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PLANT-BASED ATHLETE SERIES: REAP THE BENEFITS OF A HIGH-CARB PLANT-BASED DIET

Updated: 7 days ago

By Annie Bothma, 8 November 2022

Carbohydrates are the body's preferred fuel source during exercise, especially when you are training or competing at a high-intensity and performance is the main goal. Athletes that are training frequently need to have a high dietary intake of carbohydrates to be able to sustain the energetic demands of their training schedule. Research suggest, by consuming a plant-based diet may help athletes achieve this goal (depending on the food choices of the athlete of course), due to the fact that a lot of plant foods are naturally high in carbohydrates.



DAILY CARBOHYDRATE NEEDS FOR ATHLETES

Modern carbohydrate intake recommendations are not one size fits all. Carbohydrate intake should be a function of carbohydrate use or needs. According to the new American Collage of Sport Medicine guidelines, “individualized recommendations for daily intakes of carbohydrate should be made in consideration of the athlete’s training/competition program". Your daily carbohydrate intake should be periodized according to specific goals. Remember recommendations are still general advice and should still be tailored to account for total energy needs, specific training needs, and feedback from training performance.


Here is a guide to help you determine how much carbohydrates you need to consume depending on the exercise frequency, intensity and duration of your training.


Carbohydrate recommendations. Sport Nutrition, Third Edition. (2019) by Asker Jeukendrup, Micheal Gleeson


SOME POTENTIAL BENEFITS OF A PLANT-BASED DIET

The consumption of micronutrient and phytochemical-rich foods is an important benefit of any plant-based diet. This might help to reduce the effects of excess inflammation and promote recovery from training, however, this observation is still theorized and not yet confirmed conclusively through research.

Vegan diets tend to be higher in carbohydrates, fibre, fruits, vegetables, antioxidants and phytochemical compared to most omnivorous diets. (Rogerson, 2017)

For this reason, it has been suggested that some endurance athletes might intentionally adopt a vegan diet in order to meet their carbohydrate needs, or to assist weight management goals. Achieving an adequate carbohydrate intake through a vegan diet is relatively straightforward, and grains, legumes, beans, tubers, root vegetables and fruits can all be consumed to meet daily carbohydrate requirements.



CHOOSING THE RIGHT CARBOHYDRATES TO MEET YOUR ENERGY NEEDS

In order to achieve sufficient protein via the consumption of whole-foods, it is recommended that vegans consume beans, pulses, lentils and grains daily. All these foods are also abundant in carbohydrate, however, they are also rich sources of fibre. Fibrous, non-digestible carbohydrates and lignin provide volume and bulk, are resistant to digestion and absorption, and promote early satiation and will make athletes feel fuller for longer.


This can be problematic for athletes requiring higher energy intakes, since consuming large quantities of fibre-rich foods to achieve enough protein and carbohydrate can lead to low-energy availability. (Check out my previous post to read more about LEA in plant-based athletes). Due to the lectins in foods such as beans, grains, nuts and potatoes, as well as the fermentation of resistant starch and indigestible carbohydrates (found in oats, peas, beans, fruits, and in certain vegetables and lentils), a high-fibre diet can also result in gastric distress in some athletes.



To consume enough carbohydrates, athletes doing high volumes of training, should rather choose high-carbohydrate sources that are lower in fibre to make sure they still meet their energy requirements and can perform well during training and competitions. I am not suggesting you exclude all whole-grains from your diet, since athletes still require some fibre in their diet and excluding all whole-grains can lead to deficiencies from B-vitamins or other macronutrients.


However, when the goals is to make sure you have enough energy in the tank to perform at your best, choose foods such as rice, pasta, noodles and buckwheat, which contain less fibre than oats, lentils, beans and wholegrain breads. When eating vegetables, you can consider removing the skin from tubers and root vegetables, since this will reduce the fibre contents of these foods whilst maintaining decent carbohydrate levels. (Rogerson, 2017)



Each post in this series will include a recipe from Leozette Roode's new cook book: THE SOUTH AFRICAN VEGAN COOKBOOK to inspire you to bring more color into your plate.


FEATURED RECIPE: ROSEMARY MUSHROOM RISOTTO


By Leozette Roode

Prep Time: 30 minutes


Risotto is a wonderfully comforting and seasonal meal with a variety of flavour combinations available – from garlic and butternut to roasted beetroot. Prepared in one skillet and within 30 minutes, it is an easy and effortless meal to cook up, and subsequently one that everyone would enjoy. This hearty rosemary mushroom risotto recipe worth salivating over and will warm up your home and your heart when the cold creeps in.



INGREDIENTS

  • Olive oil, for frying

  • 1 x small onion, chopped

  • 1 x garlic clove, chopped

  • 1 x punnet of brown mushrooms, sliced

  • Dried mixed herbs

  • 125g (¼ packet) Arborio / Risoni rice

  • 750ml vegetable stock

  • Garlic flakes

  • Chill flakes

  • 2 x Sprigs fresh Rosemary, one chopped and one whole for garnish


INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a big pan or skillet, heat the olive oil on medium to high temperature (setting 4)

  2. Sir the onions till translucent, add garlic and mushrooms and stir frequently until mushrooms and onions starts to brown.

  3. Add the rice and dried mixed herbs and stir well, coating the rice in the juices from the pan.

  4. Turn down the temperature (setting 3).

  5. Add a big scoop full of stock to the pan, covering the rice mixture, and let it simmer over low heat. Stir continuously (in one direction only) until all the stock is absorbed.

  6. Add another big scoop and continue to stir. Repeat until all the stock is used and the rice is creamy and soft (about 20 minutes of cooking). In between scoops, add chopped rosemary, garlic flakes, chili flakes and ground pepper to taste.

  7. Serve immediately with a sprig of fresh rosemary as garnish.


WHY I LIKE THIS RECIPE

Rice is a great source of carbohydrates and mushrooms are low in fiber making this a great pre- race, workout or long run meal. To increase the protein content of the meal, you can always add chicken, fish, eggs or meat if you are consuming an animal-based diet, like myself. Alternatively, as a plant-based athlete, following a vegan diet, you can add tofu or lentils or other beans.



KEY TAKE AWAYS

Fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains are all staples on a whole-foods plant-based diet and can help athletes meet their daily carbohydrate needs. However, athletes should consider the fibre content of their carbohydrate choices to make sure they get enough energy and avoid unwanted gastrointestinal distress. Choose low-fiber high-carbohydrates foods before and immediately after training and rather save the whole-grains fibrous choices after the hard work is done. This way you can reap the benefits of all the plant foods that are naturally high in carbohydrates as a plant-based athlete.


 

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