I started exercising in high school, but I didn’t appreciate how important my diet was until after I had been exercising for a while. Before this, I often ate highly-processed foods, which left me with sleep problems and feeling sluggish — even though I was sticking to a consistent and rigorous exercise schedule.
When I learned about plant-based nutrition, however, I realized how life-changing it could be for me.
I slowly incorporated permanent dietary changes, and my life improved immensely because of it. I was amazed how good my body felt. I felt faster and lighter, I slept better, my skin cleared, and my blood work improved.
As a personal trainer, I regularly get asked what I eat and why. The reality is that it’s been a journey for me. I try to make incremental improvements, but sometimes I can be hard on myself.
Despite the fact that I’m a personal trainer, I navigate the same struggles, pitfalls, and self-doubt that other people do.
Though my meals generally consist of minimally-processed, plant-based foods, I still have a sweet tooth. But I never deprive myself. Instead, I look for ways I can satisfy my craving by using plant-based ingredients.
If you’re curious what a personal trainer eats, here’s a snapshot of my menu and why I choose the foods I do.
I often start my day with whole grain oatmeal after a workout. It’s so filling because it’s high-fiber, and I place special emphasis on including whole grains in my diet because they protect against heart disease, which runs in my family.
I believe that we shouldn’t fall victim to the idea that our genes decide our fate. By focusing on our lifestyle and diet, we place ourselves in the driver’s seat. I also add antioxidant-rich dark berries for added health benefits.
On days I’m studying and need a quick and easy lunch, this bean wrap is a huge staple for me — it’s super flavorful thanks to the spices I use — and it’s rich in iron, protein, and fiber.
Legumes are incredibly beneficial to your health. They’ve to significantly lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Even as a 24 year old, I’m keeping my eye on longevity.
Dark, leafy greens are a must every day. They’re some of the most nutrient-dense foods, and I strive to incorporate them in one of my three meals.
For this particular meal, I opted for a salad that was both kale-based, colorful, and overall nutritious.
Like I mentioned, I have a huge sweet tooth and I mainly look to whole foods when it comes to snacking.
I regularly make this delicious, plant-based hot cocoa. I just use a nondairy milk of my choice — usually almond, adding some unsweetened cocoa powder, and a couple of whole medjool dates. I then blend it all together.
When I heat it on the stove, it becomes dense and rich. Swoon.
Because I think dark, leafy greens are so important, sometimes I’ll even have them for breakfast with a homemade dressing. Yes, seriously.
If you had told me to try this a couple of years ago, I would’ve raised my eyebrows while I secretly judged you.
But now I’m firmly on the kale-for-breakfast train. And because dark, leafy greens, like spinach, have been linked to relieving , this makes them the ideal post-workout meal on the mornings I hit the gym.
I love a good deconstructed burrito, and I’ll either make my own or buy one — though I’ll hold the sour cream, cheese, and chicken.
I’m often ravenous after a day of studying, so pairing a whole grain – quinoa or farro –
with beans and homemade cashew-based dressing is sure to satisfy me.
In the winter months, nothing beats a delicious, hot soup. Does anyone daydream about them? Just me? Lentils are my go-to base, especially because they have the of six other legumes.
As someone who trains hard, I try to pack my plate with foods that will encourage recovery and relieve oxidative stress. And this red lentil soup does just that.
I wake up early and like to start my day off slow, with prayer and meditation. At this time, I often don’t feel hungry and wait to eat.
On days I’m heading to the gym and don’t have an appetite yet, but want something nourishing and quick to power my workout, I opt for a green smoothie with a dark, leafy green base (can you see a theme?). I enjoy them because they’re super customizable and portable, and they pack a nutritious punch.
My favorite combination is kale, pineapple, mango, flaxseeds, and coconut water, blended together.
Lunchtime is my favorite place to fit in a salad, because there’s no post lunch-time crash and it keeps me energized. Best of all, they’re everywhere and easily tailored to what you like, so ordering out is an easy option.
Even though I work out daily, I think it’s still important to include bouts of walking throughout your day to stay in motion — so consider walking to your lunch spot.
One of the questions I regularly get asked is how I was able to quit certain animal foods. For me it was about mastering the flavors I enjoy.
Chickpeas, for example, are one of my favorite legumes because their mild flavor makes them a perfect base for a dish like my tandoori-spiced chickpeas, which I eat frequently over a bed of farro. Delicious!
One of my favorite things about whole grain oats is how accepting and forgiving they are of all kinds of flavors.
They’re a perfect place to disguise vegetables, which is why I occasionally include kale and zucchini in mine, and then pile on whatever add-ons I want.
Sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest and with potent , so they’re a perfect way to up the nutrient ante of your breakfast.
When I have extra time to prep lunch, I love to prep cruciferous powerhouses like cauliflower, paired with quinoa. A plant-based diet isn’t just nutritious — it can also be incredibly tasty.
I slather my cauliflower with a homemade (date-sweetened) BBQ sauce, and bake it for a healthy and filling meal.
If I’m still feeling hungry, I’ll opt for some finger foods — fruits and veggies for the win.
On days I don’t feel like cooking dinner, I consider what bare-minimum meals I can make, and somehow always settle on a warming, spicy bean chili.
In addition to the other benefits of legumes listed above, regular consumption of them can .
Sometimes I have no appetite upon rising, and other times, I want a savory meal to start the day. This tofu scramble is a particular favorite after I do intense resistance training because it really hits the spot.
Its yellow coloring comes from turmeric, as much as exercise does.
When I go out for lunch, I’m usually on the hunt for Mexican or Mediterranean restaurants because they’re sure to have a plant-based option.
It’s a win in my book to eat a lunch full of colorful vegetables and toppings like hummus (chickpea-based) and baba ghanoush (eggplant-based). I try to keep my diet as diverse as possible to maximize its micronutrient content and enjoy a variety of flavors.
One of my favorite meals before I started eating a plant-based diet was lasagna. As I learned to cook, lasagna was the first dish I tried to recreate. Turns out, it was way easier than I anticipated, and it’s such a crowd pleaser.
I make it frequently, especially when I have guests. Slice up your favorite veggies like potatoes, zucchini, or eggplant, and layer them with a hearty lentil-packed marinara sauce and homemade plant-based ricotta cheese.
Some days, I don’t feel like making breakfast. Can you relate? Instead of reaching for a highly-processed alternative like cereal or a snack pack, I stick to nature’s original convenience food: fruit. Sometimes I’ll even eat a whole papaya!
Salads, like I said, are a go-to. When you don’t have dressing on hand, a quick and easy option is balsamic vinegar.
Its tanginess and mildly sweet flavor pair nicely with the more neutral flavors of a salad. I was blown away when I first tried it. I’m all for finding ways to make a healthy lifestyle as accessible and convenient as possible.
My husband and I eat out once a week for dinner. It’s an enjoyable way for us to bond over a meal, and I always check menus in advance to make sure I can adapt something to my preferences.
A mutual favorite of ours at a local vegan restaurant is a dish called “simplicity,” which consists of brown rice, chickpeas, and vegetables with a coconut curry sauce drizzled on top. We recreated it at home and it was a hit for both of us.
To up the protective nutritional benefits of whole grain oats, I look to the toppings. Like I mentioned before, dark berries are a staple. I also frequently include ground flaxseeds, which have , meaning they keep our blood pressure at a healthy level.
High blood pressure, along with heart disease, runs in my family, but by making day-to-day choices like including flaxseeds in my breakfast, I stay in control of my health and protect myself.
When I visit a family member, I’ll often eat out rather than cooking at home. I always opt for the healthiest dish I can find, which is often a plant-based burger.
Beet burgers, for example, have always been at the top of my list of favorite variations, and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. Beets , something I, as a personal trainer, am always looking to enhance.
When I come across a new recipe I just have to try, nothing can stop me from picking up all the ingredients and making it on the same night. So was the case for this amazing mushroom and farro dish.
Mushrooms — perfect for flu season — and pairing them with deliciously nutty farro makes for a healthy and wholesome dish.
Sara Zayed started Posifitivy on Instagram in 2015. While working full time as an engineer after graduating from college, Zayed received the Plant-Based Nutrition certificate from Cornell University and became an ACSM-certified personal trainer. She resigned from her job to work for Ethos Health, a lifestyle medical practice, as a medical scribe in Long Valley, NJ, and is now in medical school. She’s run eight half-marathons, one full marathon, and strongly believes in the power of whole-food, plant-based nutrition and lifestyle modifications. You can also find her on Facebook and subscribe to her blog.