Until recently, words such as fibre, fruits and soya where often frowned upon in the meaty protein-filled world of professional athletes seeking recovery nutrition. But as with everything in life, we often mock or scorn things that we do not know much about, or simply just do not understand.
Plant-based diets are on the rise worldwide, and perhaps the reasons are linked to the health benefits. With good planning, vegan diets are nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention, and treatment, of certain diseases. Evidence indicates that vegans typically have:
- a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes,
- reduced blood cholesterol levels,
- and reduction in hypertension.
The factors that may improve the health benefits, include a higher intake of fibre, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, as well a lower intake of saturated fat and sodium.
There is more to the plant-based diet than meets the eye
It is also very important to know exactly what a vegan diet is – you cannot just eat a bowl of peas during lunchtime and think you are sorted for your next big endurance race. It seems that every second health guru has gone vegan at some point. The vegan diet is very specific, excluding all animal products and byproducts. These are notably: red meat, poultry, fish and seafood, dairy products, eggs, and honey.
A very important question to ask is whether a vegan diet can provide enough strength and stamina for optimal sports performance. The answer is definitely yes; if it is followed adequately by having a wide variety of different foods from the available food choices.
It is quite obvious that limiting certain foods, such as animal products that contain protein, the concern often arises that vegan diets are low in protein. However plant sources of protein can be included satisfactorily in the vegan diet to provide the necessary daily protein requirements.
Quinoa and soybeans contain all nine essential amino acids and can be considered complete proteins. Research indicates that a variety of plant foods eaten over the course of a day can provide all essential amino acids, as well as ensure adequate nitrogen retention and use in healthy adults. Thus, complementary proteins do not need to be consumed at the same meal.
Don’t even try to match his pull-ups
But more to the point; vegan diets do work. Look at athletes such as Frank Medrano, the American calisthenics superstar. At an extremely lean 74 kilograms, he can still outperform almost every meathead in the gym on the apparatus that probably tests your strength the most: the pull-up bar.
Obviously Medrano gets a lot of questions regarding his diet. And his answer is simple:
“The majority of my meals come from lentils, quinoa, beans, broccoli, spinach, whole grain breads, pastas and cereals, wild yams, brown rice, almond milk, nuts, fruits, peanut butter, mushrooms and supplement with some protein powder.”
Coming from a guy who boasts a 5% body-fat percentage, while at the same time having the ability to do a million unbroken pull-ups (with a 50kg chain strapped around his waist); that bowl of lentils suddenly looks a lot more appealing, doesn’t it?
Recovery nutrition is a key ingredient for success
Training intensely for months can be of great value for the preparation process for specific sports events or competitions. But to ensure that performance is optimal at all times, there are various things that you need to keep in mind.
As all body functions require energy; nutrition is a key ingredient before, during and after your workout – think of it as the fuel to your muscles’ engine. Recovery nutrition is not always seen as the main priority – it often plays a quite distant second fiddle to your pre-workout drink. However, fuelling the body appropriately after your workout is extremely important for sustainable performance.
Post-workout nutrition is a fascinating topic as it can improve various functions in the body, namely:
- Replenish glycogen stores
- Decrease protein breakdown
- Increase protein synthesis
- Repair any damage caused by the workout
Anticipated benefits of good recovery nutrition include:
- Improved recovery
- Less muscle tenderness
- Increased ability to build muscle
- Improved immune function
- Improved bone mass
- Improved ability to burn body fat
The benefits of recovery nutrition are clearly highlighted, but the reason for its importance is something we can all strive to understand a bit better.
When we train or workout, we damage tissues and we use fuel to provide sufficient energy. Remember, the faster your muscle train wants to roll on the tracks, the more high quality coal it needs. Likewise, the repair and rebuilding process needs optimal nutrition to ensure protein synthesis for muscle recovery and to replenish glycogen stores.
Therefore protein, as well as carbohydrates, is required in recovery nutrition in the post-workout period. This is also very dependent on the goals you have.
A very important facet to keep in mind is the availability of certain nutrients. If glucose and amino acids are available (carbs and protein in their simplest form), then the body is signalled to utilise those nutrients to rebuild and replenish.
You have limited time – use it wisely
The post-workout period when nutrition should be ingested, is often referred to as the ‘window of opportunity’. During this time muscle repair, growth and strength can be achieved by adequate protein ingestion or protein synthesis.
Nutrition’s window of opportunity also only has limited time available – it lasts up to approximately two hours after training. If inadequate nutrition is provided post-exercise and not quickly enough, muscle glycogen storage and protein synthesis can be delayed. On the other hand, data has also revealed that a pre-event meal can still assist with protein synthesis and glycogen storage, even post-exercise. So it is important to keep the situation in mind. Exercising in a fasted state will definitely require a recovery meal/snack post workout.
Want to train smart? Eat even smarter
The first thought is often to eat a whole food meal immediately after exercise. This is not always practical.
Data has shown that ingesting approximately 20 grams of protein after your workout may initiate protein synthesis. With intense workouts/training, the ideal is to ingest 30 grams of carbs and 15 grams of protein in 500ml water per hour. It can be sipped during your training of taken afterwards.
When aiming for specific goals such as losing body fat – use BCAAs (Branch Chained Amino Acids) as a workout drink. Leaner athletes, who still want to lose body fat, should choose a smaller dosage (1/2 dose) of protein and carbohydrate combination, or opt for BCAAs.
What should you eat after intense exercise?
Let’s get practical.
It is no secret that everyone differs in what their food preferences are, as well as the state of their appetite. Therefore these two factors should be kept in mind when considering what to eat post-workout.
The foods should be:
- Loaded in quality carbohydrate to replenish muscle fuel stores.
- Contain some protein to promote muscle repair.
- Include a source of fluid and electrolytes to rehydrate efficiently.
Immediate recovery foods:
- 800ml sports drink of cordial
- Three pieces of fruit
- Green smoothie containing fruit, soya milk, chia seeds
- Vegan protein supplement
Other recovery nutrition options may include:
- Bowl of oats with berries and soya milk
- Fresh fruit salad
- Spaghetti with lentil bolognaise
- Bean and lentil soup
- Quinoa salad
- Banana or apple with nut butter
Hydration is another key to success for recovery
Hydration is such an important part of sports nutrition and should be a huge priority for recovery nutrition.
If fluid is mainly used for rehydration purposes, then water or an electrolyte drink are great options. When drinking to meet your carbohydrate, protein and electrolyte goals; then sports drinks and vegan protein shakes are more than enough.
Finishing a race with a medal or an improved time is a great personal reward. Now reward your body by eating and drinking wisely after your training session.
Whether it is a smoothie or a fresh fruit salad; sustainable performance and results are guaranteed.
After all, we are what we eat and the success of your next big adventure can rely heavily on how well you allow your body to recover after exercise.