Written by Angela Ysseldyk CNP, BA
For a variety of reasons, you may want to incorporate more plant foods into your diet – but as an athlete, you may be concerned that plants won’t be able to power up your work-out to your high standards. Fortunately, the newest premium grades of vegan formulas can fuel your workout and help you recover so you can do it all again tomorrow.
The ultimate plant-based fuel
Whether your heart is set on outdoor adventures, competitive sports, or challenging workouts, high potency vegan fuel can drive your success. First of all, you’ll want to give your body the raw material it needs to build and repair muscle and increase skeletal energy uptake. Branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) include the essential amino acids valine, leucine and isoleucine that have protein anabolic properties. Unlike most amino acids that are initially catabolized in the liver, the initial site of BCAA catabolism is primarily skeletal muscle, which provides advantages for exercise. Look for fermented BCAAs, which are more easily digested and absorbed.
Magnesium is also a key partner in your work-out. Magnesium is essential for various enzymatic reactions including energy metabolism and protein synthesis. A co-factor of magnesium binds with adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to function as a primary energy source and is critical for nerve conduction and muscle contraction. Yet, research shows that athletes and non-athletes alike are deficient in this dietary mineral. Human studies suggest that magnesium supplementation may improve performance parameters in both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. Look for magnesium bisglycinate, which may be gentle on the GI tract.
Activating energy is important, but it’s also critical to move nutrients to all the cells in your body. That’s where nitric oxide (NO) shines. NO plays a role in vasodilation, which refers to the widening of blood vessels. Wider blood vessels improve the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to muscles during exercise. Research has shown that increasing the levels of circulating NO leads to enhanced exercise performance. Look for a high octane work-out formula containing beetroot. This vegetable is a rich source of nitrate that your body converts to NO. As a bonus, beetroot is a high-antioxidant food.
Getting started is only part of the battle: hitting your target requires endurance. Previously mentioned fermented BCAAs will help to minimize muscle fatigue, especially when paired with magnesium bisglycinate to combat lactate build-up in muscles during a long or intense work-out. But you’ll also want to be sure to replace electrolytes you lose through sweat as you push your limits. Replenish with natural electrolytes found in coconut water. Coconut water is the clear liquid from the centre of the fruit that contains easily digestion carbohydrates and electrolytes with a sweet, nutty taste. Be sure you to rehydrate completely or your next round of exercise will likely be impaired.
Recover and protect
Pain, exhaustion and depleted immune function are hurdles to over-come in your bid to perform. Along with BCAAs that may prevent delayed onset muscle soreness and muscle breakdown, be sure your plant-powered work-out routine includes glutamine. In skeletal muscle, glutamine comprises 50–60% of the total free amino acid pool and is the most synthesized amino acid in human muscle, especially in slow-twitch muscles.
Among other duties, glutamine is involved in regulation of metabolism, protein synthesis and degradation, energy production, glycogenesis, ammonia detox, and maintenance of the acid-base balance. Glutamine has an immune system role and is also known to increase the production of anti-inflammatory and cell-protective factors. Glutamine is considered as conditionally essential, because in the case of clinical burns, sepsis, and prolonged and exhaustive exercises, what we can manufacture may not meet demand and glutamine deficiency can occur. Decreased glutamine availability is linked with immune system disorders and infections – both of which can interfere with your plans. Research evidence suggests that glutamine supplementation may help to repair muscle damage. Look for fermented glutamine to boost absorption.
If you compete, be sure to choose plant-based products that have been tested for banned substances.
Coqueiro, A. Y., Rogero, M. M., & Tirapegui, J. (2019). Glutamine as an Anti-Fatigue Amino Acid in Sports Nutrition. Nutrients, 11(4), 863. doi:10.3390/nu11040863
Wylie, L.J., Bailey, S.J., Kelly, J. et al. (2016). Influence of beetroot juice supplementation on intermittent exercise performance. Eur J Appl Physiol (2016) 116: 415. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-015-3296-4
Xiang, H., Donxiao, S., Waterhouse, G., Cui, C., & Ruan, Z. (2019). Fermentation-enabled wellness foods: A fresh perspective. Food Science and Human Wellness,203–243
Zhang, Y.; Xun, P.; Wang, R.; Mao, L. & He, K. (2017). Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients, 9, 946.