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Vegan Post Workout Meals

QUESTION: “Hi Dr. Neal, I'm a very active and fit 53 year-old woman. I have a question about vegan post workout meals. What do I eat the day after an extreme workout? I'm referring to something very fast over five plus hours of mountain hiking. What can I eat to recover the next day? I feel worn out and like I just can't get my food right the day after. I'm also vegan. I'm a listener and really enjoy the show. Looking forward to your answer. Thanks so much!”

DR. NEAL: Hi to our listener from Tucson, AZ! Thank you so much for taking the time to send me your question and for your kind words. I’m so glad you find this show helpful.

This is a perfect question based on, not only last week’s Q&A on vegan meat, but Wednesday’s show from Eric Leija where discussed Eating to Recover (which was EP 1524).

I will start with the general sports nutrition recommendations based on the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines. Then, we’ll talk about adapting these recommendations to a vegan lifestyle.

I realize that you were asking about recovery but proper nutrition and hydration pre-workout AND post-workout are important.

Listen to Dr. Neal narrate this post on Episode 1526 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.


Before the Activity (Pre Workout)

So, let’s start with the pre-workout strategy: according to the American College of Sports Medicine, before we workout, the goal is to consume both carbohydrate and protein. Especially since you’re performing a long duration activity, consuming both are important. When it comes to fat intake – I basically skip over that because there aren’t specific recommendations for fat intake other than the usual – you know, things like choose healthy fats like omega-3s and monounsaturated fat.

Carbohydrate

When it comes to carbohydrates, how much do you need to consume? It’s recommended that 1-4 hours prior to starting the long duration activity, aim for 1 to 4 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight.

So, let’s say someone weighs 125 lbs. To convert this body weight from lbs. to kg, we divide the weight in lbs. by 2.2. So, punching this into my imaginary calculator, we see that 125 lbs. is equivalent to 56.8 kg, or about 57 kg. Since the recommendation is to aim for 1 to 4 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight, this means that, at the very least, the goal is to consume about 57 g of carbohydrate 3-4 hours before your activity. Based on this recommendation, you can consume up to 228 g of carbohydrate, though!

So, you just need to find what works best for you. And for perspective, 57 grams of carbohydrate would be like 2 slices of bread. Now, these sources of carbohydrate should be low in fat and low in fiber. This will help prevent any gastrointestinal issues when performing the activity.

Protein

When it comes to protein pre-exercise, there is no specific recommendation. The recommendation is basically to go ahead and consume some lean protein along with the carbohydrate 1-4 hours before the activity, but that’s basically it.

Water

As far as hydration is concerned, we should aim to drink at least eight 8-ounce cups of water the day before the event. Then, about 2 hours before, drink 16 to 20 ounces of fluid.

During the Activity

Carbohydrate

Again, since the duration of your activity lasts for hours and hours at a time, ensuring that you properly fuel your body over this period of time is important. When it comes to replenishing carbohydrates, the recommendation is to consume 30 to 60 g of carbohydrate per hour. This will help keep your energy levels up. When it comes to type of carbohydrates, the same rule as before applies here: aim for low fat and low fiber carbohydrates.

Protein

Now, there aren’t really any established protein recommendations during exercise. That’s because the research studies are inconclusive. Instead, it’s more important to eat protein after the workout to help heal the muscles. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Water

And when it comes to hydration, the goal is to drink 3 to 7 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes if possible.

After the Activity (Post Workout)

And, last and possibly most importantly, what to do after the activity is over. It seems that post-workout or post-activity nutrition may be the most important for recovery.

Carbohydrate

For carbohydrate refueling, try to get in another 1 gram of carbohydrate per kg body weight. So, if a person weighs 125 lbs., that would equate to about 57 kg. Aim to consume these carbs within the first 30 minutes of completing the activity. Then, consume another 57 g in another hour. Repeat this for the next 2 hours (for 4 hours total). Now, what’s great about consuming carbohydrates after the activity is that it helps absorb any protein you eat at the same time! And speaking of protein…

Protein

After the activity, aim for about 20 g of protein within 20 to 30 minutes after the activity. There’s a specific amino acid called leucine that might be even more beneficial after activity. Some studies have found that proteins that are full of the amino acid leucine may improve muscle repair and growth. And again, consuming carbohydrate along with your protein source improves the body’s absorption of protein. The American College of Sports Medicine also says that most people can meet these carbohydrate and protein needs without supplementation, even vegans. I’ll get to that in a second…

Water

As I mentioned in my commentary on Wednesday’s episode, the best way to know how to rehydrate, is to weigh yourself before and after the activity. The goal is to drink 20 ounces of fluids for each pound of body weight lost. Cold drinks (40 to 50 degrees F or 4-10 degrees Centigrade) are absorbed more quickly than warm or room temperature drinks. And, in fact, cold water is usually recommended in hot weather to help lower body temperature.

Ok, so what can we recommend for those that follow a vegan lifestyle? Luckily, there are many vegan carbohydrate options. When it comes to protein, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds are all good sources of leucine. For those that are not following a vegan diet, all animal-based protein contain leucine.

Finally, when it comes to vegan post workout meals, what about taking a multivitamin?

The American College of Sports Medicine says that taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement is not needed just so long as your diet isn’t too restrictive and you're consuming enough calories each day. In your case, a vegan diet may not contain enough vitamin B12, omega-3 fats, calcium, and iron. So you may want to discuss these with your doctor or a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.

Listen to Dr. Neal narrate this post on Episode 1526 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") has a Doctorate in Public Health with emphases in disease prevention and nutrition. He is also a Registered Dietitian and Certified Health Education Specialist. He is currently an assistant professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Dr. Neal has published peer-reviewed scientific research and been featured as a nutrition and wellness expert in over 70 media outlets including Parade and The L.A. Times.Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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