Healthy food helps active people get the most from exercise. A diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes provides the right balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat your body needs to train and compete.
Whether you are competing for recreation or competitively, here are a few pointers to help you go further as a plant-powered athlete:
Strive for balance.
Athletes who burn fuel to perform have to consume more calories, but the key is the type of calories. Low energy intake for high-intensity exercise can result in loss of muscle mass, menstrual dysfunction and loss of bone density. Choose foods that are high in carbohydrates, low in fat and adequate in protein. And, because a plant-based diet is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, your body will get the energy it needs all while being protected from the stress of exercise.
Carbs are the primary fuel used by your body during a high-intensity workout. That’s because they boost your endurance and performance. Per calorie, athletes need a similar amount as others (at least 55% of your total daily intake). Specific recommendations for athletes are based on weight and range from 6 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight each day.
- What to eat? Whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
- When to eat them? Depending on the intensity of the exercise, carbohydrates should be consumed during recovery (between 30 minutes and two hours post-activity).
Fats from animals are high in saturated fats and are best avoided. High-fat diets are not recommended for athletes.
Protein is only used minimally as a fuel, instead it plays an important role in building, maintaining and repairing body tissues, including muscle. Plant-based sources of protein are best because unlike animal sources, they contain fibre and complex carbohydrates. Specific requirements vary based on body size. Athletes needs can range from 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram per day (whereas, the average person needs about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day).
- What to eat? A variety of grains, legumes and vegetables. You can even try tofu, soy milk, tempeh, seitan and other ‘meat-less’ meats.
- How to get more protein? Top salads with beans, try a non-dairy milk shake, experiment with ‘meat-free’ substitutes, or grab a nutrition bar.
Staying hydrated is key to preventing injuries and promoting peak performance. Maintain a regular fluid schedule of at least eight 250ml glasses of water each day. As you increase your exercise, increase your water intake. You’ll also need more water if you are participating in activities at high altitudes, low humidity or high temperatures. Water is ideal for activities lasting less than an hour. For longer activities, try a sports drink with carbohydrates or electrolytes both during and following exercise.
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