Plant-Fueled Performance: Feeding Your Athlete (or yourself) for Success

Plant-based diets have become increasingly popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts, as they offer health and performance benefits. Adequate protein intake is crucial for athletes.  Plant-based diets add phytonutrients as well as protein to fuel energy and strength while minimizing oxidative stress, aiding in recovery, boosting nitric oxide and other cardiovascular benefits, and minimizing stress on other organs.

Plant-based protein-rich foods can effectively stimulate muscle protein synthesis, comparable to animal-based proteins. They support muscle gain and strength improvements, dispelling the notion that animal-based proteins are superior. And, they can adequately meet energy and protein requirements while benefiting cardiovascular health and reducing inflammation. Even plant-based protein supplements, such as pea protein and rice protein, effectively support muscle recovery and enhance performance in resistance training. Plant-based proteins possess anti-inflammatory properties and can aid in reducing exercise-induced muscle damage, leading to faster recovery.

One of the best ways to make sure you are meeting protein needs as well as other nutrient needs is to plan ahead and plan protein for every meal. Focusing on higher protein plant foods will not only leave you feeling satisfied, it will provide a wide-range of nutrients, too.  Protein-rich plant foods are high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

It was once taught that planning for vegan proteins was difficult and involved food combining.  I learned this way when I was studying nutrition for my masters.  We now know that we recycle amino acids. Proteins are constantly being broken down, recycled, and reused. We don’t recycle all of the amino acids, some are eliminated throughout the day, so we do need to replace those. You do not have to consume all of the essential amino acids in one meal, and ALL PLANT FOODS CONTAIN ALL ESSENTIAL AMINO ACIDS.  Some plants are higher in one set of proteins and other plants are higher in others, so variety is key.  

While all plant foods contain all essential amino acids, it may not be enough to meet your needs to only eat that one plant.  Romaine has all of the essential amino acids, BUT you would have to eat an extremely large portion of romaine to meet your needs, and they wouldn’t be in proportion to your needs. By eating other plants during the day (You do need to eat something), you can easily meet all of your needs. Here are some options for the essential amino acids (These are the amino acids that you must get in your diet): From

  1. Isoleucine: watercress, chard, sunflower seeds, spinach, kidney beans 
  2. Leucine: alfalfa seeds, kidney beans, watercress, sunflower seeds
  3. Lysine: watercress, walnuts, peas, lentils, brewer’s yeast, almonds, chickpeas
  4. Methionine and Cysteine: sesame seeds, seaweed, spirulina, Brazil nuts, oats
  5. Phenylalanine and Tyrosine: sesame seeds, kidney beans, spinach, peanuts
  6. Threonine: watercress, spinach, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, kidney beans
  7. Tryptophan: spinach, turnip greens, broccoli rabe, asparagus, oat bran, kidney beans, watercress
  8. Valine: mushrooms, snow peas, kidney beans, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds
  9. Histidine: apples, beets, carrots, celery, cucumber, spinach

You can see how important it is to include greens and seeds in your diet. Not only are they high in the essential amino acids, they are also high in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and fiber, as well. This makes these foods anti-inflammatory which is very important for muscle building and recovery.

When focusing on building muscle, we have to remember that muscle is built and repaired by growth hormone.  Growth hormone is highest when we sleep and it isn’t released when insulin is in the blood.  We need to allow breaks between meals and especially at night before we go to bed to optimize growth hormone. Keeping blood sugar in balance by choosing low-glycemic plant foods and going to bed 2-3 hours after you eat helps optimize muscle recovery.  If you wake up hungry, it’s either because your last meal spiked your blood sugar causing a hypoglycemic response OR you didn’t eat enough.

When swapping meat and dairy for plant-foods, calories are usually cut, as well.  Plant foods contain fiber which fills us up sooner than meat and dairy, so we eat less, AND plant-foods are usually lower in calories and fats.  If you swap a burger for a salad at lunch, you need to make sure it is a BIG salad.  I make my lunch salad in a 9×13 brownie pan with a lid.  It is BIG and is loaded with different greens, different colors of veggies, and beans, peas, or lentils, maybe a left-over bean burger, pumpkin seeds, and a nut or seed-based dressing.  I’m a small person at 5’1”, but my meals are BIG.

Here’s a complete day of meals for athletes following a plant-based diet:


– Overnight oats made with sprouted oats, unsweetened almond milk, chia seeds, and a dash of vanilla extract. Top with a mix of fresh berries and a sprinkle of chopped nuts or seeds.

– A side of tofu or chickpea scramble or tempeh bacon for even more protein and savory flavor.

– Enjoy with a cup of green tea or a low-glycemic fruit salad or smoothie.


– A hearty salad with a base of mixed greens, quinoa or brown rice, and an assortment of colorful veggies such as cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, and shredded carrots.

– Top the salad with protein-rich ingredients like green peas, cooked chickpeas, edamame, or marinated tofu.

– Dress the salad with a homemade dressing made from olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and herbs.

– Enjoy with a small portion of sweet potato for added carbohydrates. 

– Finish with homemade energy bites or a bar made with dates, nuts, and seeds for a quick and nutritious boost.

– Pair with a piece of fruit like an apple or orange for additional fiber and vitamins.

Afternoon Snack:

– A smoothie made with a plant-based protein powder, almond milk, a handful of spinach or kale, a cup of frozen fruit, and a tablespoon of nut butter for a creamy and protein-packed snack.

– Alternatively, opt for a handful of trail mix with a mix of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit for a quick and energizing snack.


– A generous portion of roasted vegetables such as broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini, and sweet potatoes, seasoned with herbs and spices.

– Serve the roasted vegetables with lentils, black beans, or baked tofu.

– Include a side of whole grains or pseudo-grains like quinoa or brown rice.

– Add a small side salad or steamed greens for extra fiber and nutrients.

-For added calories and nutrients, add a shake made with a protein powder of your choice, almond milk, and a scoop of natural nut butter with a small serving of fresh fruit like berries for added antioxidants.

Training on a plant-based diet provides athletes with a multitude of benefits. Plant-based diets are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds found in vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fruits, which aid in reducing exercise-induced inflammation, promoting faster recovery, and minimizing muscle soreness. This enables athletes to train more frequently and at higher intensities. Plant-based diets offer optimal nutrient intake, supplying complex carbohydrates for sustained energy, adequate protein for muscle repair, healthy fats for overall health, and a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These nutrients support muscle function, immune response, and overall well-being. 

A plant-based diet can improve cardiovascular health by reducing saturated fat and cholesterol intake while increasing consumption of heart-healthy fats, enhancing blood flow, oxygen delivery, and endurance performance. Moreover, maintaining a healthy weight is facilitated by the lower calorie density of plant-based foods, promoting weight management, and optimizing body composition for better athletic performance. Plant-based diets also contribute to gut health and digestion due to their fiber, prebiotic, and probiotic content, leading to improved nutrient absorption, reduced gastrointestinal issues, and enhanced overall health. Athletes training on a plant-based diet aligns with sustainable and ethical practices, reducing environmental impact and supporting biodiversity conservation. By choosing a plant-based diet, athletes can fuel their performance effectively, promote their well-being, and make a positive impact on the environment.

Plant-based protein can play a significant role in supporting athletic performance, muscle growth, and recovery. Athletes and individuals following plant-based diets can meet their protein requirements through various plant sources and protein supplements. It is essential to debunk the misconception that animal-based proteins are necessary for optimal athletic performance. By carefully planning their nutrition, athletes can thrive on plant-based diets, achieving their fitness goals while reaping the benefits of improved health and performance.

I’ll be going deeper into the subject of Plantbased Proteins and Athletes in my LIVE workshop at Bulldog Gym on June 10. Are you local?  Contact Bulldog to register. Live too far away?  Hit reply and I’ll see if I can send you a recording.

For a documentary showing plantbased athletes, I like the movie, The Gamechangers.  For a documentary on plantbased diets, I like What The Health.  For short videos on plantbased information, I like

Do you need help planning meals and coming up with plantbased recipes?  Click here to see if we would work well together.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: