I am a low-carb vegetarian. What should I eat before and after workouts?

– JC Thomas Jr.


I can see why you reached out, JC! At first glance, there’s certainly a conflict between low-carb and plant-based eating. For vegans, the reliance for protein is heavily on carbohydrate-rich beans. But since you limit carbohydrates it gets trickier to meet protein needs. Depending on the amount of carbohydrate you allow, you should be able to work in legumes daily, though not necessarily for pre/post workout. There are more protein options from seafood and dairy if you perhaps are pescatarian, lacto-vegetarian or ovo-vegetarian.

What are vegetarian things I can eat that contain a lot of protein?

Anything that is suitable for mealtime can be incorporated into pre-workout or recovery snacks. Surrounding your workouts, I’d say to opt for starch or vegetables with accompanying nuts or seeds, and to sacrifice fruit carbohydrate. You can incorporate vegan protein supplements at these times as well. To keep calories up, you need more volume/portions and should incorporate fats throughout the rest of the day.

Here’s a list of some vegetarian foods with limited carbohydrate (<5 grams per serving) *:

  • Almond butter – 1 Tbsp
  • Artichoke hearts – ½ cup
  • Asparagus – 1 cup
  • Avocado – 1/4 fruit
  • Broccoli – 1 cup flowerets
  • Cashew butter – 1 Tbsp
  • Eggplant – 1 cup
  • Hazelnuts or filberts – 1 ounce
  • Mushrooms – 1 cup
  • Nopales – 1 cup
  • Olives – 10 large
  • Pecans – 1 ounce
  • Salad dressing (most regular) – 2 Tbsp
  • Tahini – 2 Tbsp
  • Tempeh – 50 gms
  • Zucchini – 1 cup

and vegetarian foods with very low carbohydrate (<2 grams per serving) *:

  • Cabbage – 0.5 cup
  • Celery – 1 large stalk
  • Collard greens, kale, lettuce, spinach or Swiss chard – 1 cup
  • Cucumber – 0.5 cup
  • Oils or margarine – any amount
  • Sprouted alfalfa or radish seeds – 1 cup
  • Tomatillo – 1 medium

*per USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release, April 2018.

– Debbie J., MS, RD

This article should not replace any exercise program or restrictions, any dietary supplements or restrictions, or any other medical recommendations from your primary care physician. Before starting any exercise program or diet, make sure it is approved by your doctor.

Some questions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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