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3 Meal Planning Tips for Vegan Athletes

A vegan protein cookie bowl makes an ideal vegan pre workout snack
Fitness Editor
Julia is a qualified fitness trainer. She writes our articles about nutrition and fitness. She also makes free workout plans for our site.

Wondering if vegan sports nutrition is effective enough? Or what the best thing is for vegans to eat if they’re following a strenuous fitness plan? We’ve put together the best tips for vegan pre workout and post workout food.

Vegan Pre Workout Food at a Glance

Eating before exercise is especially important if you want to intensify your exercise performance and burn as many calories as possible, run sprints or long distances, or lift particularly heavy weights.

Working out on an empty stomach can make sense, especially for endurance athletes who train long distances at a moderate intensity. Read all about the advantages and disadvantages of training on an empty stomach here.

No matter what your athletic goal is, or if you simply want to lose a few pounds, eating before exercise will help you achieve your goals.

Eating before exercise: effects & health benefits

  • Energy from carbs enables better muscle performance at higher intensities for more effective training and faster progress.
  • Getting enough amino acids in your pre-workout snack protects against muscle mass atrophy.
  • Improved mental focus.

Eating before exercise: keep this in mind

Whether vegan or not, what you eat before exercise is always subject to the same principles. As for the precise timing, you’ll have to experiment to find out when it’s best for you to eat before what type of exercise.

In general, your last large meal should be 3 hours before working out. You can have a small, high-carb, easy-to-digest pre-workout snack up to 30 minutes before working out.

Long-chain complex carbs from legumes or whole grains up your fiber intake to keep your digestion on track. But the shorter the interval between your vegan pre workout meal and exercise, the less useful those long-chain carbs are.

If you’re still hungry less than 2-3 hours before working out, it’s best to go for a vegan bar or shake as a pre-workout snack because a heavy meal will sit in your stomach too long.

The perfect pre-workout meal is:

  • high in carbs.
  • low in fiber.
  • low in fat.
  • tailored to your goal. We’ll look at what that means exactly in the sections below.

Find out more about eating before exercise in general here:

Eating Before Working Out
Mann macht die Übung Menmakers mit Kettlebell
©AzmanJaka

Eating After a Workout at a Glance

Eating after exercise kickstarts your muscle recovery. The better your sports nutrition, the better your health and performance. To perform at its peak and stay healthy, your body needs all the important macro- and micronutrients in the right quantities.

How much you should eat of what depends on your goal, the intensity of your training, and your health and physical condition. Start planning your vegan post-workout meal by calculating your nutrient needs as part of our free body check!

Quick and Easy Body Check

Eating after exercise: effects & benefits

  • The protein in our Vegan Protein shake contains all the essential aminos to help you maintain and build muscle.
  • The better your post-workout nutrition, the better your regeneration process and the faster you’ll reach your goal.
  • Eating after sports makes you happy: nothing tastes better than a snack after an intensive workout.

Eating after exercise: keep this in mind

Vegan post-workout meals are also subject to the same quality criteria as post-workout meals in any other type of diet. They boost your recovery and should give your body everything it needs to best achieve your goal.

One important thing to remember is the quality of vegan protein sources. Plant foods have different qualities and amino acid profiles than animal protein sources. We’ll take a closer look at what this means for your vegan post-exercise meal later.

Ideally, you’ll drink a vegan post-workout shake or smoothie within the first 30-45 minutes after your workout, then wait about 2 hours or so for your next meal. But always be sure to eat when you’re hungry.

The perfect post-workout meal:

  • is high in protein, so it packs at least 20-25 g.
  • contains a mix of simple and complex healthy carbohydrates.
  • provides you with healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids.
  • is high in fiber and nutrients.
  • is tailored to your goal, we will look at what this means exactly in the following sections.

Check out everything you need to know about eating after exercise here:

Post-workout food
A stack of vegan blueberry pancakes topped with a gooey blueberry compote
©foodspring

Is a Vegan Diet for Athletes Even Possible?

Of course it is! Countless vegan athletes have proven that it’s possible. Competitive athletes such as strongman Patrik Baboumian, Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton, tennis player Venus Williams, ultra athlete Rich Roll, or ex-professional boxer Mike Tyson prove that vegan sports nutrition doesn’t have a negative impact on your fitness in training or competition.

Vegan pre workout and post workout food

It’s always important to plan out your fitness nutrition and it’s essential for competitive athletes. But even in recreational sports you will see faster training progress if your nutrition, training, and lifestyle are coordinated.

With the shift to a vegan diet, you have to reorient your nutrition plans slightly. Plant foods have different nutrient profiles than animal-based products. This difference means some planning and extra attention will be needed at first. But after an initial period of getting used to it, vegan food before and after exercise is just as easy as any other pre- and post-workout meal.

Make sure to keep the following principles in mind:

#1 Your nutritional needs are met.

Of course, that takes more than a single meal. But vegan post-workout meals should always contribute to your daily nutrient goals. Are you giving yourself the micronutrients you need? What plant foods will boost your totals?

Vegans usually get more than enough vitamin C and other vitamins. But you’ve also got to make sure you get enough iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids. Read about which nutrients can be crucial for a vegan diet here.

#2 Your macros are just right.

Plant foods have a different nutrient composition than animal foods. Legumes and pseudocereals are good sources of protein, but they are also high in (healthy complex) carbs. Tofu has an excellent range of aminos, but depending on how it is prepared, may also have a considerable amount of fat.

None of these things are good or bad on their own. All it means is that you need to take a good look at the foods you eat and make a conscious decision to eat them or not.

Our tip: Chickpeas, lentils, almonds, quinoa, and more! In our magazine and recipes, we showcase a wide variety of vegan staples including their nutritional values, preparation, and serving tips and recipe inspirations.

Browse our Vegan Recipes
Green Goddess Sandwich on deep brown Vegan Protein Bread with rolled cucumbers and sprouts inside
©foodspring

#3 Your amino acid profile is balanced.

Protein is made up of different amino acids. There are 20 amino acids in total, and 9 of them are essential. That means you need to get them from your diet because your body does not make them. The more different aminos a food contains, the better your body can use them to maintain and build muscle.

Therefore, when eating vegan after exercise, it’s best to mix different vegetable protein sources together. For example, the combination of legumes and whole grains does a particularly good job of balancing your aminos.

Our Vegan Protein with a new and improved recipe is also the perfect vegan protein shake: pea protein isolate, sunflower seed protein, chickpea protein isolate, and hemp protein give you a balanced amino acid profile. Plus, it tastes smooth, creamy, and plain irresistible!

Try out our Vegan Protein

Vegan Pre Workout Food: Strength Training

Vegan pre-workouts should provide you with enough energy and protein for your strength training. Because intense strength training breaks down your muscles to benefit from supercompensation.

Counteract this before you exercise with a high-protein vegan meal. BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) are also ideal vegan pre workout supplements for muscle growth. Finally, carbs provide you with the energy you need to push yourself to your limits in training.

The perfect vegan pre workout meal for strength training has the following:

  • complex carbs
  • various sources of protein
  • little fat
  • little fiber

5 sample dishes to inspire your vegan meal before strength training

  1. Green Goddess Sandwich
  2. Protein Rainbow Wraps
  3. Mulligatawny Soup with Garlic Coriander Naan
  4. Quick Pasta with Vegan Meatballs
  5. High-Protein Vegan Beet Burger

Our tip: Want a boost before your workout, but not a fan of the usual energy drinks? Our vegan Energy Aminos are the right vegan pre workout supplement for you!

A rainbow wrap filled with a delightful mix of colors and vegetables sits cut open on a speckled stone cutting board.
©foodspring

Vegan Post Workout Food: Strength Training

After strength training, you want to give your muscles back what they lost during your workout. That’s why we recommend you drink a vegan shake within the first 45-60 minutes after your workout.

Your workout stimulates muscle protein synthesis to improve physical performance. In this post-workout phase, your body is more sensitive to the absorption of nutrients and ready to start the recovery process. Make the most of your recovery process with the combination of easily digestible carbs and high quality protein.

Liquid protein is easily digestible and can be absorbed quickly. Our vegan Recovery Aminos with a mix of simple carbs and essential amino acids will get you into recovery mode quickly.

After you’ve refueled first, it’s time to think about eating a real meal. After weight training, almost any vegan meal is a good idea. The more nutritious, the better. As a guideline, you should eat at least 20g of protein per meal.

And as healthy as vegetables and salads are, in weight training, it’s essential that you meet your calorie needs. Greens belong on every plate, as long as you pair them with other foods that are high in energy and protein.

The perfect vegan post workout meal for strength training has the following:

  • approx. 20-35g protein from various plant-based protein sources
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • long-chain carbs
  • dietary fiber
  • vitamins

5 sample dishes for a vegan meal after strength training

  1. Fried Rice with Marinated Tempeh and Peanut Sauce
  2. Loaded Hummus with Roasted Vegetables and Homemade Protein Naan
  3. Vegan Protein Okonomiyaki
  4. Vegan Protein Pasta Buddha Bowl
  5. Vegan Mac and Cheese

More on vegan muscle building can be found here:

Pump it up, vegan style

Vegan Pre Workout Food: Weight Loss

This sounds counterintuitive at first, but even if you want to lose weight, you should – with enough time to digest it – eat a balanced, vegan meal before you work out, for similar reasons as eating before strength training.

You need enough energy to get through intense workouts, burn lots of calories, and benefit from the afterburn effect. At the same time, you want to protect your muscles from breaking down.

The perfect vegan pre workout meal for weight loss has the following:

  • long-chain carbs
  • various sources of protein
  • little fat
  • little fiber

Remember: The most important thing when losing weight is that you maintain your calorie deficit. This applies to vegan diets just as it does to all other diets.

5 sample dishes for a vegan meal before working out for weight loss

  1. Protein Pasta Salad with Beetroot Dressing
  2. Vegan Tomato Galette
  3. Quick Chickpea Salad
  4. Vegan Green Pizza
  5. Vegan Savory Waffles
A vegan tomato galette topped with bright red and yellow tomato slices and garnished with fresh basil leaves sits on a white background. In one corner of the image is a canister of foodspring's Protein Pizza mix
©foodspring

Vegan Post Workout Food: Weight Loss

Vegan meals after exercise for weight loss should be high in protein and fiber, but stay low calorie at the same time. The good thing is that high-quality protein and fiber are digested more slowly than carbohydrates, so you’ll be satisfied for a while even without a pasta side dish.

The perfect vegan post workout meal for weight loss has the following:

  • high in protein
  • high in fiber
  • low in carbs
  • maintains your calorie deficit
  • provides a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids

Important to know: Vegan foods do not automatically have fewer calories. High volume, low calorie vegetables are good vegan fillers but, as healthy as avocado, nuts, and creamy dairy substitutes are, they also have a whole lot of calories.

5 sample dishes for a vegan meal after working out for weight loss 

  1. Beetroot Hummus on Protein Bread
  2. Vegan Lentil Bolognese
  3. Juicy Cauliflower Steak
  4. Lower Carb Carrot Noodles with Peanut Sauce and Tempeh
  5. Low Carb Jackfruit Tacos 

Find more vegan recipes for weight loss here:

Deep Dive into Vegan Dishes

Vegan Pre Workout Food: Endurance

Runners, cyclists, swimmers, and triathletes have slightly different nutritional needs than vegan athletes who specialize in muscle building. For peak physical performance, they need one thing above all: carbohydrates!

Long-chain carbs are always healthier, but they also keep the digestive system busy longer.

In everyday life, they should make up the foundation of your diet. High-protein legumes, whole-grain pasta, bread, or whatever you’re craving. In the last 2 to 3 days before the race, simple carbs are a better idea.

But runners have muscles too: energy from plant-based protein sources should also be part of your standard vegan pre workout meal. Combining legumes and whole grains with a healthy serving of vegetables and the occasional piece of tofu is ideal for endurance athletes. If you’re looking to boost your performance in intense sessions, our creatine monohydrate capsules might be the right vegan pre workout supplement for you.

The perfect vegan pre workout meal for endurance has the following:

  • a large serving of carbs
  • about 20 g of protein
  • healthy fats
  • little dietary fiber

Still need a snack right before your workout? Then Paleo Bars, Energy Bars, or dried fruits are the right thing for you. Especially during strenuous aerobic activity, your stomach can be sensitive to foods that are too heavy. With a little trial and error and by watching your body closely, you’ll figure out how to maintain your athletic performance.

5 sample dishes for a vegan meal before cardio training

  1. Chocolate-Hazelnut Fudgy Protein Shake
  2. Creamy Protein Chocolate Porridge
  3. Pasta alla Norma
  4. Vegan Zucchini Pancakes
  5. Autumn Salad with Tahini Dressing
A stone bowl of vegan peanut stew with potatoes and chickpeas, topped with cilantro and paper-thin lime slices
©foodspring

Vegan Post-Workout Food: Endurance

After your workout is before your next workout: your energy and carbohydrate stores need to be replenished and your muscles supplied with protein. To regenerate optimally, the body also needs micronutrients. You’ve just lost iron, magnesium, and zinc, as well as calcium and sodium, by sweating during your workout, especially on warmer days.

The perfect vegan post-workout meal for endurance has the following:

  • a large serving of carbs from whole grains
  • approx. 20 g protein
  • healthy fats
  • dietary fiber

5 sample dishes for a vegan meal after cardio training

  1. Vegan Peanut Stew
  2. Vegan Protein Pasta with Radicchio and Walnuts
  3. Couscous Salad
  4. Quick Chickpea Salad
  5. Winter Buddha Bowl

Conclusion

  • Vegan pre- and post-workout meals should be designed for your goal, and the type and intensity of your workout and follow the same basic principles as non-vegan pre- and post-workout meals.
  • When losing weight and strength training on a vegan diet, pay special attention to the ratio of macros: vegan shakes help you take in enough protein.
  • Vegan athletes succeed in all sports. Like other nutrition plans, it comes down to balancing your diet and adapting it to your goal.
  • Identify the vegan foods that best fit your goal and try to always have them available at home.
  • As a rough guide, focus on carbs before exercise and protein after exercise.
Article sources
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