Vegetarian Post Workout Meal: 3 Keys to Success
If you are an athlete following a vegetarian diet, you may wonder what foods are best to eat post-workout. With all the information available online it can be confusing for athletes to know what to eat to support recovery. Let’s look at what following a vegetarian diet means. Then we will explore three keys to building a vegetarian post-workout meal.
Types of Vegetarian Diets
It is important to note that athletes following a vegetarian diet may differ in the types of animal-based products they will consume. Common terminology used to describe different types of vegetarian diets include1:
- Vegetarian – Avoids all animal/seafood flesh foods (meat, poultry, pork, seafood), may or may not consume dairy or egg products.
- Lacto-vegetarian – Follows a vegetarian diet, will consume dairy products, but not eggs or egg products.
- Ovo-vegetarian – Follows a vegetarian diet, will consume eggs and egg products, but not dairy products.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian – Follows a vegetarian diet, will consume dairy and egg products.
- Vegan – Will not consume any animal-based products, including eggs, dairy, and sometimes honey.
3 Keys to Building a Vegetarian Post-Workout Meal
After a workout, there are three key concepts athletes should keep in mind to promote recovery – hydrating, replacing carbohydrate stores, and consuming protein to build and repair muscles. When building a post-workout meal, these three keys will set you up for success.
- Key #1: Hydrate to replace fluid and electrolytes
- Key #2: Carbohydrates to refill energy stores
- Key #3: Protein to build and repair muscle
Vegetarian Post Workout Meal: Hydrate
Following a workout, it is important for an athlete to replace the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat. An easy way to determine how much fluid you lost during exercise is to weigh yourself before and after activity. The amount of body weight lost is reflective of how much fluid you lost in sweat during the activity.
To replace this fluid, you need to drink more fluid than the amount lost in sweat2. For example, for each pound of body weight lost during the activity, you should aim to drink ~20-24 oz (2.5-3 cups) of fluid. When you have limited time before your next exercise session, replacing this fluid is especially important to ensure you start your next workout in a hydrated state.
In addition to fluid, athletes lose electrolytes when they sweat. The main electrolyte lost in sweat is sodium. Including sodium in the post-workout meal can help with replacing sweat losses from activity. Consuming sodium is also beneficial in the post-workout meal, as it helps your body to retain the fluid you drink3.
Salty foods such as broth-based soups, salted nuts, pretzels, snack crackers, and pickles, can all be enjoyed with the post-workout meal and will help replace sweat sodium losses. An added benefit of salty food is that it stimulates thirst, which will encourage athletes to drink more fluid with the meal3.
Sports drinks can be a convenient option for helping athletes replace both fluids and electrolytes post-workout. Most sports drinks are formulated to contain carbohydrates, sodium, and a small amount of potassium3. Thus, post-workout they can help athletes with meeting their recovery nutrition needs.
Vegetarian Post Workout Meal: Carbohydrates
During activity, carbohydrates are used to provide athletes with the energy they need to perform at their best. As athletes exercise, especially at high-intensities or for prolonged periods of time, they deplete their body’s stores of carbohydrates. Because of this carbohydrates are an important part of a vegetarian post-workout meal.
During the post-workout period, it is recommended that athletes consume 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight for the first 4 hours after activity2. For a 175-pound athlete, this would be ~80 – 95 grams of carbohydrates. To provide a food point of reference, the serving sizes below each provide ~30 grams of carbohydrates.
- 1 large banana
- 2/3 cups cooked rice or pasta
- 1 cup orange juice
- 2 thin slices of bread
- ½ large (4-oz) deli bagel
Vegetarian Sources of Carbohydrates
There are numerous ways vegetarian athletes can meet their carbohydrate needs with the post-workout meal. Here are a variety of ideas:
- Grains: Rice, pasta, bread, bagels, wraps, tortillas, breakfast cereal, oatmeal
- Fruit: Fresh, frozen, dried, canned (natural syrups), fruit juice
- Starchy Vegetables: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, corn, peas, beans
- Dairy (lacto-vegetarians): Milk and yogurt
Vegetarian Post-Workout Meal: Protein
Another key nutrient in a vegetarian post-workout meal is protein. Protein recommendations for athletes are generally provided based on the athlete’s body weight. For those who like specific numbers, athletes should aim to eat ~0.25 grams of protein per kg of body weight with the post-workout meal. In general, this calculates to be in the range of 20-40 grams of protein4, with larger athletes needing more protein than smaller athletes.
Vegetarian Sources of Protein
There are numerous ways athletes following a vegetarian diet can add protein to their post-workout meal. Below is a list of a variety of options that can assist vegetarian athletes with meeting their protein needs.
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarians: Eggs, milk, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese
- Vegan –Tofu, seitan, soy milk, quinoa, beans, edamame, nuts, nut butters, seeds
Should I Drink a Protein Shake?
A protein shake can be a convenient way for vegetarian athletes to meet their post-workout nutrition needs. When it will be several hours after a workout before you eat your next meal, a protein shake can be a great post-workout snack option. You can easily boost the nutrient content of your post-workout shake by adding in a variety of fruits, leafy greens, nut butters, and seeds.
Although many athletes turn to protein powders when preparing a shake, there are numerous ways athletes can add protein without the use of a supplement. Check-out my recent blog, Protein Shakes for Teenage Athletes: 7 Ways to Add Protein, if you are interested in suggestions.
Evaluating Protein Powders
If you prefer to use a plant-based protein powder in your shake, be aware that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the same way that food is. Dietary supplements may contain banned substances that could potentially make you ineligible for competition.
Due to this, look for supplements that have been third-party tested. Supplements that are third-party tested have an outside organization evaluate the supplement for accuracy of ingredients. Two companies that evaluate sports supplements are NSF International Certified for Sport and Informed Sport.
What About Plant-Based Chocolate Milk Post-Workout?
You may have heard of the benefits of drinking chocolate milk following exercise. Chocolate milk contains carbohydrates, protein, fluids, and electrolytes, which helps provide your body with the nutrients needed to promote recovery.
The question I often receive is if chocolate, plant-based milks are also good post-workout recovery options. In general, plant-based milks (almond, coconut, oat) tend to be low in protein. So, drinking a chocolate version of one of these milks will not provide you with the desired protein post-workout.
An exception to this is soy milk. Soy milk contains ~6-8 grams of soy protein per cup depending on the brand. For comparison, a cup of regular cow’s milk contains 8 grams of protein per cup. Research comparing nonfat milk to a soy protein beverage consumed after exercise found that nonfat milk results in a greater muscle building effect than the soy beverage5. However, for vegetarian athletes who do not consume milk, soy milk can be a convenient way to add protein to the post-workout meal.
Ready to Build a Vegetarian Post-Workout Meal
You are now equipped with three keys to creating a vegetarian post-workout meal. Remember, the three keys to success are: hydrate to replace fluid and electrolytes, carbohydrates to replace energy stores, and protein to build and repair muscles.
For additional ideas on meeting sports nutrition needs while following a plant-based diet, check-out my recent blog: How To Build an Ideal Vegan Pre-Workout Meal.
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About the Author
Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.
- Melina, V., Craig, W., & Levin, S. (2016). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 116(12), 1970–1980. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2016.09.025
- Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 48(3), 543–568. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0000000000000852
- American College of Sports Medicine, Sawka, M. N., Burke, L. M., Eichner, E. R., Maughan, R. J., Montain, S. J., & Stachenfeld, N. S. (2007). American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(2), 377–390. https://doi.org/10.1249/mss.0b013e31802ca597
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- Wilkinson, S. B., Tarnopolsky, M. A., Macdonald, M. J., Macdonald, J. R., Armstrong, D., & Phillips, S. M. (2007). Consumption of fluid skim milk promotes greater muscle protein accretion after resistance exercise than does consumption of an isonitrogenous and isoenergetic soy-protein beverage. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 85(4), 1031–1040. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.4.1031