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Plant Based Sports Nutrition- The Basics

Posted Mar 04 2013 1:51pm

Sports nutrition basically is the supplementation of your additional diet with special products to ensure that physically active people are meeting the extra demands placed on their body by exercise.

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Regularly taking part in strenuous exercise increases your body’s requirements for all the basic nutrients- carbohydrates, fats, proteins as well as vitamins minerals and enzymes. People who take part in exercise regularly have much higher demands in terms of nutrients than the average persons. Hence why when the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of certain vitamins and minerals are discussed this is actually a minimum you should be getting, and active people will have much higher requirements than these numbers.

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Carbohydrates are the best fuel for energy production. They can be stored in the body as glycogen in the muscles and liver and they act as a ready available source of energy for the body during strenuous exercise. As I talked about in the previous post , there are two types. Simple carbohydrates like dried fruit such as dates and figs are great for an instant energy boost. I used those fruit leather type bars during marathon training runs as they gave me an instant hit of energy. Complex carbohydrates give a sustained energy release, things like oatmeal the morning before a longer run provide a slow release to get you through your workout. I know that if I don’t eat enough carbohydrates my energy levels are very low and I struggle through workouts.

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Protein is made up of amino acids and serves to build and repair the muscles. When we exercise the muscle must begin to break down (catabolic phase) before we can build it up (anabolic phase). Protein is essential for this building phase, and if we are lacking in protein it can cause muscle breakdown. Well planned diets (even vegan ones-surprise!) make it easy to get good amounts of protein in. Plant based sources like beans, legumes, pseudograins, nuts and seeds provide really good amounts of protein.

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Fats are also a good source of stored energy. Essential fatty acids (the good fats that our bodies need!) help with inflammation (particularly good for the joints- especially if you are a runner!) as well as helping to metabolise fats for energy. That’s right EFA’s like coconut oil actually help you to burn fat! I like to get my good fats from nuts, seeds, avocado’s, coconut products and omega oils. I used Viridian’s joint oil during marathon training, it’s a blend of seed oils as well as anti-inflammatory spices like ginger, turmeric and chillies, and antioxidants like raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate. It was absolutely amazing as I started taking it when I had really bad knee pain and it cleared it up within days!

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I personally like to use a protein powder supplement after working out just as I find it easier that way to get in high amounts of protein, as I never like eating too big a meal straight after a workout. Whey protein is considered to be the most nutritionally complete protein, but as it is dairy based I believe it creates an acidic environment in the body which leads to the leaching of vitamins and minerals, and can cause problems like bloating.

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As a vegan I use plant based proteins like Sunwarrior’s brown rice or warrior blend proteins. They contain all the essential amino acids, are very alkalising to the body and easy to digest. Amino acids like L-glutamine are essential post workout as the body becomes seriously depleted during strenuous exercise and a standard diet is unlikely to provide high enough amounts to replenish the body’s stores. I like to make a green smoothie with a scoop or two of plant protein after exercise. Protein is generally taken after exercise to repair the muscles, although there is a lot of thought about the benefits of taking it before/after workouts.

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I also like to use green foods like spirulina, chlorella and wheatgrass, they are great sources of natural plant based vitamins and minerals including the B vitamins which are great for energy levels. Wheatgrass contains all the essential amino acids and spirulina is a good source of plant based iron and protein. Spirulina is 60-70% protein (more than 300 times that of fish) and 58 times richer in iron than spinach! I know that runners especially females tend to have much lower iron stores than the general population so it is quite important to get adequate amounts. Iron is essential for energy production and metabolism. I have also just started using Sunwarrior’s activated barley which is said to be great for energy levels, so I will let you know how I get on with that.

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Another important mineral that pretty much every member of the population is lacking in is magnesium, it is vital for energy production and a deficiency can cause chronic fatigue and cramping. Leafy greens like kale are good sources of magnesium as well as nuts and seeds. Magnesium oil is great to apply externally to the body as it is really well absorbed through the skin. Coconut water is also a good source during exercise but only if the duration is less than an hour, anything higher than that requires something with more sodium such as Viridians Sports Electrolyte fix. I love to use that product during and after a particularly tough workout as it a great natural source of the minerals (magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride) that we lose in sweat, it’s very important to replace these as otherwise it can lead to dehydration.

Other supplements I take that are related to sports are Rhodiola Rosea which is an adatogenic herb supporting the adrenal glands which can become stressed in those who do a lot of exercise leading to adrenal fatigue. I also take maca for it’s energy benefits as well as it’s nourishing effect on the adrenal glands.

Sports nutrition is a vast subject which I’ve just begun to scrape the surface of, but I hope this is of some benefit to anyone out there doing a little or a lot of exercise. Although we all think we eat the perfect healthy balanced diet, the truth is that our demand for nutrients can be a lot higher if we are active, and with high pressure lifestyles and produce lacking the vitamins and minerals it once did, supplementation becomes increasingly important. Supplementation should never be in place of a healthy diet, but just a way to top up on your levels of certain things in order to meet your body’s increased energy demands.

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