Exercise causes damage to muscle tissue. The benefit of exercise comes after your workout, during the recovery phase, because your body rebuilds stronger and better than before. If you are a hard-working vegan, it's important to get enough protein in your post-workout meal to ensure that your body has plenty of raw material for muscle-building.
Goal of Recovery
Your post-workout snack and meal should be designed to get your body the building blocks it needs for a speedy recovery without taxing the digestive system or overeating. By eating simple foods in the right ratios, you let your body focus on rebuilding rather than digestion. This means you'll bounce back faster from tough workouts, which is a critical factor in building muscle and strength retention. Improper refueling means leaving your body in a stressed state. Stress creates higher levels of cortisol in your body, a hormone that causes you to retain fat and use muscle for fuel, which his the opposite of what you want from your workouts.
Triathlete Brendan Brazier, an expert on vegan nutrition in real training, reports that the first 45 minutes after a hard workout are crucial in recovery. This is not, however, when you want to load up on your protein. Digestion is often a bit sluggish at this point, and protein slows it even more. This means your body goes without desperately needed carbohydrates for longer than it should. Brazier recommends no more than 25 percent of your post-workout snack come from protein, and that you avoid too much fiber or fat as well. For vegans, this might be some fruit with a tiny bit of nut butter or a bottled sports drink. A plain white baked potato, green peas, or cooked carrots would also work. Add a little salt for flavor and electrolytes.
After Workout Meal
Your next meal, eaten an hour or to after your workout, is the perfect time to load up on protein. Your body has replenished its fuel with the carbohydrates from your snack and is now ready to rebuild. Enette Larson, a dietician with the Vegetarian Resource Group, recommends complex carbs with this meal because your body needs both carbs and protein to rebuild. You might have a big bowl of bean soup with a veggie-packed salad, grilled tofu with a baked sweet potato and broccoli, bean chili over a baked potato or a mock-duck stir-fry with plenty of veggies and some brown rice. If you're not really hungry, a smoothie of fresh fruit, soy milk and a few spoonfuls of ground hemp seed or vegan protein powder is easy to eat and provides the right balance of protein and carbs.
If you're training hard, continue to refuel with snacks that combine protein and carbs every few hours. These snacks can include raw veggies with hummus or a small black bean burrito with lettuce and salsa. The higher quality your food, the better and faster your recovery, so try to stick to whole, unprocessed foods such as vegetables and fruits, whole grains and beans. Drink plenty of water, fruit juice or sports drinks to rehydrate.
- "The Thrive Diet"; Brendan Brazier; 2007
- The Vegetarian Resource Group; Eating to Exercise and Compete; Enette Larson
- Vegetarian Nutrition: Sports Nutrition for Vegetarians