author: Jackson Long
 

Many still believe it’s borderline impossible to properly fuel yourself as a vegan athlete. Or, at the very least, our athletic performance will be undermined by choosing to eat only plants for the multitude of reasons why one may adopt a plant-based diet. “How will you get enough protein?” or “what about iron?” are some of the questions I receive on a very regular basis as a plant-based cyclist.

I used to be in the same boat; I scoffed at the idea of excluding meat, dairy, or eggs from my diet with images of sickly people unable to gain muscle or strength as a result of their dietary preferences dominating my concept of the word “vegan”. Becoming vegan was a sacrifice, I thought. But, just like the bikes we ride or the training methods we try, experimentation and evolution are essential components of growth as athletes. During a particularly difficult period of my road cycling career, I needed to make a change.

Once I decided to try out this whole plant-based diet thing, I immediately felt positive effects. I started sleeping and recovering better from tough workouts, and had more consistent energy throughout the day. I became much more in tune with my body and the field of nutrition.

Fast forward 4 years, and I keep getting stronger on the bike, and still haven’t died of a protein deficiency. I recently placed in the top 15 in the pro field of the infamously grueling Crusher in the Tushar gravel race, and never feel limited in fueling my body for the epic adventures that excite me. In fact, I attribute a large percentage of my performance to the incredible nutrient density of my plant-based diet, which help to maximize my recovery.

Whatever your reason for choosing to eat more plants — ethical, environmental, health, or performance — it is possible to properly fuel yourself, no matter your athletic goals. Just like we nerd out about which GPS computer or tire to buy, or how light our water bottle cages are, shouldn’t we nerd out about the fuel we put in our bodies? It likely has a bigger impact on how we perform than a carbon wheelset or shiny new power meter.


Here’s one of my favorite recipes that helps me feel my best. Recovery Smoothie Bowl:

After a tough ride or workout, optimizing recovery is the name of the game. One of the coolest benefits of eating a plant-based diet is the crazy amount of phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory compounds that come from consuming all or most of our calories from plant foods. This is my favorite recovery meal because it’s a) delicious, b) fast and inexpensive to make, and c) packed with high-quality calories and nutrients that help speed up the recovery process, and thus my performance!

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas (1 frozen, 1 fresh)
  • 3-4 Medjool dates, pitted
  • Big handful of spinach or kale
  • 1 cup of frozen mixed berries
  • 1 cup of your favorite non-dairy milk
  • 1 tbsp each of chia seed and hemp seed
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric + dash of black pepper (to maximize the bioavailability of turmeric, a potent anti-inflammatory spice)
  • 1 tbsp blackstrap molasses (rich in iron and other minerals)

 

Toppings

  • 1.5 cups granola
  • 1 tbsp nut butter
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • Optional: Fresh berries, almonds, coconut, honey, get creative!

 

Prep:

In a high-speed blender, blend all ingredients except granola and nut butter until smooth. Top with granola, nut butter and berries in a bowl. Enjoy the feeling of plant-powered recovery gains!

With a little planning and a little imagination, thriving as a vegan athlete is pretty simple. As long as I’m eating enough calories from things like whole grains, beans, nuts & seeds, fruit, and vegetables, my protein and nutrient needs are met. Combine that with vegan on-the-bike options (such as Skratch Labs Anytime Energy Bars and Chews), I’m always ready for the next adventure!


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Jackson Long is the co-host of the Thought For Food Podcast, a TEDx speaker, and is pursuing his Master’s degree in Applied Nutrition at the University of New EnglandUniversity of Colorado Boulder.