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!