Written by Iron Vegan
Just as a race car needs proper fuel and maintenance to perform at its peak, so too do (plant-based) athletes and those that lead active lifestyles. They require the proper nutrition and food timing to perform at their best – whether it be for strength, endurance, or speed – all areas can be optimized with mindful meal planning and ensuring all key nutrient requirements are being met.
Food IS Fuel and Food Choices Matter!
While it’s always important to feed the body with quality nutritious foods, the effects may be even more noticeable while supporting an active lifestyle. The cleaner the fuel, the better the performance - it is quite simple! Regardless of dietary habits, be sure to consume a wide variety of natural, health-boosting whole foods. Not all macronutrients, i.e., protein, fats, and carbs, are created equally. High quality macronutrients will provide the body with high quality fuel and have a much better nutritional value than their lower quality counterparts. For protein, think quinoa, beans, and soy; for fats - avocado, coconut oil and nut butter; and for carbohydrates - fruit, veggies, and whole grains.
- If buying food in a package/carton/can, read the label and make sure you understand the ingredients inside!
- Steer clear of foods that contain artificial ingredients like preservatives, dyes, sweeteners, and flavours; these chemical compounds are not added for nutritional purposes and are usually found within highly processed foods.
- Shop at your local health food store or farmers market to get familiar with where your food comes from – consider joining your local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program to support local growers and at the same time ensure you are getting high quality, nutrient dense fresh foods.
Timing of Nutrients Around Exercise
As a rule of thumb, don’t eat any heavy meals prior to physical activity. This is especially important for any endurance training or racing. Instead, stick to lighter snacks like apple and almond butter, a banana or some granola and berries. Reach for simple foods that your body can break down and utilize quickly and that will not leave you feeling sluggish or nauseous when you start your activity.
Drink plenty of water! Regardless of your activity, remember to stay hydrated before, during and afterwards. Water not only regulates the body’s temperature, but it also lubricates the joints and transports nutrients throughout. Without enough water, the body simply cannot perform at its best.
Once overall nutrition is well managed with a natural whole foods diet, there are some dietary supplements that can be especially beneficial to support the demands of athletes and those that lead very active lifestyles. Needs will vary from person to person, and it’s always recommended to consult with a healthcare practitioner before starting a new supplement regime.
These are a few additions that provide a safe and natural way to help enhance overall performance and recovery:
Glutamine: the most abundant amino acid in the body; it helps support the immune and digestive system following periods of physical stress and assists in muscle cell repair after exercise.1Glutamine will come in powder form that can simply be added to your beverage of choice.
Electrolytes: essential minerals, like sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium that play a role in hydration, muscle function and regulating the acidity of the blood.2 During exercise, electrolytes are depleted and lost in the form of sweat, and if not properly replenished, can affect normal bodily functions.3A simple and efficient way to maintain normal electrolyte balance and proper muscle function is to supplement with electrolytes by adding them to a pre/during workout beverage.
BCAAs: branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) refer to leucine, isoleucine, and valine and are among the nine essential amino acids that are required for protein synthesis.4BCAAs help to prevent muscle breakdown, minimize fatigue and fight against DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).5 BCAA supplementation before and after exercise has beneficial effects for decreasing exercise-induced muscle damage and promoting muscle-protein synthesis.4
Protein: we know that this macronutrient is critical for recovery after exercise. It is needed to repair and build muscle fibers that have been torn during physical activity. Ingesting protein and/or amino acids prior to, during, and/or following exercise can enhance recovery, immune function, and growth and maintenance of lean body mass.6 A protein shake is by far the easiest, most convenient way to consume it post-exercise for quick digestion and absorption.
- Iron Vegan. Fermented L-Glutamine. Accessed March 2, 2021 at: https://www.ironvegan.ca/collections/products/products/fermented-l-glutamine
- Electrolytes. Accessed March 2, 2021 At: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002350.htm
- Electrolytes. Accessed March 2, 2021 At: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541123/
- Shimomura Y, et al. (2004). Exercise promotes BCAA catabolism: effects of BCAA supplementation on skeletal muscle during exercise. J Nutr,134(6 Suppl): 1583S-1587S.
- Iron Vegan. Amino Octane. Accessed March 2, 2021 at: https://www.ironvegan.ca/collections/products/products/amino-octane
- Kreider RB, Campbell B. (2009). Protein for exercise and recovery. Phys Sportsmed