No matter what type of training you do – whether you’re getting ready for a marathon or you’re just trying to do some regular strength training and cardio for health or weight loss – you’ve probably encountered a lot of advice on training effectively.
A lot of this advice is rightfully focused on protein, but if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, all that focus on eggs and chicken breasts might leave you wondering if it’s possible to train effectively without those foods.
The good news is that with the right approach, you can indeed pursue your fitness goals without having to compromise on the way of eating you believe in. Here is some advice.
Think outside the box when it comes to protein
Plant-based proteins can get the job done just as well as anything that came from an animal, and they often come with so much additional nutrition that you’re going to come out ahead of the game. While vegetarians can still turn to eggs, vegans will need to focus more on legumes, beans and nut butter. But did you know that rice and grains also have protein? This is great news because it’s far better to get your protein from whole foods than plant-based protein powders.
Look at the quality of your diet
Vegetarian and vegan diets aren’t inherently healthy; Oreos and French fries are technically vegetarian. Don’t look at things like calories or protein to assess the quality of your diet. Instead, make sure you are eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods that promote good health. Of course, you should still allow yourself treats once in a while, but you need to keep their proportion low compared to the nutrient-dense whole foods in your diet overall if you want to be able to train effectively.
You also need to ensure you’re getting a good variety. Kale and blueberries are two superfoods that are full of health benefits, but if you only eat those two foods, you’re missing out on the nutrition you’d find in apples, walnuts, olive oil, red peppers… you get the idea. That example might be an oversimplification, but a lot of people aren’t eating a diet that is as varied as it should be, and that means they’re missing out on the micronutrients they need to optimize their workouts – and their health.
Start out slow with strength training
If you’re new to strength training, do yourself a favour and start out slow. It’s great to set a high bar, but don’t pressure yourself in the beginning, particularly if you are out of shape. We need to strength train all of our major muscle groups at least twice a week, but that doesn’t mean we need to push ourselves to exhaustion. In the early days, focus on using the right form and avoiding injuries before ramping up your strength training reps and duration.
Eat the right plant-based foods for your workout
Before you do different types of training, choose carb-based plant foods that suit the task at hand. Good snacks before circuit training include oatmeal or fresh fruit. If you’ll be lifting weights, a smoothie with dark leafy greens, fruits and nuts is a good choice. For long-distance running, consider whole grain toast with bananas or sweet potatoes.
Before high-intensity interval training, smart choices include fresh fruit, oatmeal with fruit, or dark leafy greens with – you guessed it – fruit. Ahead of a yoga or Pilates session, sliced raw vegetables, a salad with berries and leafy greens, or whole-grain toast with a banana will give you the fuel you need.
Find replenishing post-workout meals that fit your way of eating
If you find post-workout recovery a struggle, take a look at what you’re eating after you work out. You will ideally have a recovery meal 15 to 45 minutes after you finish your workout, and it needs to contain both carbs and protein. Consider a smoothie with soy milk and coconut yogurt and the fruits you love, or try something like pita with hummus or rice cakes with nut butter. Don’t forget to wash it down with plenty of water to replace the fluids you lost during your workout!
Eating a vegetarian or vegan diet is not a hindrance to training effectively. In fact, some of the world’s best athletes eat this way and stay at the top of their game – and you can, too!