Nutrition for plant-based training
Getting the nutrition fundamentals right, as outlined above, is the most important thing when it comes to improving your long-term health as well as your performance and recovery.
But if you’re an athlete, you might want to take things a step further, to really up your game! So, building on those fundamentals, here are a couple of nutritional strategies you might want to look at to elevate your performance and maximise your recovery.
Creatine’s a natural organic compound, made in the body, primarily by the liver and kidneys. It’s mostly found in the skeletal muscles, where it exists in the forms of free creatine and creatine phosphate, which act as an important storage form of energy - it helps our cells to recycle ATP, which can be thought of as the energy currency of our cells.
The body produces creatine using the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. So, as long as you’re getting enough of these amino acids in your diet (which, if you’re simply eating enough food, is almost certain) you’ll be making sufficient amounts of creatine for healthy functioning yourself. Still, meat-eaters get some additional creatine through the diet, because it’s found primarily in muscle tissue – including those of other animals. By comparison, vegans don’t get any extra creatine through the diet, so lower concentrations are often found in the blood and skeletal muscle of those on a plant-based diet.
There’s been masses of research conducted on creatine supplementation over the last two decades, showing that it can provide benefits in two ways: firstly, by significantly increasing muscle creatine stores, it can improve performance in high intensity, short duration exercises (such as weight training and the interval-style anaerobic power required in many team sports). Secondly, it’s also been shown to improve adaptations to training, leading to greater gains in lean muscle mass, strength, and power over time. And because vegans and vegetarians tend to have lower baseline muscle creatine levels, evidence shows that those on a plant-based diet respond even better to creatine supplementation than omnivores.
Creatine monohydrate is the most extensively studied and clinically effective form of creatine, so if you do choose to try it, this would be the safest option. Vivo Life’s creatine monohydrate is ultra-pure and as with all Vivo Life’s products, is third-party tested for quality and purity.
A commonly used protocol is to follow a high intake (20-30g a day) during ‘loading’ phase for about a week, followed by a lower ongoing ‘maintenance’ dose of 3-5g a day. The loading phase is designed to quickly saturate creatine stores in the muscle, and once saturated, the lower 3-5g daily intake can maintain these levels. The loading phase can be left out, and a daily intake of 3-5g a day will also lead to the same increases in muscle creatine levels over time, but it may just take a little longer (3-4 weeks) to maximise your stores.
There’s a huge amount of research on the performance effects of caffeine, showing it exerts a significant performance-enhancing effect on muscle endurance, aerobic endurance, muscle strength, and anaerobic power.
It does this by stimulating the central nervous system, thereby reducing fatigue, dampening pain reception, blunting our perception of effort, and improving alertness and concentration. All this leads to significant improved performance, in most people. Recent research shows that, contrary to popular belief, caffeine consumed even at moderately high intakes does not lead to dehydration during exercise, and regular caffeine intake doesn’t seem to affect its short-term performance-enhancing properties.
So, how much caffeine, and when, should we consume to benefit from these effects? Consuming caffeine around one hour before the exercise seems to be the most effective time window. Most studies conducted used a large single dose of caffeine at between 3-6mg/kg of bodyweight. For example, an 80kg athlete would have taken between 240-480mg of caffeine. However, there’s a growing body of evidence to show that lower doses, under 3mg/kg of bodyweight, can still have a significant ergogenic effect. For most people, this could be achieved simply through drinking 1-2 cups of strong coffee.
To weigh up whether caffeine might be appropriate for you, it’s important to consider the potential risks and side effects. Some people have a genetic predisposition where caffeine can cause anxiousness and restlessness, and in some can lead to headaches and nausea. If this sounds like you, it may be best to stick to lower intakes (<3mg/kg body weight) or eschew caffeine altogether, as those side effects may offset any improvements in performance and detract from the enjoyment of your sport or training. You should also bear in mind that when caffeine is consumed in the late afternoon or evening, it can impact your sleep.
Vivo Life’s Magic Organic Ground Coffee is a great way to dose up on caffeine – it’s blended with Lion’s Mane mushroom which supports brain health and mental clarity!