Plant-Based Diet for Athletes: Kale and Grains Bowl

Posted on by Neal Barnard, MD, FACC

You don’t have to be a professional athlete to benefit from a plant-based diet. Whether you’re working out at the gym or training for a couch-to-5K, a plant-based diet is a powerful tool for improving athletic performance and recovery. Because a plant-based diet is high in carbohydrates, plentiful in protein, low in fat, and rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants it can support or improve your athletic performance. • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the primary fuel used during high-intensity exercise. Evidence shows that adding carbohydrates to your diet improves endurance and performance. • Protein: Plant-based protein sources are best because, unlike animal sources, they contain fiber and complex carbohydrates. Athletes looking for additional protein can get an extra boost from beans, nondairy milks, nuts, seeds, and soy products, including tofu and tempeh. • Low-fat: Plant-based diets, which are typically low in fat and high in fiber, can reduce body fat. Reduced body fat is associated with increased aerobic capacity. • Antioxidants: Compared with meat-eaters, people eating a plant-based diet get more antioxidants, which help neutralize free radicals. Free radicals lead to muscle fatigue, reduced athletic performance, and impaired recovery Try this delicious and nutritious vegan recipe for athletes (and everyone else!). Kale and Grains Bowl Makes 3 Servings • 2 cups cooked quinoa or brown rice, cold or warm, as desired • 3 cups chopped kale leaves, raw or steamed, or baby spinach leaves • 2 cups cubed and cooked sweet potato •1 15oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained • 1 cup chopped bell pepper • 3/4 cup mango chunks, fresh or frozen • 2 Tbsp hemp seeds • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice or red wine vinegar • 1/2 Tbsp chopped shallots or 1 tbsp. of the white portion of a green onion • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard • 1/2 tsp sea salt • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste) • 1/4 cup + 2-3 tsp water, optional • 1-2 Tbsp coconut nectar or pure maple syrup Directions In three bowls, arrange approximately equal amounts of the quinoa or rice, kale or spinach, sweet potato, black beans, and bell pepper. Drizzle on the dressing of your choice. Note: If using raw kale, it’s useful to break it down by massaging it. After tearing the leaves from the stalk, sprinkle them with salt and use your hands to rub and "massage" them for a minute or two. Alternatively, you can steam the leaves for just a minute to soften. In a blender, combine the mango, hemp, lime juice or vinegar, shallots or green onion, mustard, salt, pepper, 1⁄4 cup of the water, and 1 tablespoon of the nectar or syrup. Puree until very smooth. Taste, and add the remaining 2 to 3 tablespoons water to thin (if desired) and the remaining 1 tablespoon nectar or syrup, to taste. If you'd like to pair this dressing with some spicy foods or add an extra punch of flavor, try adding 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro or basil while pureeing. Photo from here, with thanks.