Plant Based Fitness – A complete Guide to Macronutrients

In the past two years on my own plant based eating journey I have really had the chance to understand how the plant based diet affects your fitness work-outs, and the huge difference it makes to your overall fitness and health in general. In this post I aim to give you all the critical information I have gleaned from my own experiences on a plant based fitness and eating plan, and to also give you a complete guide to the macronutrients you should be eating when you change to this lifestyle in order to stay in tip top health.

What I Learned

Having studied and practiced sports nutritional therapy means I already had an understanding of the nutrition required for those in training; be it muscle building, endurance training, or any other kind of sport. Therefore, I had a good platform of knowledge to work from when I decided to try eating plant based for myself. But, even armed with this knowledge I still made a few mistakes along the way simply because I didn’t have the actual first hand experience of getting all my nutrients from plant foods, and it’s this first hand experience makes all the difference.

woman doing bar lifts

Everything I had learned and knew previously had revolved around the recommended food pyramid, and I was a bit of a rookie to say the least when it came down to getting everything I needed from plant foods alone. It occurred to me that if somebody like me could come across these problems whilst eating a plant based diet AND training hard, then anybody could.

So if you’re thinking of changing to (or are already on) a plant based or vegan diet; and especially if you’re a regular exerciser, then you should learn from my mistakes and read this article as you may find it of benefit. The fact is, yes, it is totally possible to get everything you need from plants – totally possible -amino acids and all, but you WILL need to be extra vigilant about your macronutrient intake when you’re putting intense stress on your body through exercise. Much more vigilant than a plant based eater who does nothing, that’s for sure.

What are Macronutrients?

layered salad jar

Macronutrients are nutrients required in large amounts in your diet and they are made up of protein, carbohydrate and fats. When you are plant based (or vegan) you will need to make sure you are obtaining correct amounts of these from your plant foods alone.

Usually your carbohydrate and fat requirements will be just as easily met on a whole foods plant based diet than any other diet, but the truth is, when it comes to protein some may struggle to get enough through plants alone. Protein is abundant in animal sources such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and all dairy products. Take these abundant sources away and you need to find adequate replacements such as the ones outlined in this post.

My own Experience of becoming Plant Based

I have always eaten healthily and exercised ALOT – ever since I can remember. It’s like breathing to me I have done it so long, and it’s got to the point where I simply don’t know how to be any other way – which is a good thing of course. Becoming fully plant based two years ago was just another inevitable step on my health ladder, but I definitely hit some bumps in the road and it wasn’t all plain sailing that’s for sure, but I guess nothing in life worth doing actually is.

I’m by no means obsessed by healthy eating as I believe a little of what you fancy does you good, and I always advocate a lifestyle that promotes all round happiness and health. This of course means treating yourself to the things that you really love every now and again (I eat my own homemade dark chocolate every day which means I never feel I’m missing out on anything), but I would like to show you how I solved some of the problems I ran into whilst I was still learning.

How to make sure you are eating enough plant proteins

black eyed peas

When I started out on this exiting journey over two years ago (and yes, it is a journey) I merrily carried on doing my usual workouts believing at the time that I was eating super healthily. But after a couple of months I started to actually lose muscle mass – only slightly, but I was unused to this so I instinctively knew something wasn’t quite right. In hindsight, I can see that even though I was eating lots of nuts, seeds and legumes I just wasn’t getting enough protein from these foods for somebody who does a lot of exercise and burns up lots of amino acids in the process.

When I actually did the calculations properly, I could see that compared to the amount of protein I was used getting as a meat eater my intake had probably halved on the plant based diet. This may not be a problem to a non-exerciser, as most meat eaters get too much protein anyway, but to a very active plant based eater it just wasn’t working.

With closer scrutinisation of my diet, I realised that many plant based dairy replacements such as nut milks (including almond, cashew, coconut, oat, and hemp) didn’t contain much protein (if any) at all. In fact, some contained as little as 1/8th of the protein of cows milk, and the same with the non-dairy cheeses and yogurts (unless you count the soy based products, but I tend to steer clear of too much soy as it is estrogenic). The protein issue, I believe now, to be one of the issues that most newbies to this diet don’t consider.

Adapting to a Plant Based Diet

glass of soy milk

I have a sneaky feeling (though I’ve no evidence for this, and it’s purely my opinion) that being so new to this way of eating, and being as it was just such a huge change for my system to cope with, my body just wasn’t used to recycling amino acids from plant sources. This, coupled with the fact that some plant aminos are actually harder to absorb than animal proteins, is the reason I believe I was not recieving adequate amounts of full spectrum amino acids.

The body needs time to adapt to sudden and big dietary changes, and it took more time and another overhaul of my diet to finally get to a place where my body became used to obtaining its energy and nutrients from a different source than it had been used to its whole life. This is something that most people do not get told (or even understand) when they make such drastic changes to their diet overnight like I did. Yes, it’s very healthy and I feel absolutely awesome now, and of course I would never go back, but there definitely was that period of my actual body and mind getting used to this new way of living.

And let’s not forget to mention the relearning of nutrition, understanding and putting together complete nutritional profile meals, plus coming up with new and interesting dishes instead of eating repetitive meals every day in the absence of knowing what else to cook. My advice is preparation is key – get yourself prepared first and you will smash it.

Budget Plant Based Foods

Eating plant based is cheaper than not, and another great thing about it is we are now living in the middle of a plant based and vegan explosion, and you can mostly get everything you need from your local super market quite easily and affordably. In fact, there are whole aisles and fridge sections dedicated JUST to plant based foods so there really couldn’t be a better or easier time to make this change if you are going to.

What I Changed

When I realised that my body just wasn’t getting what it needed for my exercise levels on the plant based diet, I was forced to make some simple changes that made all the difference in the world to my muscle mass, energy levels, immunity and general health. These are errors that I don’t want you tot to make, so be sure to incorporate these things into your daily routine if you want to be firing on all cylinders.

I have included a free 1 week plant based meal plan at the bottom of this post (similar to that which I myself follow now) which will help get you started on your journey and will also show you how to put meals together to make sure you get all your nutrients.

Eat more quinoa!

bowl cooked quinoa

I could literally write a book on the benefits of this tasty and totally perfect seed. Yes, it’s a seed (though most people presume it’s a grain), so it is naturally gluten free and high in protein and healthy fats. In fact, quinoa is pretty much the perfect superfood for a plant based diet as it contains ALL the macronutrients needed for health. It is also is one of the few known plants to not only contain a complete amino acid profile, but also fats and carbohydrates in the perfect ratios to make it a complete food on its own.

So, I’m not kidding – EAT MORE QUINOA! Make this versatile seed a big part of your plant based life and incorporate it into your meals as often as possible, which is pretty easy to do as the great thing about this seed is you can literally eat it at any meal. For instance, you can make quinoa porridge for breakfast, use it cold in a salad for lunch, or as a side dish with any meal to replace rice, grains, pasta or potatoes. It’s also great stirred into soups and stews for added protein, bulk and texture.

PROTEIN POWDERS WITH COMPLETE AMINO ACID PROFILES

protein smoothies

If you are in training and on a plant based diet (or even if you’re not, but are just not eating an adequate diet) then you may need a protein powder for extra reassurance that you’re getting the full spectrum of amino acids you require to build and repair muscle.

Some plant protein powders can fall short on certain amino acids (unlike their dairy based counterparts), but fortunately we live in a time where it seems almost everything  is having its protein extracted and made into a powder which gives you an abundance of different protein sources to choose from. These include hemp, quinoa, pumpkin, brown rice, potato, sunflower, almond, pea and probably by the time you’ve read this many more.

Most manufacturers are putting together blends of the above mentioned foods to ensure a complete amino acid profile, therefore you shouldn’t ever have a problem with getting all that you need in one product. This is why I recommend you either buy a good quality blend, or buy a couple of different types and mix them up yourself. Check out these favorites.

SUPPLEMENTS

Again, you may find it hard to get all the nutrients you need when eating plant based (especially whilst in training). That’s why there are some supplements that I find really useful for filling in any nutritional gaps; plus they also make up for the fact that your body is burning up nutrients at a much faster rate when you are physically active. These include the following:-

  • Omega 3’s – (you can buy vegan omega 3; or you can use omega 3 fish oil if you don’t mind some fish products).
  • Vitamin D3 – in the winter months especially.
  • Magnesium – to ease muscle aches and pains from exercise.
  • B- vitamin complex.
  • If you are doing heavy weights, or are actively trying to build muscle, then you may also require a branch chain amino acid supplement. This is another area you should look more in depth into if you feel you may need it. I have sourced some trusted information about this for  you here.

GREEN SUPERFOOD POWDERS

Another truly awesome and very easy way to ensure you are getting top quality food derived nutrients is through green superfood powders. I don’t know how I ever lived without these before I discovered them as they just make so much of a difference to my health and vitality that I feel I need to drive home their importance.

Here’s why you may find them of benefit too:-

  • Stronger immunity.
  • Ridiculously glowy skin.
  • Energy boosting – so great before a workout.
  • Anti inflammatory to help ease muscle aches and pains.
  • Detoxifying.
  • Super high in nutrition.
  • High in chlorophyl.
  • They help lower blood sugar.
  • Helps with insomnia.
  • Good for weight loss.

You can buy many different types of superfood powder, but you must buy quality and organic if you would like the above benefits. They can come in many forms such as wheat grass, barley grass, spirulina, moringa, chlorella and blue-green algaes to name the most popular, and they all contain their own unique nutritional profile. As with the protein powders it is always best to buy a blend to be sure you get the best of everything. Read my top reviewed green superfoods for the best products available on the market right now.

Your 3 Macronutrients

complete plant based meal plate

Here is a full list of all 3 macronutrient food groups that you should be putting together to make a complete meal on a plant based diet, along with what is considered to be a portion size. To make things a little confusing many plant foods contain 2 or even 3 macronutrients all in the same food, therefore I will put them into the groups that they predominantly fall into to make it easier to understand (you will see that some of them are predominant in more than one group, and therefore can be used either way).

You can do quick and easy portioning for your dinner plate by using the size of your hand. The bigger you are, the more food you will need, but the bigger your hands will naturally be so it usually works out well. Note that this is for your main meal dinner plate, and other meals and snacks will be less.

  • Palm of hand = 1 portion of protein.
  • Balled fist = 1 portion of carbohydrates
  • Size of thumb = roughly 1 portion of fats.
  • 2x balled fist = 1 portion of vegetables.

PROTEIN:

  • Soy meats
  • Soy milk
  • Tofu
  • Tempeh
  • Seitan
  • Pulses such as lentils, beans, legumes of all kinds
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

CARBOHYDRATES:

  • Pasta
  • Quinoa
  • Buckwheat
  • Whole grain bread
  • Sourdough bread
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Pearl barley
  • Rice
  • Teff
  • Noodles
  • Coconut
  • Flour
  • Root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, beets)
  • High sugar fruits (bananas, pineapple, mango, papaya, grapes)
  • Dries fruits

FATS:

  • Coconut oil
  • Olive oil
  • vegetable oils
  • Peanut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Canola oil
  • Rapeseed oil
  • Grape seed oil

These are your 3 macronutrient groups and the main foods that each group contains. Other fruits and vegetables that are lower in starches and sugar can be eaten unlimited (but in moderation if you need to keep your weight in check).

ADDED EXTRAS

HEALTHY SWEETENERS: (to be eaten in moderation only)

  • Xylitol
  • Maple syrup
  • Raw honey
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Date syrup
  • Coconut sugar
  • Agave nectar

Oh, and here’s the link to the week of meal plans I promised –>1 Week Plant Based Food Plan<–. Please check it out, follow the diet, and be sure to let me know what you think in the comments box below. All comments are welcome; or if you need additional advice please feel free to drop me a line too.

Thank you for reading this post today. Your support of this website is always very much appreciated. For future posts and more plant based tips and guides please be sure to sign up below↓ Have a great day!

Stefanie Taylor
Plant based eating is set to EXPLODE in 2019; not just for health reasons, but also to help keep our beautiful planet thriving. I have lived this healthful lifestyle for over 2 years, which is the reason why zestforever was born to share my experiences, trials and errors, how I overcame them, and how to turn to this lifestyle in such a way that you will thrive too.

I have studied, tried and tested healthy foods, superfoods and diets for over 25 years, but nothing has come close to giving me the buzz of wellness that plant based eating has. To expand my knowledge further I have also studied and worked as a Sports Nutritional Advisor, Nutritional Therapist, and Clinical Weight Loss Advisor - all of which can tie in with the plant based diet.

This website is not intended to treat or diagnose any medical diseases or illnesses. It's merely meant as a way of showing you how to boost your health through the eating of more nutritious plant foods in place of junk foods.

I am grateful for your support, and I hope that the tips and guides you find here will help to guide you on your own plant based journey.

14 thoughts on “Plant Based Fitness – A complete Guide to Macronutrients”

  1. I work out regularly (in fact I run a health and fitness business) and so my calorie demands are pretty high, but it is becoming easier and easier to swap the meat out of my diet, particularly beef, in favor of plants, although as you point out, you do have to pay greater attention to the kinds of plants you are eating, particularly to ensure you are hitting all the essential amino acids.

    One thing I’d love your take on is protein bars. This is a staple of mine as I am often on the run, and there too, the variety and availability is amazing, from nut butter-based bars to quinoa, brown rice, pea protein, and all the rest, including ones that incorporate green foods.

    They even have chocolate-covered ones!

    You just have to be really careful you aren’t getting one of those glorified candy bars, but if you go organic, the nutritional profile is usually pretty solid.

    Thanks again for a great post, as I continue to look for ways to swap out meat for plants.

    • Hi Jon, I love the fact you are starting to swap some of your usual meat for plants. You will really start to notice the difference in every part of your body when you really get into this, especially if you do it the right way.

      My take on protein bars is I love them and think they are great for filling a hole, especially after a workout. Or even before as they are usually just the right size and have enough carbs to give you good energy. I did smile at your chocolate covered greens bar as I am literally addicted to those and have one almost every day for breakfast. They are SO GOOD! We are probably taking about the same bars I’m sure.

      You are right, a lot of them are full of junk and refined sugars so you really have to be careful with what you buy. Some of them are worse than candy bars! If you are talking about the raw organic greens bar then yes this seems fine as it’s sugars come from brown rice syrup and dates. But having said that, you still need to be careful with sugars of any kind. I only eat these kind of bars every day because I can get away with it as I exercise a lot to burn it off, plus your muscles mop up the rest when they reglycogenate (not sure if that’s a word but you probably know what I mean).

      Another alternative is to use protein powders without added sugar and wizz them up with a ripe banana for sweetness. Fact of the matter is, I do find that I need bars and powders on the plant based diet to get enough protein. Others may say different, but this is my experience.

  2. Definitely something to think about. I am usually against and “diet” in term of restriction from one part of food (not talking about soda drinks or junk food). But you pointed some interesting facts and specific type of food (extra point for included recipe) which I love to see here.

    As someone who is studying nutrition and to be a fitness instructor, I generally want to adopt several different points of view on such topics, so this was really good one to read.

    • Hey there, that’s great you are training to be a fitness instructor and studying nutrition. Yes, it is good to understand food and diets from different points of view, especially from somebody who has been living the lifestyle and in training as I am. The fact is, there are sports people and athletes who are adopting a plant based diet and thriving on it, so there really must be something in it worth looking into.

      Thanks for your comment, I am glad you found the post interesting. Good luck with your studies!

  3. Hi Stephanie, how do you recommend someone get started on a plant based diet? I struggle so much to sticking with being healthy i usually crash after a week. This seems like a good life change and as i am getting older I would love to try it.

    • Hi Jane, that is so great that you are thinking about making this change. Yes, it may seem daunting at first, but honestly, you will get used to it and never look back after you have done if for a few months. It just comes down mostly to preparation and learning how to put some simple meals together. I find that I eat so many more different foods now I am plant based than I ever did before. Sounds strange right? But this is because it forces you to try new recipes and foods you may never have eaten before.

      As for not sticking to things, this could be because you are trying to hard initially and not giving yourself any leeway for treats. Plant based simply means to make the bulk of your diet from plants; nobody is saying you need to go totally 100% vegan straight away. You can start off by experimenting and finding dishes that you like then take it from there. Even if you have a couple of meat and dairy free days per week to start of with you will still be cutting down and learning as you go.

      Please find more information in this link, and good luck. Please feel free to contact me any time if you have any questions

  4. Thank you! This article helps me a lot! I know fitness needs to match with food like meat, but I never knew you can use plants! Cool information! Gonna share this to some of my friends who love exercise!

    • Hey, thanks, that would be fantastic if you could share this post and spread the word. Very much appreciated indeed!

      Lots of people are still unaware of plant based fitness, but it’s totally a thing and many athletes and sports people now eat a vegan diet and are perfectly healthy. It all comes down to knowing what you are doing and understanding food, because without this knowledge you may do more harm than good on this diet.

  5. Neat post and website!

    Thank you for the awesome info about going to a plant-based diet. Although I lift regularly and wouldn’t want to go to a diet like that, thinking about peanut butter and bananas (my two primary ingredients in my protein shakes) makes it easier to stomach.

    I can see how fats wouldn’t be too much of a problem, especially if you dump coconut oil into shakes and stuff.

    Recently I learned that the great Tom Brady is selling his own plant-based protein powder, so there must be something about it!

    Thanks!
    Ben

    • Hi Ben, that’s great you lift weights. I’m sure you understand the importance of protein then, which is a whole different ball game on the plant based diet. It really needs to be understood properly, and many don’t realise this.

      That’s great about the plant based protein powder! So many people (including celebrities and sports people) are turning to this lifestyle now and it’s set to explode even more this coming year. There are certain athletes that are fully plant based and get their best times with this diet so it must be good right?

      Thanks for the complement about my website; it’s been a lot of work in the making!

  6. My diet is predominately plant-based though I do throw in meat on occasion. I like your recommendations and I’ve actually incorporated a lot of them into my own lifestyle. Quinoa became a go-to and it became one of my favorite foods as well. Nuts and seeds are a daily thing for me. They’re like candy to me and I can’t imagine going without them. I do believe it’s challenging to get enough protein in a plant-based diet but if one knows where to look, the challenge dissipates. Excellent article.

    • Hi Todd, sounds like you are a really healthy eating guy! Quinoa is one of my daily go to’s too as it’s just so versatile that you can have it any time, and there’s not a lot of foods you can say that about.
      You are right, you need to know exactly how and where to obtain protein on a plant based diet otherwise you will fall short. This lifestyle can definitely be challenging to begin with until you educate your self.

      Thanks for the compliment too!

  7. Hey Stefanie, Iove this article thanks for sharing. I am looking at starting a new diet to lose a bit of belly fat. I keep reading reviews about the Half Day Diet but can’t make up my mind because of the price. I understand it has a ton of value which I can kind of justify for the price but then again in this review, they are saying it is great. Would love to get your opinion on it and is it something someone needs when first starting out. Thanks again for the tips. I’m on the fence if I should sign up or not.

    • Hi Dylan, I have never heard of this diet, but I did give it a read through, and to be honest it’s probably just another one of those diet fads, though I’m not saying it doesn’t work as I’m sure if you cut calories and exercise like it probably tells you to then you will indeed lose weight.

      I was limited to what I could find out about it without purchasing it, but just bear in mind that to sell their product they are going to have a background sob story and a million reasons why this diet works above all others. It’s been done a million times. I f I were you I would save my money and just eat healthily and exercise. It’s that simple. Cut out refined sugars and trans fats (basically all junk food), eat lots of wholegrains, lean meat (if you eat it), and lots of raw fruits, veggies and salads, and a small amount of healthy fats. Do all these things and you will lose weight.

      In fact, you will probably find this post useful as it will give you a list of all low GI foods to help you lose weight. Low Glycemic Food List

      Please feel free to message me if you have any more questions!

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