10 Vegan Foods for Athletes

One major trend as we head into 2018 is Plant Based Eating. You can definitely expect to see even more vegan and vegetarian options in grocery stores and restaurants.

Can plant based eating be good for athletes? If it is well planned to meet nutrient needs, it can be possible. Keep in mind, completely switching to vegan and vegetarian will require some extra guidance from a dietitian, as you’ll want to carefully plan your diet to ensure you are meeting your nutrient need for protein, Omega 3, calcium and Vitamin D, B12, essential amino acids, and iron. Supplementation of some nutrients will be needed.

Even if you don’t intend to completely give up animal products, reducing your intake of meat and increasing your intake of plant based foods can offer a number of benefits. It offers you more antioxidants and fibre, and less saturated fats.

Below I have listed my 10 vegan foods for athletes. If you are looking to incorporate more plant based eating into your diet, try out some of these foods! I have broken down the list into the key nutrients that these foods provide including, protein & essential amino acids, Omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, Vitamin D, B12 and iron & why these nutrients are important.

Protein and Essential Amino Acids

Protein is essential for muscle repair and growth, synthesizing enzymes and hormones and it provides the building blocks of muscle, bones, hair and skin. While some plant based protein sources are short on all of the essential amino acids, the following vegan protein sources contain them all. Essential amino acids, in particular leucine, is needed post workout to maximize muscle growth & recovery.

  1. Tempeh (fermented soy based food which is also a source of probiotics. Try this recipe for Maple Balsamic Tempeh)
  2. Edamame (these are young soybeans and are excellent added to a stifryor or salad or even eaten on their own as a snack).
  3. Hemp seeds (also a source of omega 3 fatty acids, these seeds offer 10g protein in 3 tbsp. Add to cereal, oatmeal, energy bites, smoothies, salads and more!)

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

This healthy fat is important for heart and brain health, as well as managing inflammation. Heavy training can cause inflammation, leading to muscle soreness and fatigue. One way to reduce chronic inflammation and recover better from training is to include the healthy fat omega 3 fatty acids in the diet.

  1. Walnuts (Out of all the nuts, walnuts contain the most omega 3. Pair these with some fruit or cheese for a balanced snack). Hemp seeds, chia seeds and ground flax seeds are also sources of Omega 3.

Calcium

Calcium is an mineral important in bone health and muscle contraction. Some vegan friendly foods contain calcium but may not be as well absorbed as other sources.

  1. Sesame seeds and tahini (tahini is made from ground sesame seeds and used in hummus, but you can use it for dressings too)

Vitamin D

“The Sunshine Vitamin” is found mainly in salmon, egg yolks and milk. A supplement is most often required to meet your needs, however see below for a vegan food source. It is important for bone health, managing inflammation and may play a role in performance.

  1. Mushrooms (While not a very high source of Vitamin D, mushrooms are the only plant food that naturally contain Vitamin D). Plant based milks like soy and almond milk will be fortified and contain more.

Vitamin B12

Both B12 and iron (below) are involved in red blood cell formation. Low levels of either can result in fatigue. B12 supplements are usually necessary in vegan diets, and iron may be as well.

  1. Nutritional Yeast (With its cheesy flavour, this can be used to make sauces, dips, dressings and more. Or, simply sprinkle it on salads and stirfrys)

Iron

  1. Apricots (Also a great source of quick carbs before or after a workout, add apricots to energy bites and trail mix. Try these Turmeric and Ginger Apricot Energy Bars).
  2. Pumpkin Seeds (Don’t forget about these mighty seeds packed with nutrition! Add to oatmeal, trail mix, and salads or try these No Added Sugar Energy Bites)
  3. Lentils (Protein, fibre and iron. This recipe for Vegan Moroccan Chickpea Stew contains both lentils and chickpeas)

Keep in mind this is just a short list of the many plant based foods you can include in your diet, but this is a good place to start to get those nutrients listed above.

If you would like some support transitioning to a plant based diet or just learn how to include more plant based meals into your diet while maintaining performance, contact me at andreadocherty.rd@gmail.com

Andrea Docherty, RD

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Peanut Thai Tofu Bowls

Peanut Thai Tofu Bowls

This is by far one of my favourite recipes and when we made this during a cooking class, it was a hit with everyone. The smell of the tofu cooking peanut sauce is enough to make you steal a taste before assembling the bowls.

If you are new to cooking with tofu, this recipe will be a great place to start.

If you’re an athlete, this is a well-balanced meal that is great to consume about 4 hours before exercise (this will allow enough time to digest). The brown rice provides the fuel you need during exercise. Because it’s a whole grain, it provides long lasting energy, instead of a quick burst. The protein from the tofu and peanut butter will help slow down digestion and keep you feeling satisfied. Lastly, the beets contain nitrates which are converted to nitric oxide which can have a positive effect on exercise performance.

Peanut Thai Tofu Bowls

Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 16 oz extra firm tofu
  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 2 large beets shredded
  • 1 cup carrots shredded
  • 2 cups Broccoli florets
  • 0.5 tsp olive oil
  • 1-2 cups baby spinach or spring mix salad

Peanut Sauce

  • 2 tbsp soy sauce low sodium
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • ¼ cup natural peanut butter smooth or crunchy
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp chili garlic sauce

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and grease the foil or use a large pyrex dish and grease the bottom.
  2. Drain the tofu and remove from the package. Gently squeeze out some of the water.

  3. Line a cutting board with a tea towel or paper towels, then place the tofu on the towel. Fold the towel(s) over the cubed tofu, then place something heavy on top (like another cutting board, topped with a cast iron pan or large cans of tomatoes) to help the tofu drain. Let the tofu rest for at least 10 minutes and then chop into cubes.
  4. Transfer the pressed tofu to a medium mixing bowl and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to combine.
  5. Transfer the tofu to the baking sheet or pyrex and arrange in one even layer.
  6. In a bowl, toss the broccoli florets with a tsp of olive oil. Place on the other half of the baking sheet.

  7. Bake the broccoli for 15-20 minutes (remove when tender and set aside) and bake the tofu for 20 minutes, tossing halfway or until the tofu is deeply golden on the edges.
  8. Meanwhile, as you are cooking the tofu & broccoli, prepare the sauce. Whisk all the ingredients (soy sauce, maple syrup, peanut butter, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce and ginger) until smooth.
  9. Once tofu has cooked for 20 minutes, remove baking sheet from the oven. Pour half the peanut sauce over the tofu and mix so that all pieces are covered in sauce. Place back in the oven for 10 minutes.
  10. To assemble the bowls, divide all the ingredients evenly. For one serving, in a bowl add 1/4 cup brown rice, ¼ the tofu, ¼ cup shredded carrots, ¼ of the broccoli, ¼ shredded beet and a handful of spinach or spring mix. Top with ¼ of the reserved peanut sauce.