What To Eat Before And After A Workout As A Vegan

You don't need protein powder to meet your needs.
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When it comes to pre-workout and post-workout nutrition, it's all about timing, carbs and protein -- for vegans and non-vegans alike. The wrong timing can lead to delayed recovery, compromised results and stomach upset during training, while proper timing and food help you perform at your best.

To make sure you get the most out of your training session, HuffPost Australia spoke to two dietitians about the best pre- and post-workout snacks for vegans.

How important is pre- and post-workout nutrition?

"Good pre- and post-workout nutrition will help you build lean muscle, recover properly from your training and allow you to train effectively again at your next session," accredited practising dietitian Rebecca Gawthorne told HuffPost Australia.

Think of it like fuelling a fire with long-lasting firewood, or a car with fuel. To achieve optimal performance when working out, it's important to put the right fuel into our body beforehand.

"Poor pre-workout nutrition can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and cramping, increased level of perceived effort, and impair power output and endurance," accredited practising dietitian and performance dietitian Jessica Spendlove said.

"And without appropriate post-workout nutrition we can compromise our results, delay our recovery and increase the degree of muscle soreness. This can then impact on the next workout, particularly if you haven't replenished your energy stores appropriately."

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What's the best timing for pre-workout and post-workout snacks?

"[The timing] really depends on the individual and what they're able to tolerate, but a general rule to go by is a meal 2-4 hours before or a snack 1-2 hours prior," Spendlove told HuffPost Australia. "The composition of the meal will largely determine how close to exercise the meal can be.

"If you are having a larger meal then go for one which contains good-quality carbohydrate with a moderate amount of protein 3-4 hours prior to a workout. If it's a smaller meal or snack, aim to consume this 1-2 hours prior to a workout. Some people will be able to eat much closer to a workout which is fine, but the above is a good guideline to work from."

If you are aiming to gain muscle mass, you should be eating before every training session. On the other hand, if your session is under an hour you may not always need to eat before exercise, particularly if it's a morning cardio session.

"If it's a long training session (more than 90 minutes) then you may benefit from including a small carbohydrate-rich snack before the session," Spendlove said.

"Protein and carbohydrate are both important to include post-workout and ideally should be consumed within an hour post-workout."


Does a vegan diet affect your gym results?

Protein is crucial in building and maintaining muscle mass. Contrary to popular belief that vegans 'don't get enough protein', consuming enough (plant) protein to see results at the gym isn't difficult as long as you eat the right foods.

"It's a common misconception that you need to be eating animal products like meat and chicken to meet your protein requirements," Gawthorne said. "Those who follow a vegan diet can definitely consume adequate amounts of protein and meet their protein requirements."

Protein is found in a number of plant-based foods, including:

  • Lentils and beans (e.g. black beans, lima beans, kidney beans)
  • Tempeh, tofu, edamame and soy products (soy milk, soy yoghurt)
  • Seeds (chia seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • Whole grains (rice, oats, wholemeal bread, quinoa, barley)
  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews)

"If you follow a vegan diet, it is good to be aware of these foods and conscious of your intake of these to ensure you're consuming enough. If you are unsure if you're meeting your protein requirements, it may be beneficial to seek the help of a dietitian," Gawthorne said.

"For vegans with high protein requirements, such as athletes, eating enough protein may be a bit more challenging if enough care isn't taken," Spendlove added.

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What are the best pre-workout snacks for vegans?

Pre-workout, the nutrition focus should be on carbs and some protein.

"Your pre-workout snack needs to provide your muscles with ready-to-use energy, so when it comes to gearing up for a workout, carbs are your best friend," Gawthorne said.

"Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for your muscles, so in order to maximise your workout and give your body the fuel it needs, you need to eat a carbohydrate-based snack about 30-60 minutes before you train. Aim to keep your snack relatively small so you don't have too much in your stomach."

10 vegan pre-workout snacks

  • Fruit smoothie made with soy milk
  • Low-fat muesli with soy or coconut yoghurt
  • Banana, mango or grapes
  • 1-2 slices of whole grain/multigrain or soughdough toast with peanut butter and banana slices
  • Banana ice cream made by blending frozen banana with plant milk
  • Cup of soy milk/soy yoghurt
  • Cooked sweet potato/potato
  • Overnight oats made on almond or soy milk
  • Salad and soy-cheese sandwich
  • Jacket potato
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What are the best post-workout snacks for vegans?

For your post-workout snack, it's important to include both carbs and protein.

"Carbs are required after your workout to help build and re-fuel your muscles as they stimulate your muscles to absorb amino acids from protein through increasing the hormone insulin," Gawthorne said.

"Carbs replenish fuel stores to prevent muscle breakdown and contribute to the positive energy balance needed to grow muscle and recover from training. You should aim for approximately 10-20g of both protein and carbs and eat your snack within 20-30 minutes after finishing your session."

10 vegan post-workout snacks and meals

  • Fruit smoothie with soy/nut milk and a few tablespoons of soy/coconut yoghurt
  • Slice of whole grain toast/crackers with natural peanut butter
  • Handful of nuts and fresh/dried fruit or homemade bliss balls
  • Tofu and vegetable ginger soy stir-fry with basmati rice
  • Small tin of baked beans, chickpeas or other beans of choice
  • Lentil spaghetti bolognese
  • Salad wrap with hummus and tabbouleh, plus a glass of soy milk
  • Rolled oats topped with soy yoghurt, chia seeds, chopped nuts, and berries
  • Lentil burger with salad on a multi-grain bun
  • Baked beans on toast with roasted tomato and mushroom (or veg of choice)
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Should I use vegan protein powder?

If you're struggling to consume enough protein through whole foods, a high-quality protein powder can help. Here are some tips on finding the best vegan protein.

"Generally, the fewer ingredients the better," Spendlove said. "Ideally most powders should provide between 15-25g protein per serve."

"Try go for those which are either unsweetened or sweetened naturally with stevia, rather than those which are artificially sweetened.

"If you have a sensitive gut or have a gastrointestinal condition such as IBS, then go for a pea protein powder or rice protein powder."

To ensure a higher amino acid profile, consider choosing a powder which has a combination of protein sources -- for example a mix of pea and brown rice protein.

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