How should a weight-lifting, running, vegetarian woman eat to have energy and life forever?
January 22, 2007 12:45 PM   Subscribe

The more I work out, the more I realize that nutrition has a huge impact on my energy. When is the best time to eat various foods during the day so I have the most energy when I get to the gym at 5:30 p.m.? And how can I meet my nutritional needs, given that I'm a vegetarian who likes less-processed foods but doesn't have a lot of time for cooking (and can't handle eating beans every day)? I feel like I need a lot more protein all of a sudden.

I am not trying to lose weight or to gain weight, just to be strong and healthy and enjoy my body. I think I had a pretty good food intake equilibrium when I didn't exercise at all, but now I need to eat a lot more and I think I'm getting it wrong. Not enough protein, probably way too much fat. But I don't know how to fix it, mostly because I don't know what I should be aiming for.

My workouts
I go to the gym after work. I'm trying to run 3 miles three times a week (MWF), and lift weights four times a week (MTWF), plus I sometimes hike or ski or ride my bike or do fun outdoorsy things on weekends. I'm aiming to spend 7.5 to 10 hours per week getting exercise, depending on whatever other commitments intervene.

The carb-aterian
I'm a vegetarian, and eat lots of carbohydrates. I also get lots of fruits, vegetables, yogurt, cheese. Conspicuously lacking: Protein. My digestive system can't handle frequent bean consumption, which seems to be the vegetarian protein default. Right now I'm trying to eat an egg with breakfast a 2-3 times a week, I'm having more peanut butter sandwiches. I've got soy milk and edamame and tofu. How much of this stuff should I eat? Are there other vegetarian, good not-overly-processed, easy to prepare, high protein foods I should be trying?

Staying fueled, timing issues
I've noticed that if I eat right before I go to the gym, I feel sick and crappy. If I eat a bunch of carbohydrates an hour or two ahead of time I usually have a lot of energy. If I eat protein an hour or two before exercising, I don't get the same boost. But if I'm not eating enough protein in general I get tired and have a hard time finishing my workouts.

Finally: Are there good books or good web sites that address this stuff? Most of the web sites I've found are about weight loss, and I'm really not trying to lose weight. Nor am I trying to bulk up unnaturally.
posted by croutonsupafreak to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Food? Rice & eggs. It's really, really quick if you have a pressure cooker. And simple. Make rice. Make a couple scrambled eggs. Combine. I add beans from time to time as well. Almonds -I eat almonds for breakfast most days. Soy butter isn't bad, either. As far as protein intake, I think that will depend upon body type, as well as activity level.
posted by kellyblah at 12:57 PM on January 22, 2007

You're lacto-ovo, so I'd say try whey powder in a smoothie if you have any sort of a blender. Forget the fancy designer whey crap. The natural stuff is two bits a hundred grams / four ounces. Two three heaping tablespoons of that will do. in about 2-3 cups/half a litre or so total volume. I need protein for breakfast. Wakes up the brain. Pre-sliced frozen fruit makes morning prep fast and the ice in the fruit makes the smoothie great.
posted by Listener at 1:03 PM on January 22, 2007

EAS has good tasting whey powder for about 13 bucks at Target or Walmart. Brewer's Yeast is also an alternative, but slightly pricier.

Listener is spot on with the smoothy recommendation. I make a shake each morning that consists of oatmeal, fruit, chocolate whey powder, milk, and peanut butter. Delicious.
posted by Loto at 1:07 PM on January 22, 2007

Best answer: Cheese, nuts, peas, dark greens like spinach and hippie grains like bulgur or quinoa are also high in protein. They may not be great workout food specifically, but they make good meals when bean fatigue sets in.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:16 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Have a whey shake, oatcake and banana a couple or 3 hours before your workout.

Good advice here
posted by the cuban at 1:17 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cheese can actually contain a reasonable amount of protein. If you look at This NIH website, they list some substitutes for different types of foods, including vegetarian options for meats. This website, although a weight-loss one, gives good information about the protein content of various foods.

I think that the NIH might be a good place to dig around, to find nutritional suggestions at different calorie levels. If you are reasonably active, you are using more calories, and hence it is probably a good idea for you to have a higher calorie intake.

Go for a balanced and varied diet. I've seen that carbohydrates are good for giving you energy, but that protein and fats are good for helping you feel sated and keeping you going for longer.
posted by that girl at 1:27 PM on January 22, 2007

I wouldn't avoid fat given your dietary focus. Go nuts with nuts and cheese, and if you're getting fat you can run an extra half mile a day.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:37 PM on January 22, 2007

Response by poster: OK, good list of foods here. Any thoughts on the timing of when I should be eating stuff? I can tell that too much protein within a few hours of a workout is bad, but too little over the course of a day is bad too.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:39 PM on January 22, 2007

Have you ever sat down and calculated how much protein you are actually getting? If one egg 2-3 times a week, milk, PB and tofu are your main sources, you might not be eating enough protein. None of those foods really has all that much, unless you eat a whole lot - eggs and PB have much more fat than protein, and skim milk is about 70% carbs. Not to suggest that these foods are bad (you probably aren't getting a whole lot of fat in your diet, either, if you eat like many vegetarians), but you might want to enter your daily food intake into a program like fitday to determine how much of what you are actually getting. For really good sources of protein I'd suggest egg whites or cottage cheese, and maybe some of the faux meat products.
posted by btkuhn at 1:48 PM on January 22, 2007

Have you ever tracked your food somewhere like Fitday? I'm a vegetarian and I get about 15% of my calories from protein without even trying. You can get a surprising amount of protein from certain vegetables like spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, and whole grains. It's not just about the beans.
posted by found dog one eye at 1:50 PM on January 22, 2007

A few ideas about protein b/c my schedule and eating habits are similar to yours. I've started making stir fry when I get home. I hate the texture of tofu, but recently discovered tempeh. I usually just slice it and marinate it in sauce while I'm chopping up veggies and then throw it all in the wok (or often I cheat and use frozen stir fry mix).

I also bought some of the Morningstar Farms soy crumbles and mix it into spaghetti sauce when I'm making pasta. It's the veggie version of putting ground beef in your sauce.

And then if you want to go all out, there's all the other morningstar farms or boca stuff...
posted by echo0720 at 1:50 PM on January 22, 2007

Best answer: You might end up getting some more in-depth advice on the vegan bodybuilding forum
posted by necessitas at 1:51 PM on January 22, 2007

Although the morningstar farms-ish stuff may be considered overly processed, I don't know...
posted by echo0720 at 1:52 PM on January 22, 2007

Smoked tofu is delish on sandwiches, Quorn is intensely high in protein, and I love these Zone bars. 16g protein in 210 pocket-friendly calories. Processed I know, but sooo worth it, imho.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:57 PM on January 22, 2007

Response by poster: Yep, I've used fitday extensively. I think I'm getting about 10 percent from protein, 30-35 percent from fat, the rest of my calories from carbohydrates (and alcohol).
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:04 PM on January 22, 2007

Between the chickpeas and sesame paste, hummus is a complete source of protein. It's fairly easy to make if you have a food processor, and keeps well.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 2:10 PM on January 22, 2007

My favorite vegetarian protein option is microwave-scrambled "Reddi Egg" egg substitute (it's basically egg whites with some nutrients and colorings added in. I'm sure there are many other brands with similar characteristics.) Very fast, pretty tasty, lots of protein. Skim milk with whey powder mixed in is also proteinacious and quick.

You should be getting more than 10% of your calories from protein--you should probably have at least half a gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, if not more. I've gotten into the habit of looking at the protein content of everything I eat to figure out the best combinations.

Timing-wise, IIRC, you want a small carb boost before your workout (so your body doesn't try to break down muscle tissue for energy) and a protein-rich snack immediately afterwards. More, smaller meals are supposed to be better than fewer, larger ones.

Disclaimer: I've gleaned most of my information from random online sources, bodybuilding friends, and the occasional book, so I don't necessarily vouch for its complete accuracy. It's worked fairly well for me when I was on fitness kicks, though.
posted by fermion at 2:20 PM on January 22, 2007

Best answer: Morningstar Farms has some great high-protein foods, and I love the original Gardenburger.
Unfortunately, they might be too processed for you and many of their products have fat.

Don't be scared of fat, though. You might well be getting just enough - put in everything you eat over a few days at Calorie Count and check out how the calories break down. If between 20-30% of your daily calories come from fat, you're doing fine. You can also try inputting the calories burned from your exercises to make sure you're eating enough calories. That might be the reason carbs make you feel better pre-workout - a cup of rice has twice as many calories as a cup of edamame, and fewer than half of the calories in edamame even come from protein.

(On preview - you don't need to drop fat very much, so I'd say go for the veggie burgers! My suggestion about seeing how many calories you burn per exercise stands.)

Eating small meals every few hours is better for your digestion and metabolism than eating large meals, and will keep your energy levels up through the day.

x-ing whey protein: just drink it, any time you want to! I have vanilla protein that I add to coffee and tea in place of milk. It's pretty unappealing by itself, but it shouldn't take you long to gulp down a 8 ounces of water with protein powder. And it's a nice energy boost.

Also, it might be easier on your stomach if your pre-workout calories come in liquid form, so have some orange juice and protein powder (maybe together, maybe not, I'm afraid to try) before your workouts. Also make sure to have lots of water, and extra calcium if you're going to increase your daily protein intake above 25%.

For recovery, consume carbs & protein as soon after the workout as you can bear. If it's too hard to eat solid food, again, try to get your calories in liquid form. Have some whey protein mixed with carbs - maybe a fruit smoothie, maybe a mixture of whey and carb powder, maybe a veggie shake with flavorless protein powder. Doing this as quickly as possible after my workouts has made an amazing difference - mostly, I've noticed that I'm not half as sore as I used to be.

Good luck!
posted by your face at 2:23 PM on January 22, 2007

Best answer: My diet for optimum performance when training hard is: big breakfast, snack, big and late lunch (around 2), snack at least an hour before workout, then a protein/banana smoothie for dinner. I don't think you need anything quite so regimented, but here are a few general tips:

It's a little like building a fire, but in reverse. Fats are the slow burning logs that sustain it a long time. Low glycemic carbs are the faster burning logs and high glycemic carbs are the tinder. The exact timing will depend on your metabolism, but emphasize the fats more at lunch, the low glycemic carbs for the pre-workout snack, and a high glycemic snack just before, or during the workout to provide instant energy.

I would experiment with the timing based on the subjective results. With experience you learn to peak at a particular time, and use snacks for course corrections. If your workouts are shorter and of higher intensity emphasize the carbs more and if longer and of lower intensity push the fats. Immediately following your workout you have a small window to replenish your muscles with a high-glycemic snack (I use gatorade). This will give your energy level for the following day a boost.

I try to take in a little protein with each meal and snack. You don't need much, but you want a little bit in the pipeline at all times in order not to shortchange the rebuilding process. I've even been known to have a spoonful of whey protein now and again when nothing else is readily available (yuck).
posted by Manjusri at 2:29 PM on January 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I find it most useful to get a fair amount of complex carbohydrates about an hour before any workout that is more than half an hour long. If I'm trying to cheat a few more calories in, I'll have some simple carbs (read: candy) just before the workout. It won't last long, but it will get me started.

Eating after a workout is possibly more important than before. This is when your body is most efficient at creating glycogen. Within an hour of a workout, I try to eat a couple hundred calories including 20% protein, 10% fat, and 70% carbs.
posted by advicepig at 2:31 PM on January 22, 2007

Make sure you rest!! All the benefits of weight training happen after your workouts and your body is recovering. I had a similar routine but ran much longer because I was training for a marathon. I had to cut out the weights because of time and simply it was a LOT to do with a full time job and a life. Remember, exorcise and health are long term goals.

Also eat smaller meals more frequently. That really juices up your metabolism. Careful planning is needed though for healthy foods b/c you will be hungry ALL the time doing this.
posted by skimides at 2:38 PM on January 22, 2007

beano will help reduce some of the digestive problems associated with beens, it contains an enzyme that breaks down galactose, I'm not sure if it is vegetarian friendly but it would be worth a try.
posted by estronaut at 2:47 PM on January 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, folks. I've marked a bunch of people as best because I think their advice is most applicable to my own situation, but there's a lot of other good advice here, too.

I should have mentioned that I'm lactose intolerant. Cheese and yogurt are OK, but milk isn't and I don't really like the idea of whey powder. And I know there are pills for lactose intolerance, just like there's Beano. I figure if I need to take a pill in order to eat something, I'm probably better off just not eating it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:54 PM on January 22, 2007

Best answer: I've got similar dietary requirements and I eat lentils 2-3 times a week as one source of protein. They can be a little hard to digest but I find them to be a lot easier than beans. I usually have lentils in soup or in a curry over rice or quinoa. Pink lentils cook very fast (~15 minutes) and are a great option for a fast meal. Timing-wise, I eat the lentils at lunch or after my evening workout as they do take some time to digest fully.
posted by rhiannon at 12:30 AM on January 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Second Quorn (unless that is too much processing.) I've been a "meat substitute" eater for a while now, and nothing comes close to the protein/calorie ratio in Quorn. Plus, seriously, it is YUMMY. Try naked cutlets. In anything. Yum.
posted by audrey the bug at 2:21 PM on January 23, 2007

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