It sure can! Much of the post is based on my personal experience over the last 4-5 years. I’m a very active person. In a typical week I teach five 60 minute spin classes and practice Bikram Yoga (hot yoga) 5-7/times per week. The yoga classes are 90 minutes each. At certain points during the year I may run 10-15 miles per week to prepare for a race. I also do some strengthening exercises like push ups and the’ ab wheel.’ Being able to sustain this level of activity and fitness is built up over time. I felt compelled to write about this because, conventional wisdom implies, and in many cases, outright says one needs copious amounts of protein and carbs to be very active and strong.
Yes, we all need protein and carbohydrates and very active people need more. However, cramming as much protein as possible into one’s diet for the sake of a tough workout, or physical event is not only unnecessary, but potentially harmful to health. The average person need approximately .5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. An athlete or very active person needs about .8 grams per pound of body weight. I cringe when I see those ginormous ( this is now officially a word) protein bars with 35-30g of protein per bar.
I am 100% sure that my whole-foods-plant-based gluten free diet gives me the energy I need to do these activities and recover in between spin and yoga classes. This diet is much easier on the body’s digestive system. The nutrients are more quickly absorbed and thus used to provide energy and facilitate the recovery and cell replenishment processes. The body has to use a lot of energy to break down and assimilate animal protein. This means less energy is available for the aforementioned processes. The protein from a piece of chicken does not just directly transfer to protein or muscles in our bodies. Our bodies use the amino acids that make up the protein. I get protein from whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal, nuts, seeds, beans, hemp, spinach, kale and occasionally some tempeh. I get carbohydrates from fruits, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, beans. I sometimes indulge in packaged snacks such as Lara bars, Enjoy life bars and Kind bars (the vegan gluten-free line). I do some baking too.
I’ve found that eating whole grains the evening before a morning spin class or run provides a lot of energy. The body has time to convert the carbs to glycogen that is stored in the muscles. On days that I only practice yoga, I eat much less whole grains and may even avoid them in favor of more raw foods. Hydration is key of course. Homemade fresh juice, coconut water and plain water are my beverages of choice.
Below is what I eat in a typical day. This changes depending on my activity levels each day and because I eat out a lot for work. If I’m not in complete control of my environment I bring snacks such as the Lara bars and I will indulge in a gluten-free vegan pizza or corn chips and salsa when eating out.
24 oz green smoothie (made with greens and fruits)
2-3 servings of fruits
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds w/2 tbsp raisins
Large raw salad w/whole grains or brown rice veggie sushi rolls
Raw snack such as kale chips or shale made with almond milk, hemp, flax and banana
Large salad w some of the following: avocado, quinoa, brown rice, beans or oatmeal
Hot chocolate made with almond milk
Some examples of professional athletes who eat a plant based diet are: Tony Gonzalez, Arian Foster, Martina Navratilova and Carl Lewis.