If you are beginning a plant-based diet, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating the right foods and are prepared for the transition phase as your body adjusts to eating less meat.
Since protein and iron are most readily absorbed by animals, you’ll need to incorporate plant-based proteins into each meal and snack and combine them accordingly to get enough. And as an athlete, you really depend on that protein for muscle recovery post-workout and to have enough energy and stamina to power through those workouts too.
What’s more, your body and mind might feel different at first! That transitional period is real, so you’ll want to prepare yourself for what to expect and figure out ways to get through it with ease. Once you do, you’ll find you can totally thrive as an athlete on plant-based—it protects your heart, increases your intake of fresh veggies, fiber and other plant foods, and it is good for the environment, too! Here are the best tips to keep in mind.
Go for Plant Proteins
If you are ditching meat, or limiting intake to eat mostly plants in the week with animals in moderation, don’t just eat bread and pasta. Instead, eat plant sources that offer rich protein, like beans, legumes, certain grains like quinoa, soy like edamame and tofu, seitan and tempeh.
These foods will fuel your brain and body and aid in muscle repair after a workout. Incorporate them into each meal and snack, and combine when needed. Combine black beans and brown rice to make a complete protein! Some are complete on their own though too—tofu and quinoa are, so eat them as often as you can!
Go Lighter With Workouts at First
As you transition, you might not have as much energy as usual. So, start slower with workouts or go for lighter intensity. Once you feel better with your diet and lack of meat, you can increase and dial it back up. Instead of HIIT, maybe try lower impact activity, like a jog, Pilates or barre, and go for weight training. Or do HIIT, but shorten the duration at first. See what works for you.
Ease Into It
Don’t quit meat and go vegan right off the bat. First off, plant-based is not vegan, so you can still enjoy meat in the diet in moderation—you just emphasize plant foods. If you do want to really cut back or turn vegan though, you should still ease into it gradually. So, start by halving portions, increasing the days of Meatless Monday in the week, and trying a variety of plant foods to see what you like best. Learn how to cook delicious meals with them so you can get more familiar with cooking techniques and flavors.
Eat Enough Calories
By cutting back on meat, you may also cut back on calories, as there are more in a piece of steak or fish than there are in leafy greens or tofu. If you are athletic, you need to make sure you’re eating enough food to fuel your workouts and aid in muscle recovery, and you don’t want to eat too little where you might become malnourished and lethargic.
Plus, lack of nourishment can also strip you of muscle, leading to loss and fat storage. So, even if you’re eating more plants, make sure you are eating enough of those plants and including good proteins and fats to make up enough calories per meal and snack.