Perhaps you’ve heard about the benefits of a whole-food, plant-based (beyond vegan) lifestyle. You’re interested, but don’t know where to begin. In this article we explore what foods you should eat to support your active lifestyle and promote a lean, strong and healthy body…
Plant-based diet vs Vegan diet – what’s the difference?
It’s important to note the difference between the latest vegan and plant-based food trends. While they may sound synonymous, these two are actually different in a few ways. The primary difference is that while the vegan diet means not consuming any animal products and often eliminating animal-based products in life overall (the use of leather, fur, honey), a plant-based diet doesn’t have to mean eliminating animal products entirely. Instead, it may mean considering them the core of your nutrition. Plant-based approach also places the emphasis on whole foods, where the vegan diet may still include processed foods—so long as they’re made without animal products.
The following approach to nutrition comes from the new cookbook Plant-Powered Athlete, which shares ways to power your body with plants regardless of your activity level.
The only way to build a healthy, strong, muscular and lean body is through eating and living naturally.
Whether you’re reducing or eliminating animal foods for ethical, environmental or health reasons, or just want to see what all the fuss is about with a plant-based diet, eating low on the food chain is the key. Whole, organic plant-based foods have the most amount of nutrition and the least number of calories. They are packed with vitamins, minerals, living enzymes, and antioxidants that are essential for optimal health and peak athletic performance. Living foods are also alkaline forming, which helps reduce inflammation, enhance bone health and immunity, among other amazing benefits.
Here are some general guidelines for you to keep in mind as you begin a Plant-Based Diet:
- Nourish your body with clean, whole, natural foods
- Avoid refined, processed and junk foods
- Choose organic and local whenever possible
- Eat produce that is in season
- Eat real food, rather than relying on supplements
- Stay hydrated
- Eat foods you enjoy, and that agree with you
- Eat until satisfied
- Do not overeat
The Plant-Powered Foods
No matter if you are a professional athlete or someone who is looking to reach higher physical and mental health – a combination of the following foods should form the core of your diet.
Green leafy vegetables form the foundation of any healthy diet.
Romaine lettuce, dinosaur kale, collards, Swiss chard, spinach, and microgreens are some of the most nutrient-rich foods. They are an excellent source of calcium, iron, phytonutrients, and high-quality proteins. Furthermore, they are alkaline-forming and full of active enzymes. To build strength and muscle, recover faster, improve your performance, and reach high levels of health and fitness – include a large green leafy salad into your diet every day
In-Season Colorful Veggies offer an amazing array of health benefits.
Red and yellow peppers, beets, carrots, purple cabbage, tomatoes – all of these colors mean you are getting a wider array of health promoting antioxidants that are linked with better blood sugar management, less inflammation, and healthier skin and eyesight.
Sea Vegetables are another nutrient-rich alkaline-forming food group that should be included in your plant-powered diet. They are a great source of minerals and provide a respectable amount of easily digested chlorophyll and protein. Seaweed contains a concentrated source of iodine and an amino acid called tyrosine – both required for the thyroid gland to function correctly also a natural way to replenish electrolytes lost during physical activity.
Raw fruits are, in many ways, our most natural food. It’s alkaline-forming, easy to digest, satisfying, and can be directly used by the body for energy, with a high rate of efficiency.
Try to include several pieces of fresh fruit into your diet daily. Aim for ripe and non-hybridized fruit (with seeds). It is also best to consume locally grown organic fruits during their season.
Note: For ideal digestion, eat preferably one kind of fruit at a time. Since fruits leave the stomach within 20-40 minutes, it is better not to eat them with other foods, which could lead to fermentation, bloating, and even diarrhea. The best times for eating fruit are midmorning and mid-afternoon, or for breakfast with nothing else.
Probably the most misunderstood macronutrient. Raw plant fats are essential to our health – they provide energy, protect the wall of each cell in the body, help lubricate the joints as well as the digestive tract. Many raw nuts and seeds contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs). These essential fats support the function of the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems, as well as encourage proper absorption of certain nutrients. For an athlete, these fats play an important role in repair and recovery, helping to reduce inflammation in the body. Getting enough of these healthy fats through what you eat is essential for long-term athletic performance.
COMPLEX UNREFINED CARBOHYDRATES
Carbohydrates are our body’s first choice for fuel, and it’s important to include them into our plant-powered diet. The challenge is that over 90% of the carbs consumed by most people today are highly refined, highly processed, and mostly in the form of white flour and sugar. If your goal is to enjoy excellent health and perform well physically and mentally, then we encourage you to stay away from them! Personally, we get almost all of our carbohydrates from fruit, which is a simple carbohydrate that requires less work for the body to break down. Once in awhile, we include complex carbohydrates from sprouted whole grains, pseudo-grains, pulses, and starchy vegetables. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Sprouted whole grains are rich in protein, satisfying and offer some essential macronutrients, including the B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, iron, and essential amino acids often lacking in grains, such as lysine. Another benefit of sprouted grains is the fiber content that helps keep blood sugar levels in check and deliver slow-release, steady energy throughout the day.
Pseudograins are not grains in the classic sense; they are seeds, often used in place of conventional grains. Since pseudograins are gluten-free, they are easily digestible and suitable for those who are gluten-intolerant or sensitive to gluten. Other than being a beneficial source of complex carbohydrate, pseodograins also provide high-quality protein, zinc, and B vitamins.
Pulses are part of the legume family (any plants that grow in pods), but the term pulses refers only to the dry edible seeds within the pod. Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and split peas are the most common types of pulses. Pulses are unique because they have distinct health benefits apart from other legumes. Unlike legumes like peanuts and soy, for example, pulses are low in fat and very high in protein and fiber.
Starchy vegetables are an important part of the plant-powered diet; however, only modest amounts are needed.
What makes a food SUPER?
A superfood is a food that is more nutrient-rich the regular food and has unique health-promoting properties. These foods typically contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and some even contain amino acids, adaptogens, and chlorophyll. Certain superfoods have medicinal properties as well, from treating seasonal allergies to regulating hormones. The benefit of including superfoods into your plant-powered diet is that you will be getting an impressive amount of nutrition and consume much less food. Therefore, superfoods are especially beneficial for those with weight loss goals, as well as anyone with weakened or impaired immune or digestive systems. Since the intent of the plant-powered diet is to eat the most natural and nutrient-rich foods, we feel that every single person can benefit from incorporating some superfoods into their daily regime.
Fermented, aka cultured foods, are known to help “heal and seal” your gut which will get you on your way towards optimal health. You can’t rely on cultured foods alone, however, it can be a beneficial addition to your plant-powered diet. So, what exactly is fermented food? Fermentation is the process of culturing healthy bacteria in food. Cultured foods such as coconut yogurt, sauerkraut, raw cultured veggies, and kombucha are rich sources of probiotics and enzymes that help support the immune system and fight inflammation in the body. Eating raw fermented foods and drinks, preferably before or with every meal in some form, essentially improves the quality of the whole meal and allows for better digestion as well as absorption.
About our Authors: Zuzana & Nikki are all about living a healthy, sustainable lifestyle, and their mission is to help educate people about the possibilities of nutrient-dense food, mindful movement and earth-friendly living. To find out more and download a free sample of the book visit: https://activevegetarian.com/plant-powered-athlete-book