If you still think vegans have a hard time being fit and healthy, it’s time to get with the program. Whether they’re smashing world records in endurance or weightlifting, winning bodybuilding competitions or taking home UFC titles, the verdict is in: Muscles don’t need meat.
You might even say the question has become not if you can improve muscle and performance on a vegan diet, but how. Well, the jigsaw puzzle of sports nutrition has a lot of pieces, but probably none is as important as the post-workout meal. (It’s like that really big corner piece.)
Maximize Your Recovery
A 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein has been proven to be really efficient for replenishing amino acids and repairing the muscle that has been broken down during strength training. The basic gist is during exercise, you use up your glycogen (the energy stored in your muscles). After sweating it out, carbs will help replenish this energy, and the protein enhances this process.
But protein and carbs aren’t all we need after a workout. While exercise suppresses inflammation in the long term, the act of exercise damages your muscles. That’s why it’s always a good idea to include foods that support inflammation reduction, like those rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. But that said, you don’t want too much fat in the post-workout meal, because it’ll slow your digestion.
So a lot of carbs, a decent amount of protein (10 to 20 grams), lots of antioxidants, and some fat. If that isn’t what vegans do best, we don’t know what is. Fuel your muscles right by including these no-fail foods.
Made from buckwheat, soba noodles not only have that 4:1 ratio, they’re also a complete protein. Pair up this Japanese staple with teriyaki mushrooms for a rich, satisfying, meaty dimension, and broccolini and chilis, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
Popular as it is, the 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein isn’t gospel. Some people prefer something closer to 2:1 or 3:1, and there are others who think you’ll recover just fine with only carbs and no protein at all. Lentils have about 2.2 grams of carbs for every gram of protein. Combine them with tomatoes, spinach, or other veggies to boost the vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and you've created an excellent recovery meal.
Tempeh and Butternut Squash
Tempeh has about twice as much protein as carbohydrates. For a yummy post-exercise meal, pair tempeh with butternut squash as a way to crank up your carbs and the sweetness factor.
Steel Cut Oats
With a dietitian-approved 4:1 ratio, steel-cut oats are an awesome choice, despite their lengthier prep time than instant oatmeal—and that’s where the magic of the slow cooker comes in. To liven up your oats, add a combo of cacao powder, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, and cherries, which help reduce post-workout muscle soreness.
Chickpeas have a 3:1 ratio which, combined with their almost complete lack of fat, makes them a great choice for refueling post-workout. Add them to salads, dip veggies in hummus, or make a chickpea patty.
No meat doesn’t mean no chili for vegans. Toss in some black beans and sweet potatoes. Even though black beans have fewer than three grams of carbs for every gram of protein, that just means you have a license to indulge with that warm, comforting sweet potato.
Indian Masoor Dal
An indispensable staple of a nation with more than half a billion vegetarians, masoor dal, or red lentils, is rich in protein. These cook quite a bit faster than the green kind, but the nutrition profile is roughly the same. Dal is beloved as a comfort food--likely because it’s usually made with a generous amount of ghee or fat. To keep things animal-free, try using coconut milk and vegan butter.
Ezekiel bread, made from a tasty mixture of wheat, barley, soybeans, lentils, and millet, contains all the essential amino acids with just the right balance of carbs to protein. A good, old-fashioned sandwich is an easy post-workout weapon of choice since it’s so simple to make and pack in a gym bag. Aside from your typical PB & J, consider giving your sandwich a run for its money with a colorful, flavorful, health-boosting mix of hummus, avocado, sun-dried tomatoes, sauerkraut, and arugula.
Tiny as they are, chia seeds are a complete protein, and although they might contain more fat than the ideal post-workout snack (there’s about twice as much fat as there is protein), they’re still a good choice. More than half of the fats are omega-3 fatty acids, and while humans have a harder time absorbing plant-based omega-3s than those found in animal sources, chia seeds are a terrific anti-inflammatory food.
Pea protein is fast becoming a popular supplement for vegans and non-vegans alike due to its high levels of branch chain amino acids and the fact that, given it’s free of lactose and gluten, it’s easy to digest and very allergy-friendly. In its non-powdered form, peas have a 3:1 carbs to protein ratio. Make a simple, low-fat soup and to make it overflowing with antioxidants, add asparagus, spinach, and garlic.
What ode to the post-workout meal is complete without a protein shake? Smoothies are a really easy way to cram a ton of foods with different health benefits into one easy-to-guzzle package. It’s tough to nail down an exact macronutrient ratio for a shake since it depends largely on the kind of protein powder you use, so it’s worth experimenting with different recipes to find your favorite go-to protein combo.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
Recipe modified from greatist.com