If you’re trying to adopt a plant-based diet, you’re not alone. According to a 2017 Nielsen Homescan survey, 39 percent of Americans were trying to eat more plant-based foods. Moreover, Nielsen also reported that plant-based food options were seeing significant sales growth.

But while this trend is clearly gaining traction, it might leave you with questions about how to make the switch, specifically when refueling before and after workouts. These concerns aren’t uncommon and are often about getting enough protein, micronutrients, or calories.

As someone who subscribes to a plant-based diet, I’ve had to make my own share of nutritional adjustments when it comes to refueling my body before and after working out. And while refining my nutrition helped me overcome the challenges each of my activities brought with them, this took years of trial and error — not to mention education.

During this time, I learned how to curb muscle soreness, boost my endurance, maintain high energy levels, and most importantly, remain as healthy as possible, all the while eating a plant-based diet.

So, whether you’re new to plant-based nutrition or are simply looking for new ideas, read on for my list of plant-based foods you should be eating before and after five different types of workouts.

Circuit training

Circuit training is performed in intervals with little to no rest. It works multiple muscle groups. For this reason, it’s not only important to focus on keeping your energy levels up, but also to find foods that aid in quick muscle recovery.

For this type of training, I suggest eating carbohydrates before your workout. These should be carbs specifically from whole plant sources, which are rich in nutrients and satiating. This means you’ll feel fuller for longer. They’re also loaded with fiber, which can help slow down your digestion and provide you with consistent energy.

Foods to eat before circuit training:

  • whole-grain, old-fashioned oatmeal
  • fresh fruit
  • potatoes (preferably sweet potatoes)
  • dried fruit with no added sugar

You’ll probably be tired from your workout, so plant-based carbohydrates are still important for energy. That said, also pair them with a plant source of protein, greens, and whole fats to maximize nutrient absorption and muscle recovery.

Foods to eat after circuit training:

  • a legume-based veggie burger (steer clear of processed soy derivatives) with a whole-grain bun
  • a large salad with a base of dark leafy greens and your choice of beans
  • a smoothie with your choice of dark greens, fruit, plant-based milk, and seeds
  • whole-grain oatmeal with nut butter and fruit
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Whether you’re running long-distance, pumping iron at the gym, or improving your core strength at Pilates, it’s important to stay hydrated, both before and after your workouts.

Long-distance running

I completed my first marathon in November 2018. I’d be lying if I said the training process wasn’t long and grueling. During this time I learned a lot about the importance of proper nutrition for long-distance running. Carbohydrates, once again, are key here before you begin your run.

Foods to eat before your run:

  • whole-grain toast with bananas
  • fruit
  • sweet potatoes
  • beets

If your run is longer than an hour, it’s also important to refuel during your session with more carbohydrates to prevent muscle breakdown, which your body will resort to when it runs out of glucose.

While out pounding the pavement, try to avoid fats and proteins, as they lack a sufficient amount of fast-burning carbohydrates.

Foods to eat during your run:

  • dates
  • dried fruit (raisins were my choice)

Foods to eat after your run:

  • nutritional yeast
  • a large salad with a base of dark leafy greens, beans, and a handful of nuts (these can help maximize absorption of fat-soluble vitamins)
  • a brown rice-based bowl paired with your choice of vegetables (opt for cruciferous specifically) and beans
  • a smoothie with dark leafy greens, fruits, and seeds

Weightlifting

While weightlifting has grown in popularity over the past few years, specifically among women, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about plant-based diets and lifting, primarily about not getting enough protein.

Luckily, protein sourced from plants is just as beneficial for muscle health as animal protein. There’s also plenty of options to choose from.

Legumes, nuts, and seeds are a rich source in particular and have an added advantage: They’re nutrient dense. The more nutrient dense your diet, the better you recover, which can maximize your strength and muscle growth.

And much like circuit training and long-distance running, carbohydrates are still important, so make sure to include them!

Foods to eat before your weightlifting session:

  • whole-grain toast with a nut butter
  • a smoothie with dark leafy greens, high-carb fruits, and nuts
  • whole-grain oatmeal with dried fruit and a nut butter

After a weightlifting session, you’ll want to minimize delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and promote muscle recovery and growth. Once again, protein is critical for building and repairing muscle tissue. Foods that are anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants can protect against and relieve oxidative stress and inflammation.

Foods to eat after your weightlifting session:

  • tofu or edamame (add them to a salad or bake tofu and put it in a whole-wheat wrap)
  • hummus and raw vegetables
  • a smoothie with dark leafy greens, high-carb fruits, and nuts

High-intensity interval training (HIIT)

HIIT, a personal favorite of mine, is centered on fluctuating intensity throughout the workout. Though it’s similar to circuit training in that it can be structured like a circuit, the primary focus during a HIIT workout is on the intensity of the exercises, rather than their associated muscle group.

That said, because key to mastering HIIT is building your cardiovascular endurance, its dietary recommendations are similar to those for running and circuit training.

Foods to eat before a HIIT session:

  • dark leafy greens paired with fruit
  • whole-grain oatmeal with fruit
  • sweet potato
  • fresh fruit

After a HIIT workout, you’ll want to keep your energy up and maximize recovery. You can do this by eating whole foods that are rich in carbohydrates, anti-inflammatory properties, and antioxidants.

Foods to eat after a HIIT session:

  • a smoothie with dark leafy greens, fruits, and seeds
  • whole-grain pasta with tomato sauce and vegetables
  • dates

Yoga and Pilates

Compared to the first four workouts, yoga and Pilates are relatively low impact. There is, however, plenty of core-building work involved. Because of this, you’ll still want to make sure to support muscle recovery.

Foods to eat before yoga or Pilates:

  • a large salad with dark leafy greens and berries
  • whole-grain toast with a banana
  • raw, sliced vegetables

After a yoga or Pilates class, you want to make sure to reduce oxidative stress and promote recovery. You can do this through choosing foods that are anti-inflammatory and high in antioxidants.

Foods to eat after yoga or Pilates:

  • a smoothie with dark leafy greens and fruits
  • a brown rice-based bowl paired with your choice of vegetables and beans
  • mixed dark berries (these have the highest antioxidant content of any fruit)
  • sweet potato

Takeaway

It’s important to refuel before and after a workout if you’re looking to truly reap the benefits of all your hard work. If, however, you’re looking to change your diet to a plant-based one, it’s even more imperative to know which foods will help you recover properly.

And if making the switch over to plant-based nutrition seems daunting, simply add one or two of these foods to your pre- and post-workout meal at a time to help ease this change in your eating habits.


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.