The Best Vegetarian Post-Workout Meal for Athletes

Wondering how to fuel up after practice with a vegetarian post-workout meal? There are many vegetarian options that can help you replenish and recover completely after your workout! 

Whether you are a plant-based athlete or just incorporate more plants into your diet,  you must be conscious of making sure you are choosing the right foods that have adequate proteins, vitamins, and minerals that will aid in recovery. This blog will help you with exactly that!

Importance of a Post-Workout Meal

You need a variety of nutrients from protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and some anti-inflammatory ingredients after your workout to recover properly. Your body needs the energy to refuel every muscle you just exhausted to keep you from crashing later in the day and help prepare you for the next training session.

Benefits of post-workout fueling are:

  • Increased lean body mass
  • Decreased soreness 
  • Increased energy throughout the day
  • Faster recovery
  • Improved performance 

When Should I Eat After My Workout

The easy answer to this question is as soon as possible (ASAP). The quicker you can give your body what it needs to recover the better and after a certain period of time, the food won’t work to help you as optimally. Eating a  post-workout meal within 2 hours after you finish is one of the most optimal ways to maximize your recovery and future performance.

Do I Have To Eat A Full Meal After My Workout? 

No! It is perfectly okay if you are not able to eat a full meal after your workout. Many athletes can’t!

Just make sure you have something small, or a smoothie after you finish to give yourself a chance to recover right after. A smoothie is a great option if you have somewhere to be right after a workout and you aren’t planning on having a meal for 3-4 hours. If you have time for a full meal, but want to let your body have a break before you eat, that is okay too, just make sure it is within 2 hours of finishing. 

What Should Be Included in a Vegetarian Post-Workout Meal

Many different components make a complete post-workout meal and you will want to follow these guidelines to include all the right nutrients!

Protein

Protein is an essential part of muscle recovery. You need to include protein in your post-workout fueling because it builds the muscles back from the damage that they endured during exercise. Consuming the right amount of protein will also allow for new muscles to be made and for your muscles to recover for the rest of the day. 

The goal is to have 20-25g of protein after exercise, but there is also another thing to consider when being vegetarian. If you choose to include fish, dairy, or eggs in your diet those are all great options to include in your post-workout meal because they are complete proteins.

Complete vs Incomplete Protein Sources

Proteins are made up of chains called amino acids and there are 20 different types. Our body naturally makes some amino acids but not others. The ones we don’t produce are called essential amino acids. A complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids and an incomplete protein is a source of protein that does not include all of the essential amino acids.

Animal-based proteins are often complete proteins. Think chicken, steak, eggs, milk, fish, etc. Protein sources that are plant-based are often not complete proteins. When choosing a plant-based protein, you may need to include multiple types of protein sources because they complement each other to make a complete protein, giving themselves the name complementary proteins. Here are options for complementary proteins and complete proteins that are not animal-based. 

post-workout vegetarian proteins

Vegetarian-Friendly Protein Ideas

Complete non-meat proteins:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Quinoa (vegan)
  • Soy products (vegan)
  • Pea protein (vegan)
  • Ezekial bread (vegan)

Complementary vegetarian proteins:

  • Nuts/seeds with whole grain bread: Peanut butter on whole wheat bread
  • Whole grains with beans: rice and beans
  • Beans with nuts/seeds: Chickpeas with sunflower seeds

Carbohydrates

The energy is restored in our bodies through carbohydrate consumption. When we exercise, we break down all available carbohydrates that is running through our blood as glucose, but we also go into our stored glucose which is called glycogen. Glycogen can be found in different places, but one place that we use it up from is our muscles. We need to consume carbohydrates after a workout to replenish those glycogen stores for next time. 

Your options are endless when it comes to carbohydrates that can replenish those stores, but we want to focus on the complex type, meaning our starches and vegetables. You want to aim for 60-90g post-workout. 

List of Carbohydrates

  • Quinoa
  • Bread
  • Pasta
  • English Muffins
  • Pita Bread
  • Tortillas
  • Rice
  • Oats
  • Beans

Anti-inflammatory Fats

Anti-inflammatory fats can benefit your recovery by decreasing your soreness and increasing the speed of your recovery. There are many different sources of anti-inflammatory fats and you can mix and match whatever you are wanting to try out!

List of Anti-Inflammatory Fats

  • Avocado
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Edamame

Try adding 1-2 servings of anti-inflammatory fats in your post-workout meal

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals help processes function properly in your body as well as maximize performance. Eating adequate amounts of fruit and vegetables might seem like the golden rule when it comes to getting enough, but there will be some vitamins and minerals you are missing out on when consuming a vegetarian diet. 

Just because you choose not to eat meat, does not mean that you can’t reach adequate amounts of these vitamins, it just means you should be on the lookout to make sure you are picking foods that are good sources. 

Vitamins and Minerals for Plant-Based Athletes

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is involved in energy metabolism. Great sources of this vitamin are milk, eggs, and any products that are fortified with B12, like breakfast cereals!

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is involved in bone growth and regulatory functions of muscle tissues. Some sources are fortified milk/milk alternatives and the yolk of an egg. 

Calcium: Calcium is important for bone growth and heart muscle contraction. You can find calcium in milk/dairy products, almond milk, and fortified orange juice.

Iron: Iron is a vital part of your blood cells and has a huge role in oxygen transport. Vegetarian sources of iron are spinach, eggs, whole grains, and beans. If you are a vegetarian athlete, iron is something that you need to make an effort in your diet to get adequate amounts since it’s not readily available in plant sources. To maximize your iron absorption, pair these vegetarian iron sources with Vitamin C-containing foods (oranges, strawberries, kiwis, bell peppers).

Exercise can also block iron absorption through a hormone called hepcidin, which is active 2-6 hours post-workout. Timing your iron is important to make sure you are getting the most out of it.

Zinc: Zinc is involved in protein synthesis and can be found in whole grains and beans. 

Easy Post-Workout Vegetarian Meals

1. Smoothies

Smoothies are a great way to get everything you need in after you work out, and they can be taken anywhere. Post-workout smoothies are also so customizable you can choose what you want through different options that fit into the categories above. Here is a great vegan smoothie recipe that is easy and quick to take on the road! 

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 3 cups spinach 
  • 1 scoop chocolate soy protein powder
  • 1 cup soy milk 
  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds

Starting with liquid first, combine all ingredients in a blender and enjoy! 

post-workout vegetarian smoothie

2. Bowls

Bowls are awesome post-workout fuel options because they can be made out of whatever you want it to be! Using the tools and ingredients above, you can make any type of bowl that you want. Here are some ideas

  • 1 cup Greek yogurt with fresh berries, granola, walnuts, and almond butter. 
  • 1 cup brown rice bowl with black beans, cheese, bell peppers, and avocado. 
  • Oatmeal with chia seeds, peanut butter, and banana. 
  • Quinoa with teriyaki tofu, edamame, and green beans
 \post-workout vegetarian bowl

3. Tofu Scramble

Scrambles can be a great easy way to cook up all that you need post-workout while only using a few dishes to cook. This tofu scramble is a great way to mix in different nutrients and pairing it with two slices of toast will provide you with all you need. You are getting your protein from the tofu, and carbohydrates from the chickpeas, spinach, tomatoes, and toast. 

post-workout vegetarian tofu scramble

Conclusion

If you are building a plant-based post-workout meal, it is important to make sure to include good sources of carbohydrates, proteins, anti-inflammatory fats, vitamins, and minerals that will allow you to create a great post-workout meal. 

You should try to consume your post-workout meal ASAP once you finish, but it can be stretched to 2 hours if needed. If you have 3-4 hours before you will be eating a meal, reach for a snack to give your body a chance to recover. 

When building a post-workout meal or snack you should aim for 60-90g of carbohydrates and 20-25g of protein. This will re-energize your body and also start the recovery process for your muscles. 

The components of a vegetarian post-workout meal are the same as any post-workout meal. The building blocks of your plate will be protein, carbohydrates, anti-inflammatory fats, and vitamins and minerals. 

Creating a post-workout meal shouldn’t be hard, you just have to know where to start! These are things that I discuss with my athletes in the Performance Fueling Club (PFC). PFC is an online sports nutrition coaching program that helps athletes with flexible on-demand content and live nutrition coaching with a sports dietitian. 

If you are looking for guidance on post-practice fueling, I encourage you to sign up today. We currently have open enrollment, and I would love to help support you in getting to your goals! 

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