, kale, spinach, little gem lettuce, mixed baby leaves, broccoli, courgette, cauliflower, garden peas, corn, cooked or grated raw butternut squash, pumpkin etc.
So now you know about basic nutrition if you’re going to be active. Check back soon for more information on high-energy foods to consider as well as a special 7-day eating plan!