How can you harness the benefits of a plant fit diet? Maybe it starts with what you are not eating. It’s been 5 years now since I’ve stopped consuming any animal products. When I initially became vegan for ethical reasons, little did I know I would experience better recovery, optimal body composition and new found health (see related blog post).
Athletes across all disciplines are making the switch to a plant-based diet for the same reasons. Medical professionals in the US are now using a plant-based diet as a viable alternative to the treatment of chronic diseases. Beyond the athletic performance and health front, a plant focussed diet has been researched to promote life extension in different parts of the world.
Step 1 – Cut
Industrially farmed animals are ladened with toxic chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones (which promote cancer cell growth) and saturated fats (which promote heart disease). To maximise yield, these animals are fed grain to fatten them up quickly and cheaply. Grain is not part of the natural diet of these animals. As a result, they are rich in omega 6 fatty acids which promote chronic inflammation. Not only that, carcinogens such as heterocyclic amines are present in animal-based foods. Heterocyclic amines are formed when meat, poultry and fish are cooked at high temperatures.
Take away: Eliminate or reduce the consumption of animal-based foods.
Step 2 – Fuel for life (and to extend life)
Focus on whole plant-based foods that fill you up. Just having salad leaves won’t quite cut it. Along with an unlimited amount of greens, you want to include denser plant fit foods like legumes (bean varieties, soy, tempeh), whole grains (brown rice, oats, quinoa, whole grain pasta, etc.), other starches (potatoes, yams, pumpkin, etc.) and fruits. These foods will form the basis of your plate. The rule of thumb is to keep refined oils low. If you are having fats, keep them to whole sources such as nuts, seeds, avocado and coconut meat. By keeping your fats/oils* low, you will be able to eat till you are satiated without over consuming unnecessary calories.
On the topic of legumes, these plant-based protein sources are rich in leucine. Out of the 9 essential amino acids you get from food, leucine is considered the most anabolic. It is the trigger that facilitates protein synthesis which results in muscle growth and repair.
As for snacks, reach for fruits. Try different fruits that are local to your area and fill up on them between meals. Clear your fridge or pantry of the bad stuff and have a fruit bowl/lots of cut fruit in your fridge ready to go. Fruits are nature’s perfect food.
Here’s what a sample meal plan might look like:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal with cut fruit, plant-based milk and a drizzle of maple syrup
- Lunch: Mexican rice with beans
- Dinner: Low oil/fat pad thai with tofu
- Snacks: Papayas, bananas, pineapple, grapes, mangoes etc.
The thing about plant-based foods is that you do not need to over intellectualise what you consume. You will get all the macro and micronutrients you need to perform in your chosen sport or fitness activity. All you need to do is consume sufficient whole nutrient dense calories based on your activity level.
Take away: Incorporate legumes with your main meals, focus on denser whole plant-based calories while keeping added fats low.
* Fat is the preferred source of fuel for longer duration races or training activities (beyond 90 minutes). If you are an endurance or ultra-endurance athlete, fat requirements will naturally be higher as compared to a strength athlete.
Step 3: Supplements for a Plant Fit Diet
As long as you consume sufficient calories, a whole foods plant-based diet provides all that you need to be healthy and perform athletically. The only 2 supplements you need to incorporate to your nutrition is vitamin B12 and if you do not get sufficient sunlight, vitamin D. Other than that, this perspective provides all the necessary nutrients you need for daily function.
Take away: Supplement with vitamin B12 and get your daily dose/source of vitamin D
The key to achieving success on a plant-based diet is focussing on what you are adding in, rather than taking out. If you are an athlete looking to optimise performance through a plant-based perspective, the best thing you can do is ‘test-drive’. Research what other plant-based athletes in your sporting discipline are doing, then model what they do.
From today onwards, make it a point to explore different plant-based foods and dishes. Most of all, embrace your own journey to becoming Plant Fit for life!