Fueling an Active Lifestyle with Plants
June 16, 2021
For a long time, people associated a plant-based diet with being weak, scrawny and malnourished. Thankfully, this misconception is finally getting thrown out, particularly due to examples set by the many plant-based athletes like Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek, Venus Williams, and Meagan Duhamel. It takes hard work and motivation to reach this level of fitness, but it also requires the right fuel. Fueling an active lifestyle with plants might require a bit more planning than downing a whey smoothie, but it absolutely can be done – and your body and the planet will thank you for it!
What and Why
Nutrition is a complex thing.There are dozens of different types of nutrients and they all work in different ways in the body, including interacting with each other. To simplify it, we can break down nutrients into 6 categories, each of which is important for fueling your body.These nutrient requirements remain the same whether you are plant-based or not.
Protein is made up of amino acids, which are the building blocks of your cells, muscles and many tissues. Aside from giving cells structure, they play many important roles such as transporting nutrients and regulating hormones. After an active day, you also need protein to restore glycogen stores.
- Nuts and seeds
- Meat analogues like Beyond Meat
Carbohydrates are what give our bodies energy. If you don’t have enough carbs before a workout, your body might turn to other sources of energy – such as your muscle tissue! This is Not what you want to happen!!! There are two general types of carbs: complex and simple. Complex carbs (like quinoa, oats, and whole grains) take longer to break down and are good at making you feel full and giving you long-lasting energy throughout the day. Simpler carbs (like fruits and pasta) are absorbed faster and quickly rise your blood sugar levels to give you a burst of energy. This is why marathon runners eat a huge meal of pasta before a race.
When you exercise, your body responds with inflammation. You need fat (in particularly Omega 3 fatty acids) to support the immune system and reduce inflammation. Fat is also important for feeling satiated and absorbing nutrients.
- Leafy green vegetables
- Nuts and seeds
There are 13 essential vitamins, which can be broken down into two categories: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Many vitamins are very important for metabolism, and thus help give you the energy you need for an active lifestyle. Vitamins can also act as antioxidants to help your body heal after a workout. Note that Vitamin B12 is not found naturally in any plant foods.Take a supplement or look for plant foods which are fortified with it, such as the Beyond Meat Beast Burger.
Minerals do not directly help with energizing your body. However, they are very important in numerous physiological functions, such as nervous system function, balancing water, and building bones.
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
Yes, water is considered a nutrient! It has roles like lubricating our bodies, helping blood flow, eliminating metabolic waste, and carrying nutrients to cells. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water.You’ve got to replace water throughout your active day. Remember that the body also requires electrolytes (which are minerals) to balance water in your body. Guzzling down water won’t help hydrate your body if you don’t have enough electrolytes.
Plant Sources (of electrolytes):
- Red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables
- Coconut water
- Fermented foods
- Leafy greens
The Importance of Diversity in Diet
We’ve got to emphasize that nutrients work together. For example, your body needs antioxidants to help your body heal after a workout and reduce inflammation. But fat is important for absorbing most anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals. So, you can eat all the carrots you want. You won’t get Vitamin A from them if you aren’t eating them with some fat too.
Rather than trying to figure out complex food combinations, just try to eat a wide variety of food every day. One approach is to make sure you get each of these 5 categories of food into each meal:
- A protein (beans, legumes, hemp…)
- A carb (whole-grain bread, rice, oats, sweet potatoes…)
- A healthy fat (oils, nuts, seeds…)
- A green vegetable (spinach, kale, cabbage…)
- A colorful fruit or vegetable (tomatoes, peppers, carrots, apples…)
For example, when you eat a spinach salad with tomatoes, the citric acid from the tomato increases the absorption of iron from the spinach (plus the combo tastes awesome). Throw some avocado dressing on top and you’ve just increased the absorption of Vitamins A, E and K.
There is a lot of conflicting advice about what to eat before and after a workout. The general consensus, however, is this:
Every Day: You should eat a wide variety of foods, making sure to get a fiber-rich breakfast and lean proteins and healthy fats with each meal.
Pre-Workout: You should consume some complex carbs and a small amount of protein and fat about 2 to 4 hours before the workout. If you don’t feel hungry during your workout, then you can skip the pre-workout meal. Listen to your body!
During the Workout: Unless you are doing endurance exercises, there is no need to eat during your workout. But do remember to drink about 8-10 ounces of water about every 15 minutes.
Post-Workout: You need a hefty dose of protein to repair your muscles after a workout. You also need antioxidants and healthy fats to help reduce inflammation and speed healing. A small amount of simple carbs are needed to re-energize your body. The “Recovery Window” after a workout is about 30 to 60 minutes, so make sure you get that meal in quickly – ideally in an easily-digestible form like a smoothie.
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