I had always been under the impression that I needed to eat a lot of protein in order to perform better in any type of physical activity. I'm guessing that most people think this given the amount of talk I hear about protein shakes anytime that I am eavesdropping at the gym. For most people, it is protein on top of protein, given that they are eating a bunch of meat, eggs and dairy, then drinking a whey shake. I had always been under the misconception that athletes need a lot more protein and always thought of it in terms of percentage of protein in their diet. All of the studies that I've been reading, indicate that athletes actually do need more protein, but only because they need more calories. The percentage of protein doesn't change much. They need 8-12% and the average person needs 8-12%. I feel like I cannot write this enough and tell myself this enough because old habits die hard. I used to eat about 25% protein a day. And I felt pretty awful. My recovery after races and a hard workout was rough. My legs would be sore for days. Honestly, it is an unexpected benefit that I enjoy hardly ever being sore no matter how hard I work out. I am more limited by soreness in my knees (old cartilage. boo.) than muscle soreness. And here is why... not exactly a news flash, I eat a lot of plants!! I have a recovery shake consisting of something like 1 c coconut water, 2 T flax, 1 c blueberries, 1 t maca, 1 ripe banana, 2 c loosely packed spinach and 1 scoop of vanilla Sun Warrior protein powder. Before I get jumped on for contradicting myself, I do not eat any animal protein of any kind and sometimes cannot get the calories I need to get my 8 to 10% protein and that's where the powder fits in.
Lots of professional athletes, endurance athletes and even body builders are finding that plant based eating is the way to go for them. They find that they see better performance and way shorter recovery times. That seems to be the biggest difference that people note, and as I said, I can vouch. Here is the deal.... After a workout, where we’ve put stress on the body, stress hormones (cortisol) pump out more abundantly and insulin levels drop (and blood sugar levels also go down). Sometimes we feel lightheaded after a workout and grab the closest thing we can to feel better. Always better to plan ahead. I have really learned this over the past couple of years. Whole food carbs are KEY. Protein should be restored as well, and it is best utilized by muscle cells when carbs are eaten with it. The protein shake, or big bowl of egg whites, and low carb thing is not a big help at all. They definitely work in sync. Yet, protein, is what most people reach for. I see it every day. Quality carbs help drive amino acids from protein into the muscle cells where they are needed most. Refined sugar is inflammatory and causes stress to the body so is not a good option.
Oxidative stress is something that naturally happens when we work out (and basically just live in a world full of pollution, and toxins, I know, Debbie Downer alert, but facts are facts ) and is yet another thing that a plant based diet takes care of. Basically our cells are stressed by exercise, think of your body rusting like an old car, and the best way to undo that stress is proving to be a great mix of phytonutrients and antioxidants found in whole plant foods.
I have also seen plants work very well for my son who is a freshman on the track team at his high school. His performance is effected so much by what he eats before and after his work outs! He feels like he is being a little sneaky having this advantage over other athletes because he eats the right stuff before and after he works out hard. I offered to do a talk for his team and he was like nah, it's good this way. Sneaky dude. Boy's packing plants... watch out!
Most well rounded plant based meals consist of all that we need for optimal sports performance. Think a whole grain, some protein (beans are awesome), and some fruit or veggies. My son just got home from track and had a snack of a peanut butter sandwich, a banana, an orange, and some cucumbers. Bet he runs fast tomorrow! Some other examples of his pre and post workout snacks are: a quinoa bowl filled with quinoa, red peppers, cucumbers, cashews and a tiny bit of olive oil, salt and pepper; dried mango with almonds, cranberries and a bowl of brown rice (he eats it all separately, doesn't love things mixed together); apple with almond butter; and smoothies like the one that I have in the morning.
Recipe of the week.... I promised a recipe a week so here you go! Asian Veggie Noodle Bowl
I made this last week and my whole family was scraping the bottom of their bowls trying to get every last drop
Ingredients: pack of soba noodles or brown rice spaghetti 4 c chopped broccoli - cut into small pieces - about 1/2-3/4 inch florets 2 carrots chopped into matchsticks 1 c sugar snap peas cut into 1/2 inch pieces 2 red peppers diced into 1/2 inch pieces 1 8 oz package of sprouted tofu drained and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (optional) 1 small can water chestnuts cut into small pieces (optional) 1/4 c cashew pieces 1/4c + 3 T low sodium tamari 3-4 T rice wine vinegar 1/4 t ginger 1/4 t red pepper flakes (more if you want a kick) 1 t toasted sesame oil
Cook the noodles according to the directions then drain.
Broth sauté the broccoli, peas and peppers then after a few minutes the carrots until they are tender but still a bit crisp (not soggy). Here is a water sauté demo if you don’t know how to broth sauté. GREAT technique to know!!! He uses water but I like to use veggie broth or stock. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xH7nzsAFUE4 . JD never believed veggies would taste good without oil and now he doesn’t like them with it.
Toast your cashews on a hot pan until they are light brown. I have also used already toasted cashews.
Coat a pan lightly with spray coconut oil and heat your tofu until it has a bit of a brown sear on it.
Combine tamari, rice wine vinegar, ginger, red pepper flakes and sesame oil. You can definitely play around with this sauce. I have added more rice vinegar and more ginger depending on the mood I'm in. Also more red pepper flakes if you want more of a kick.
Add noodles, tofu, and water chestnuts to veggies and pour sauce over. Gently combine and heat up until everything is coated with the sauce. Next add the tofu and continue to combine gently so it doesn’t fall apart. Add the cashews right at the end.
Play around with the veggies. I have added cauliflower, and napa cabbage and it was amazing. If you like green onions throw them on there as well. We are not big fans, so we don’t but go for it if you are!
I have spent most of my time on this blog talking about how I was going to take my meat loving family from eating lots of meat to eating plant based. Happily, it has become second nature for us now. I really can't imagine ever eating animal protein again. JD is totally down with the plants, and although he still struggles a bit, he is at least 95% plant based now. An egg or 2 sneak in once and a while, as do some cookies, but he is doing great and loves the way he feels. The boys still have meat here and there, but eat a crazy amount of plants and enjoy lots of plant based meals that they never would have gone near before. It is time for this blog to change its form a bit, as recounting our day to day would be monotonous... "ate a plant based dinner, no one complained blah, blah, blah". The struggle was real, but now it is hardly a struggle. Soooo.... from now on, I will be posting about my bird Ollie and how cute he is and how many seeds he eats. I'm kidding!!! Actually, I will be posting weekly now and will include recipes and support that I think will be most helpful if you are starting and/or continuing your plant based journey. I also finally have a way to subscribe to my blog (just to the right of this), so you will be notified each week when I throw my 2 cents out there.
First, I would like to share a recent experience which I think fits in well to the "New year/New you" vibe as people are often making it a resolution (again.. and again.. and again...) to lose weight. Before the holidays, I had the pleasure of working with a group of nurses who all work the night shift. They had been doing an amazing job taking care of others, but not as great a job taking care of themselves. All of them had a decent amount of weight to lose and were meeting with (my husband and I) to learn how. My husband JD spoke to them about taking care of their minds and souls (he is the creator and producer of Biggest Loser, Extreme Weight Loss, I Used to be Fat, My Big Fat Revenge and very passionate about helping people), and I spoke to them about how to get started on a plant based diet. They would do a 10 day plant based challenge and then weigh in. To say they ran with it is an understatement. They have been posting pictures of their meals and snacks and have been super creative with what they bring to work. They have believed in themselves and supported each other and blazed through the holidays eating a whole new diet of plants. After 10 days we checked in with them to see how they were doing and check their weights. It was astounding...one lost 14lbs, one lost 12 pounds, three lost 9 pounds, one lost 6 and one 4 pounds... in 10 days!!! I see this time and time again when people start eating this way. The weight flies off without even trying to lose weight or "dieting". People always come to me newly eating plant based and are so nervous saying, "I am eating too much food!! There is no way I can lose weight this way." Time and time again, they do. The food is nutrient dense, not calorie dense so it is so filling. Whole food plant-based is the key though, as there are plenty of ways to eat junk food and still eat a vegan diet. Oreos are vegan, so is coconut oil and too many people hold dear the misconception that this oil is magical so eat way too much of the stuff. It is loaded with fat and calories, and no, not the good kind of fat. All of the good studies show this (save the couple that the coconut oil industry did). Bummer. Believe me, I wish it were great for you, I would be drinking the stuff. I love the taste of coconut oil, but only splurge once in a while when I have a vegan dessert. Same goes for olive oil. I use it very sparingly. OK, this is not a blog about oil today, but vegan junkfood, and going crazy with the oil are 2 ways to NOT lose weight on a plant food diet. They don't even fit into a WHOLE FOOD plant based diet. Bread is another downfall I should mention. Stick with very grainy breads and brown rice or quinoa pastas and you will be successful. If you are trying to lose weight, limit portions to 2 of cooked grains and pastas max and 2 slices of bread a day (up it a cup or a slice if you exercise a lot).
Consider adding to your resolutions to go whole food plant based for 10 days and let me know how you feel. I guarantee it is a life changer (and a life extender). For some, the first week or can be a detox week so you may feel not so good. From then on though, it just gets better and better!! And the weight loss follows. Always. And the numbers can be astounding!
Go back 2 blogs to my Getting Started on a Plant Based diet for lots more info.
Here is my recipe of the week. I make it ALL the time and it is very filling and extremely DELICIOUS!!!
RECIPE OF THE WEEK No boil brown rice noodle veggie lasagne 14-oz. pkg. firm organic tofu, well drained. ½ cup chopped fresh basil 2 t oregano 2 cloves garlic, peeled (I don't use, but do if you like garlic) 2 Tbs. lemon juice 1 tsp. salt 3 T nutritional yeast ½ tsp. red pepper flakes 4 medium-size zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 3 cups) (I use a mandoline and do it lengthwise) 1 very thinly sliced large eggplant (mandoline best here as well) 4 c spinach leaves 4 cups marinara sauce (use a good sauce, it makes a difference. Make sure it does not have too much sugar or oil...) Package of brown rice lasagna noodles (I get these at whole foods)(9 oz.)
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a deep 13×9-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Combine tofu, basil, oregano, garlic, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, salt, and red pepper flakes in food processor; blend until smooth and similar to ricotta in texture.
2. Spread 4 Tbs. marinara sauce over bottom of prepared deep baking dish. Cover with layer of noodles, overlapping slightly, half of tofu mixture and layer the zucchini, spinach, and eggplant. Top with another layer of noodles, tofu, eggplant, spinach and zucchini, and 3/4 cup sauce. Finish with another layer of noodles, veggies and 3/4 c sauce then you can sprinkle the top with Daiya cheese. Drizzle 1 cup water over the lasagna. It stays moist and you ensure that the noodles and veggies cook through.
4. Cover tightly with foil, and bake at 350 for 1 hour. Sometimes it takes longer. I like the noodles a bit crisp on the edges so I usually go longer and take the foil off for a bit at the end of baking it. Keep checking to make sure the noodles are getting nice and soft. After removing from the oven, let rest 10 minutes before serving. I like refrigerating and serving the next day. It tastes even better. It freezes amazingly well too.
5. I like to serve topped with Rao's marinara sauce. Just a few tablespoons really give it a great taste. I don't use it in the whole lasagna because there is a lot of sugar and oil in that sauce. Trader Joe's has an organic marinara which is quite good.