Plant-based eating has become increasingly popular among endurance racers, and for good reason: Research suggests that a whole-food, plant-based diet can help reduce chronic disease risk, support fat loss, and more. The thing is, there's more to a healthy, plant-based diet than just cutting back on meat. Here, I'll break down four types of plant-based foods to incorporate if you're striving to eat a healthier, more plant-centric diet.
Plant-Based Foods That Every Athlete Should Be Eating (Plus Spartan-Worthy Recipes)
1. Nuts and Seeds
Great Options: pistachios, walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and hemp hearts
Nuts and seeds are all great sources of satiating healthy fats — specifically monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — which have been shown to promote heart health. Plus, nuts and seeds also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, all of which help promote a number of body functions. One superstar vitamin that these plant-based foods provide is the antioxidant vitamin E, which helps fight free radicals that can cause cell damage.
How to Eat Them: Snack on nuts and seeds on their own, or use them to add texture and nutrition to yogurt, oatmeal, or salads. You can also incorporate nut butters into all sorts of recipes, like smoothies. Here's one of my favorites:
Creamy Peach Smoothie
*makes 1 serving
- ½ cup of Greek yogurt (vanilla or plain)
- 2 tablespoons of a nut butter of your choice
- 1 peach, pitted
- ½ frozen banana
- 1 cup of water or milk
- Place all ingredients in a blender and blend for 60 seconds.
Great Options: beans, peas, and lentils
Two key nutrients that you'll find in legumes are fiber and iron. While the fiber in legumes promotes satiety and gut health, the iron supports healthy red blood cell production.
Not to mentions, legumes are a solid source of plant-based protein. (Half a cup of lentils provides 9 grams.) The sustaining combo of fiber and protein makes them a great way to fill out any veggie dish.
How to Eat Them: Serve legumes cold on top of salads, mash them with avocado for hearty dips and spreads, or add them to soups and stews instead of meat. Here's a creamy dip idea:
White Bean Avocado Dip
*makes 12-16 servings
- 2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
- ½ cup of canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons of lime juice
- ¼ cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
- salt and pepper, to taste
- In a medium bowl, mash the beans until they begin to form a paste but still retain some chunkiness.
- Add the avocado and mash it together with beans.
- Add the remaining ingredients and fold them until mixed well.
- Refrigerate for one hour to chill and allow flavors to meld.
- Serve with whole-grain crackers and veggies, or use as a sandwich spread.
3. Whole Grains
Great Options: quinoa, oats, brown rice, and wheat berries
In their whole form, grains provide fiber and other key nutrients — magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus — that we need for overall health. The minerals they provide, in particular, help our body regulate our blood pressure and blood sugar and support muscle function, protein formation, enzyme production, carbohydrate metabolism, and energy production.
I love quinoa, in particular, because it contains all of the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) that our bodies need. For this reason, it's considered a "complete protein" — a title few plant-based foods can claim.
How to Eat Them: Serve whole grains warm as a side dish or toss them into salads like my Quinoa Tabbouleh, which can work as either a side dish or a main course.
*makes 4-6 servings
- 2 cups of cooked quinoa, cooled
- 4 plum tomatoes, diced
- 1 cucumber, diced
- 3 green onions, diced
- 1 cup of fresh parsley, chopped
- ¼ cup of olive oil
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- ¼ teaspoon of pepper
- ¼ cup of lemon juice
- Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. Once it's ready, set it aside to cool.
- While the quinoa cools, chop the vegetables (tomatoes, cucumber, and green onions) and add them to a large bowl.
- Add the remaining ingredients (parsley, olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice) and stir to combine.
- Finally, add the quinoa and mix gently until well-combined.
- Serve and enjoy!
Recipe Note: To make the Tabbouleh more satiating, consider adding other plant-based foods, like chopped green pepper, Kalamata olives, chopped spinach, and sesame seeds to the mix.
Great Options: broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and so many more
Obvious, but crucial: Any healthy diet should put veggies at the front and center. Not only do vegetables provide a slew of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, but they also pack fiber (and even some protein).
How to Eat Them: Enjoy your favorite veggies raw, steamed, roasted, or sautéed. Different cooking methods offer different textures and flavor profiles, so a vegetable that's crunchy when raw can completely transform with a little heat and oil. Need a go-to vegetable side? Simply roasting broccoli brings out all sorts of flavor, and easily adds more plant-based fuel to any meal.
Simple Roasted Broccoli
*makes 4 servings
- 4 cups of broccoli florets
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 425º and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- In a large bowl, toss the broccoli and olive oil until the broccoli is evenly coated. (Use extra olive oil as needed, but know that overdoing it will yield soggy broccoli.)
- Spread the broccoli on a baking sheet in an even layer.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Roast the broccoli for 20-25 minutes, or until the heads of the broccoli florets start to brown slightly.
- Serve hot.