Avoiding animal products need not mean ruling out beefy fitness goals or meaty achievements. A post-workout refueling can still bulk up and heal your muscles if it contains nothing but plant food.
Whether they’re smashing world records in endurance or weight lifting, winning bodybuilding competitions, or taking home UFC titles, the verdict is in: Muscles don’t need meat.
We’re first going to take a look at why meat isn’t essential for fitness and give you 14 highly nutritious options for that most satisfying of mealtimes: The yummy combo of carbs and protein while your muscles are burning.
The jigsaw puzzle of sports nutrition has a lot of pieces, but probably none is as important as the post-workout meal. (It’s like that really big corner piece — you know, the one missing under the sofa.)
“A 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein has been proven to be really efficient for replenishing amino acids and repairing the muscle that’s been broken down during strength training,” says registered dietitian Rachel Berman.
The basic gist is that during exercise, you use up your glycogen (the energy stored in your muscles). After sweating it out, carbs help refill this energy with a little help from its pal protein, explains Elizabeth Jarrard, a dietitian who consults for plant-based supplement company Vega.
But protein and carbs aren’t all we need after a workout. “While exercise suppresses inflammation in the long term, the act of exercise damages your muscles,” advises Jarrard.
“That’s why it’s always a good idea to include foods that support inflammation reduction, like those rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids,” Jarrard continues. “But that being said, you don’t want too much fat in the post-workout meal, because it’ll slow your digestion.”
So a lot of carbs, a decent amount of protein (Berman says 6 to 20 grams is plenty), lots of antioxidants, and little fat? You’ve walked right into the vegan comfort zone, buddy.
The next time you want to feed your muscles the right way, one of these recipes will hit the spot.
Looking for a sweet touch after a hard session? Look no further…
1. Slow cooker chocolate cherry steel-cut oats
With their dietitian-approved 4:1 ratio, steel-cut oats are an awesome choice, despite their lengthy prep time. That’s where the magic of the slow cooker comes in.
This recipe is a perfect post-workout choice thanks to the winning combo of cocoa powder, a powerful anti-inflammatory agent,
Looking to step up your oatmeal game? Check out our fancy oat recipes.
2. Matcha mango chia seed pudding
Tiny as they are, chia seeds are a complete protein. They may contain more fat than the ideal post-workout snack (there’s almost three times as much fat than protein), they’re still a good choice.
More than half of the fats are omega-3 fatty acids, and Berman says that while humans have a harder time absorbing omega-3s from plants than animals, chia seeds are still a terrific anti-inflammatory food.
Here are 32 other chia seed pudding options. You will never run out of chia seed pudding.
3. Apple ginger green smoothie
Protein shakes are a powerful ode to the post-workout meal. Smoothies are a really easy way to cram a ton of foods with different health benefits into one easy-to-guzzle package, and this recipe doesn’t disappoint.
(Although, apples you can’t crunch? We know that’s half the fun, but don’t go dismissing an apple smoothie just yet.)
It has anti-inflammatory benefits from ginger.
Calcium can also boost levels of muscle-building testosterone.
It’s tough to nail down an exact macronutrient ratio for a shake, since it depends largely on the kind of protein powder you use, so it’s worth experimenting with different recipes to find your most effective go-to combo.
We looked at nine more green smoothie recipes.
4. Chickpea, mango, and curried cauliflower salad
Chickpeas provide 22 grams of carbs and 8.19 grams of protein per 100 grams, making around a 3:1 ratio, which, combined with their almost complete lack of fat, makes them a great choice for refueling after a workout.
This salad’s dressing has a real bite, and the spinach and lime juice provide vitamin C to help your body to absorb the muscle-friendly iron in the chickpeas.
We wrote a 27-recipe ode to the mighty chickpea.
Going all in with the veggies can boost your post-workout recovery in amazing ways.
5. Roasted teriyaki mushrooms and broccolini soba noodles
Soba noodles are a buckwheat delicacy that have the 4:1 ratio, and they’re also a complete protein.
Pair this Japanese staple with teriyaki mushrooms for a rich, satisfying, earthy dimension, as well as broccolini and chilis, which may have anti-inflammatory properties.
Ten more bicep curls and you can look forward to soba on the sofa. Job done.
Look for saucy alternatives? We came up with the healthiest options for store-bought condiments.
6. Lentil spinach soup
A cup of lentils provides about 36.1 grams of carbs and 16.2 grams of protein. This Mediterranean soup combines them with tomatoes and spinach for added vitamins and minerals. But… what about the ratio?
Post-exercise nutrition might seem like it’s all 4:1, but the ratio isn’t one for all. Meals that don’t neatly fit into this ratio can still be plenty restorative after a hard workout. Besides, you can add another carb source to the meal such as fruit to up the ratio.
Popular as it is, the 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein isn’t gospel. Some researchers say a ratio of 3:1 can have similar effects in some women.
Other researchers think you’ll recover just fine with only carbs and no protein at all, especially if you’re an older male.
So don’t obsess over that ratio, and chow down into a super-nutritious bowl of heckin yum. We thought up some unexpected ways to cook lentils — have a look.
7. Quinoa-stuffed poblano peppers
With its commendable focus on beans, peppers, onions, and antioxidant-rich herbs, authentic Mexican food can be vegan-friendly (just hold the cheese and avoid lard when prepping the beans and tortillas) and tastebud friendly.
This recipe puts a fresh twist on a traditional Southwestern dish with the addition of trendy quinoa. It has a pretty great balance of carbs and complete protein once it teams up with the beans. This is one to brag about at Zumba class.
To the kitchen! Vamonos! Wait, before you do, here are 15 other things we decided to put inside peppers.
8. Creamy asparagus and pea soup
To pea, or not to pea. That’s not the question, but it does sound a lot like it.
Pea protein is fast becoming a popular supplement for vegans and non-vegans alike due to its high levels of branch chain amino acids and the fact that it’s lactose and gluten free, making it easy to digest and allergy-friendly.
In their non-powdered form (so, just peas, then), a care package of 22.92 grams of carbs and 8.19 grams of proteins awaits in every 100 gram serving. This low fat soup not only fulfills a tasty 3:1 carb-protein ratio but positively overflows with antioxidants from asparagus, spinach, and garlic.
It’s also ready in 30 minutes. That’s a “bon appetit” served pronto.
We think asparagus is great. Here’s why.
9. Edamame broccoli wild rice salad
Edamame, oh my. Plenty folks eat these immature, undeveloped, can’t-believe-they-still-have-a-curfew soybeans, and they consist of roughly equal parts protein (11.91 grams per 100 grams serving) and carbs (8.91 grams per 100 gram serving).
This salad increases the carb smattering with a vibrant combination of broccoli and raisins (but you can switch the raisins for dried cranberries if that’s your bag.. You can double the portion for a satisfying, light feast.
This salad may just give you a new raisin d’être. If you love raisins, we compiled a guide to creating a healthy trail mix.
10. Chickpea sunflower sandwich
A sunflower creation of which even Vincent Van Gogh would be proud.
A good, old-fashioned sandwich is Jarrard’s post-workout weapon of choice (unless you wind up in actual combat, in which case, run). It’s so simple to make and pack in a gym bag. Also, it’s a sandwich. They’re great.
This one gives PB&J a run for its money with a colorful, flavorful, health-boosting mix of hummus, sunflower seeds, avocado, and tomatoes.
You won’t even remember what peanut butter is. But you know what’s better than sandwiches? That’s right… more sandwiches.
11. Butternut squash and tempeh tacos
Tempeh provides more protein than carbs, so add butternut squash to crank up your carbs.
The warming spices in the tempeh pair perfectly with the sweetness of the squash. And be sure not to skip the homemade salsa verde, packed with spicy antioxidants from tomatillos, onions, jalapeño, and cilantro.
Here are 23 further approaches to managing your tempeh.
12. Red lentil dal
An indispensable staple of Indian cuisine, this thick, protein-rich soup is swimming with masoor dal, or red lentils.
These cook quite a bit faster than the green kind but have a similar nutritional profile. Dal is beloved as a comfort food, because making it usually involves generous helpings of ghee or fat.
To keep things animal free, this recipe uses coconut milk instead of ghee. This means your meal should digest a little more quickly. For more simple curry recipes, we’ve got you covered.
13. Roasted red pepper hummus
This hummus recipe relies on tahini, lemon juice, and roasted red pepper for its flavor.
Not only is tasty produce whizzed right into the hummus itself, but it’s also a perfect dip for just about any vegetable (if you want to increase your antioxidants) or pita bread (if you’d like to complete your protein and add some extra carbs).
Here’s how to make world-beating hummus.
14. Black bean sweet potato chili
No meat doesn’t mean no chili for vegans. Chili your boots.
This rich, thick, creamy, spicy, and sweet concoction hits all the right notes, and although black beans have fewer than 3 grams of carbs for every gram of protein, that just provides a license to indulge with that warm, comforting, sweet, sweet potato.
Here’s a quick, easy veggie chili to fill your boots.
As long as the protein and carbs enter your body in the right proportions, you’ll be well on the way to recovery before your next session of crushing it.
When you hear people tell you they need meat, as they’re trying to bulk up, gently point them in the right direction. No matter whether the source is an animal, it’s the nutrients that are important.
So put down the kettlebell, wipe your brow, and start preparing some filling vegan yumminess.