Plant-Based Nutrition for Recovery

With more and more research supporting following a more plant-based diet, it is no surprise more and more athletes taking on this approach to eating.

While the overall health and environmental benefits are clear, it may mean for some individuals, eating enough of the right things, at the right times, and feeling satisfied is more difficult.

Key nutrients which are more difficult to get on vegan diets are protein, iron, calcium and B12.

Purely from a recovery perspective, nutrient needs do not change: 20-25g protein and 1.2g carbohydrate per kilogram are still required to ensure adequate recovery after exercise every hour for the first four hours. The average triathlete needs 1.5g (give or take) per kg per day of protein overall.

How do I meet my protein needs on a plant-based diet?

Aim to start including protein straight away after finishing physical activity.

The following plant-based foods all provide 10g of protein in the specified serve:

  • 4 slices (120 g) wholemeal bread
  • 3 cups (90 g) wholegrain cereal
  • 2 cups (330 g) cooked pasta
  • 3 cups (400 g) cooked rice
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) lentils or kidney beans
  • 200 g baked beans
  • 120 g tofu
  • 60 g nuts or seeds
  • 300 ml soy milk
  • 100 g soy meat

(Source: AIS Nutrition)

As you can see, consuming the recommended 20-25g of protein can mean eating massive portions of food.

What about leucine?

During exercise, muscle protein synthesis decreases together with a net increase in protein degradation and stimulation of BCAA oxidation. After exercise, dietary protein or BCAA is required to increase tissue levels of leucine, so that resumption of muscle protein synthesis can occur1. Leucine dose of 2-3g stimulates protein synthesis. This is easily found in 20-25g of meat or dairy, with 600mL of milk, 350g of yoghurt or 120g meat or seafood (raw) all provide more than 20g of protein, and 2g of leucine, as displayed by the table. Achieving adequate leucine intake is much harder when choosing plant based foods; 900mL soy milk, 130g almonds or 9 slices of bread is needed for the minimum 2g for recovery.

 

Table source: Sports Dietitians Australia – Protein and amino acid supplementation

How do I increase protein and leucine intake without increasing portions?

Protein powder is a popular option for many individuals, with many brands making great quality choices. Whilst a soy based choice is richer in leucine, there are some health concerns related to excessive consumption of soy. Quinoa, chia and hemp are good sources of leucine themselves, however protein powders made from these are often expensive. Vegan leucine powder is also available from a number of sources. Choose one without artificial sweeteners, and ensure it is regularly tested by a reputable lab to ensure safety from banned additives.

What about the carbs?

As for non-vegans, 1.2g/kg of carbohydrate is required post exercise every hour for four hours. Below are some examples of serves of foods that provide 50g of carbohydrate:

  • 3 thick slices wholegrain bread
  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 400g lentils, kidney beans or soy beans (2 cups)
  • 3tbspn honey
  • 3 cups cooked pasta
  • 700mL Sports drink

Interestingly, the serves of legumes for protein and carbs is similar. This highlights that it is actually easy to hit these targets — just some planning is required.

 

While it isn’t essential to use protein powders and other supplements, they certainly can make it easier to meet other nutrient needs post exercise when following a plant-based diet.

Being diligent and planned with food choices on a day-to-day basis makes meeting nutritional needs much easier, both for fuelling for activity and recovery afterwards.

Featured photo credit: via VisualHunt.com

Chloe McLeod
Chloe McLeod

Chloe McLeod has had a keen interest in nutrition from a young age due to food intolerances as well as a realization about the important role food plays in an active lifestyle. She has a bachelor’s degree in Nutrition & Dietetics, a master’s degree in Public Health, has received Sports Dietetics training through the Australian Institute of Sport, and has earned qualifications for ISAK Level 1, and is a member of DAA, SDA, and PINES. She is a two-time marathoner, avid trail runner, and also enjoys staying active through snowboarding and Pilates.