09 March 2012

TDIV Q&A: My daily workouts are really intense, so how can I get enough protein and energy from a vegetarian/vegan diet?

A friend of mine recently asked me what he should know about completing a 30-day Bikram yoga challenge while vegetarian.  For those of you who don’t know, this means doing 90 minutes of yoga in a room heated to 105 degrees, every day for a month. Intense? Yes. Do you need to eat meat to do it? No!

Whether you are already an avid exerciser or someone who wants to amp up his/her current fitness routine, take comfort in the fact that you can absolutely perform intense daily workouts while eating a plant-based diet.

A healthy body runs on a balanced diet of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats— none of which need to come from meat. Tofu, seitan, tempeh, lentils, split peas, garbanzo beans, black beans, kidney beans, almonds, peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds… the list goes on.

The key to making sure your body gets enough protein while burning a lot of calories is to have some protein with every meal. But you don’t have to go overboard. Try sprinkling a handful of sunflower seeds on your salad at lunch. Snack on a bag of peanuts, raisins and pumpkin seeds while walking to the gym. Dip your carrot sticks in hummus while sitting at your desk.

If you are already vegetarian or vegan, you shouldn’t need to change your diet that much to adjust to a new fitness regimen. Just be aware of what you’re eating. Going all day on just a bowl of cereal isn’t the way to approach intense physical training.

Here’s a sample healthy vegan diet for a day of high-impact exercise:


Green smoothie*

1 frozen banana
1 cup frozen berry medley
½ cup frozen spinach/kale
1 scoop soy/hemp protein powder or 2 tbsp peanut/almond butter
1 tbsp chia seeds
Splash soy/almond/coconut milk or orange juice
Few ice cubes
Agave nectar to taste

*Green smoothies are the perfect way to energize your body first thing in the morning, and are delicious pick-me-ups any time of the day.

(morning workout- 5 mile run)


Handful salted almonds
Soy yogurt


Big salad with spinach, quinoa, avocado, carrot, cucumber, red pepper, dried cranberries and toasted sunflower seeds
Multigrain crackers with hummus
Apple with peanut butter


Trail mix bar

(evening workout- 1 hour kickboxing class)


Tofu and vegetable stir fry with brown rice
Steamed broccoli with nutritional yeast
Leftover salad


Soy/coconut ice cream
Bowl fresh strawberries


  • Pack a full water bottle and a bag of homemade trail mix with you wherever you go. Throw in some nuts, dried fruit, seeds… even some chocolate chips if you fancy.
  • Drink coconut water (http://vitacoco.com/). Perfect way to hydrate before, during and after workouts. It has the 5 essential electrolytes you need to replenish from a good sweat: sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.
  • Chia and flax seeds are both good sources of alpha linolenic acid, Omega-3s, fiber, and natural energy. They’re great blended into smoothies, sprinkled on top of cereal, or mixed in granola.
  • Eat more avocado. Excellent source of healthy fats, fiber, folic acid, Vitamin E and B-vitamins.
  • Listen to your body’s cravings! If you want a veggie burger with fries and a soy-milkshake after a super hard run/bike ride/yoga class/P90X session, go for it. Treat yourself.
As far as supplements go, you don’t have to go crazy with the protein powder and vitamins. A multi-vitamin is always good, and especially B12, which vegetarians and vegans do need to take. Getting enough vitamin D is important for everybody, so take a supplement if it’s not in your multi. Also, vegan fish oil (derived from algae instead of fish) is good too. I recommend Deva non-fish vegan Omega-3 DHA or Bluebonnet vegetarian DHA.

If you sometimes feel depleted or low on energy, it could mean that you need to up your iron and calcium levels.

Iron-rich foods:

Beans (soy, kidney, lima, lentils)
Split peas
Green beans
Blackstrap molasses
Peanut butter
Walnuts, cashews, pecans, almonds

Calcium rich foods:

Dark, leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, Swiss chard)
Sesame seeds
Sunflower seeds

As a lifelong vegetarian, I decided to turn vegan while completing my Bikram Yoga teacher certification. During those 9 weeks I completed 99 Bikram yoga classes. While working hard, sweating buckets, and eating healthy, delicious vegan food, I felt stronger and more energized than I ever had before.

So whatever daily workout you choose, just remember that having enough energy is easy with a diet full of vegetables, fruits and protein from beans, nuts and seeds. And the best part about working out so much? You gain energy from doing more exercise. Look and feel great about being a compassionate athlete!

Rachel Fryer | Email
Maryland A lifelong vegetarian and animal lover, Rachel Fryer enjoys writing, traveling, eating spicy food, drinking coconut water, reading historical fiction and sweating (she is also a Bikram yoga teacher). Rachel is excited to attend grad school for her Masters in English in Fall 2012 and to adopt a shelter dog in the near future.

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