Plant-Based Sports Nutrition: Here’s Everything You Need To Know

By Alexandra Caspero on June 10, 2016

As a part of my new series: How To Vegetarian, I have been sharing and answering so many questions that my readers have been asking. One major topic that is constantly coming up is sports nutrition for vegans and vegetarians! Well, here is a whole athletic guide I’ve put together for you! You will learn all about what post-workout nutrition looks like as well as some of my favorite vegan recipes for athletes. 

Oh, I am so excited to dive into today’s topic. I tend to talk mostly about food and happy weight, but one of my earliest career passions was actually sports nutrition.

Even though I am probably the most uncoordinated person (confirmed by my husband on a daily basis), I really love to move! Whether that’s a quick walk after dinner, a long run, spin class, or dance, I always feel more empowered, energized, and happy after a good sweat session.

My Journey To Loving Sports And Exercise

Much like my happy weight journey, it’s only been in the last decade that I’ve really come to appreciate exercise for what it is: me time.

In the past, I used to be obsessed with finding the hardest, toughest workouts only to feel depleted afterward- body and mind.

I’ve taught group exercise for as long as I can remember; beginning with Jane Fonda style aerobics in high school, then college, and a decade later, at a local spin studio and University.

In my exercise journey, I’ve become a:

  • Certified personal trainer
  • Registered yoga teacher

I even hold a master’s degree in exercise science!

Throughout the years, I’ve also had the opportunity to counsel pros, D1 athletes, weekend warriors, and first-time exercise enthusiasts as well. But, you don’t need those letters and degrees to understand that exercise is important.

What I Learned About Sports Nutrition

When I taught nutrition for health, I used to begin the wellness topic with a slide that showed 100 benefits of exercise- none of which dealt with appearance. I think that’s a really important place to begin because I love exercise for movement’s sake- because it clears my mind, sharpens my focus, and makes me feel good from the inside out.

It took a long time for me to approach exercise this way, instead of being so goal obsessed with calorie burns, muscle definition, and weight loss.

Honestly, I think this approach is what has made exercise a stable part of my life. Like any habit, if you don’t love it, you aren’t going to sustain it long-term. I know that exercise needs to be part of my everyday routine, so I better enjoy it!

When I focus on calorie burning, appearance and efficiency, it stops being fun. When I focus on how good I feel when I move, then I find myself looking forward to my exercise time.

running sports nutrition

What Does Post-Workout Nutrition Look Like?

Generally, post-workout nutrition has three specific purposes:

  • Replenish glycogen (the storage form of carbohydrates in muscle and liver cells)
  • Decrease protein breakdown
  • Increase protein synthesis

When you exercise, your body uses stored energy (glycogen) to power you through your activity. When you’re finished, you need to then replenish those nutrients that are lost, in addition to protein for muscle repair. You’ll usually see recommendations of 3:1 carbohydrates to protein for optimal muscle repair and recovery, but I don’t think it has to be that rigid.

Unless you are training for a specific event, the rules are much more relaxed.

When is the best time to fit it post-workout snacks and meals?

For most of us, having a snack that contains both carbohydrates and protein is efficient, ideally within 20-30 minutes of exercising.

When I work with non-athlete clients, I usually like to time this around a natural meal. So, for instance, if you are working out in the morning, then use the breakfast meal as a post-workout meal. If you prefer to sweat it out in the evening, then make dinner your post-workout meal.

Most of us do a good job of including these foods in our regular meals anyways; it’s just a matter of optimal timing and choosing optimal quality.

What are the benefits when it comes to healthy sports nutrition?

What I love most about sports nutrition is that it can really make a difference, even for those who are casual exercisers.

Good post-workout nutrition can:

  • Improve recovery
  • Decrease muscle soreness
  • Increase the ability to build muscle
  • Improve immune function
  • Improve the ability to utilize body fat stores

These benefits seem to work for everyone, regardless of gender or age, though these benefits and mechanisms tend to increase the more conditioned you are!

Exercise and Sports Nutrition: What To Eat

As I mentioned above, post-workout nutrition is so much more than just protein. Years ago, when I worked as a fitness coordinator, my office was in the middle of a University gym.

It was in many ways the best –and worst– place to work. I loved that I could walk out of my office and start moving, but hated the loud music and the constant distractions but the people I met and observed made up for it.

As a natural people watcher, I was able to pick up on the many post-nutrition food habits of frequent gym-goers. Namely, the protein powder shaker bottle. Guy after guy (sorry to stereotype, but it’s true) would open up their bottle, put in the powder, fill with water, shake and sip.

Well, I’m here to tell (and show) you that post-workout nutrition is so much more than that!

The Best Nutritional Components To Add To Your Post Workout Meal

First off, recovery nutrition requires a balance of both protein and carbohydrates as the evidence shows above. Protein alone is less efficient than combining both protein and carbohydrates, so make sure you are including a source of each.

I like to take things even further by adding in a healthy dose of antioxidants as well since exercise does create oxidative stress.

If you’re already doing this with your meals, high five! Keep doing what you are doing.

My Favorite Vegan Recipes For Athletes And Exercisegoers

I know that when it comes to post-workout eating, whole food meals aren’t always practical. So I came up with a few recipes I felt can help keep up with healthy sports nutrition and wouldn’t necessarily require me to go out of my way.

Breakfast and Snacks

When I used to work in an office, my post-workout breakfast had to be “grab and go” since I didn’t have the capacity to prepare a sit-down meal. I turned to:

  • PB&J sandwiches
  • Smoothies
  • Overnight oatmeal jars

These helped to keep me satisfied and nourished! And, if you’re like me, you want all the benefits of a post-workout meal in an easy-to-consume way.

Lunch and Dinner

As far as lunch or dinner goes, I like to make meals that are filling and will leave me satisfied so I don’t go munching on things I shouldn’t be. I normally turn to bowls, stuffed veggies, etc.

My lastest go-to recipe is this peanut tofu buddha bowl made with brown rice, green veggies such as broccoli and spinach (which is packed full of iron and antioxidants) with added protein from the chickpeas and firm tofu.

Oh, and you can’t forget my recipe for homemade peanut sauce. Delish!

tofu buddha bowl

Here are some more of the recipes I love to make for myself as a vegetarian post-workout meal:

Looking For More Recipe Ideas?

If you are looking to dive deep into starting a healthier lifestyle, I just released a new 7-day email course on “The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Protein” with 40 new recipes- and it’s FREE! 

You’ll learn everything there is to know about plant-based protein options and how to incorporate them into your everyday recipes.

I hope this post on vegan sports nutrition was helpful and answered some of your questions. I’d love to know any comments, thoughts, or questions on this new series! If you are interested in learning more about this series, take a look at this post on omega-3 fatty acids

The Ultimate Plant-Based Protein Cookbook + Course

(Includes 40+ recipes!)


Meet Alex Caspero

Alex Caspero is a Registered Dietitian, New York Times Bestselling Plant-Based Chef and mom of two. She aims to cut through the nutrition noise by providing real-life, nourishing tips for body and mind. Learn more about Alex.

(9 comments) leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    1. Sarah
      June 14, 2016 AT 8:12 am

      For so long after long runs, I would just replenish with carbs and was missing the protein. Then I took my nutrition classes and realized that I needed the protein to build back up my muscles. The combo is so important!

    2. Elizabeth Shaw
      June 10, 2016 AT 10:49 am

      Great reminders on vegetarian nutrition! I love the sweet potato quesadilla post workout idea!

    3. Elizabeth Shaw
      June 10, 2016 AT 10:49 am

      Great reminders on vegetarian nutrition! I love the sweet potato quesadilla post workout idea!

    4. Kristen
      June 10, 2016 AT 9:31 am

      Great overview! I appreciate the post-workout menu options too as I’m always looking for innovative ideas to share with my clients (and for myself 🙂 Everything looks amazing… thank you!

    5. Kristen
      June 10, 2016 AT 9:31 am

      Great overview! I appreciate the post-workout menu options too as I’m always looking for innovative ideas to share with my clients (and for myself 🙂 Everything looks amazing… thank you!

    6. Jessica DeGore RD
      June 10, 2016 AT 6:41 am

      Yes to non meat protein recovery! I’m not a vegetarian but I do eat mostly vegetarian and when I’m training I definitely reply on some quick and easy on the go options like protein shakes. Your spinach pear recipe sounds really interesting- pinning to try next week!