by Myrial Holbrook

If you've ever been vegan or vegetarian, you've probably endured the following interrogation:

"Don't you miss meat?"
"But what do you eat?"
"Do you get enough protein?"
"What about an iron deficiency?"

I've been a vegetarian since the age of six, so I've come to realize that these concerns, though certainly repeated ad nauseam, really are crucial in the crafting of not only an ideal vegan or vegetarian diet, but also any balanced diet. We can all easily fall into unhealthy snacking habits, justifying unhealthy choices through exercise. No one can attain dietary perfection, but making health-conscious snack choices can be a great start for anyone. And guess what — It's not hard to do.

From ballet to field hockey to basketball to yoga to track, I've endured the physical exertion and enjoyed the rewards of physical activity. Drawing from my experience, I will be sharing my favorite vegan snacks. These are the foods that help provide me with the burst of energy before workouts and the recovery essentials after exercise.

Now for the tasty part: the snacks themselves. Before workouts, I usually eat a small, whole-wheat bagel with natural peanut butter and apple slices, which definitely fills me up and leaves me ready to play. Other options include granola bars packed with protein and dried fruit. I try to stay away from most store-bought bars with processed sugars disguised as organic cane syrup, brown rice syrup, or agave nectar. For this reason, I usually make my own granola bars by baking a mix of oats, chia seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, nuts or nut butters, and dried fruit. For some added flavor, I keep it simple with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg. This kind of granola bar is perfect for a pre-game or pre-workout snack.

Here are some other pre-exercise snacks that I love:

  • Banana or apple slices and peanut butter
  • Quinoa hot cereal with apples and cinnamon
  • Dried, unsweetened fruit and unsalted nuts
  • Baked sweet potato with vegan spread and paprika
  • Oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts
  • Whole wheat pita with red pepper hummus
  • Slice of whole wheat toast with almond butter or sliced avocado and lemon juice
  • Homemade granola and unsweetened almond, coconut, or soy milk

In addition to snacking before exercising, hydration is also crucial. I often sip unsweetened green tea before early-morning workouts. Before varsity field hockey or basketball games, I usually drink coconut water. If I'm ever struggling with muscle cramps, headaches, and soreness, however, drinking pure water almost always proves to be the best hydration option to relieve these ailments, for me, at least.

After a tiring game or a long run, I replenish with lots of water, followed by a restorative smoothie or snack. In my smoothies, I tend to blend whatever I have handy at home, which is usually bananas, berries, nut butter, and soymilk. My post-workout snack usually includes chopped veggies and a homemade dip.

Here's a list of my favorite post-workout snacks:

  • Quinoa crackers with guacamole and salsa
  • Soy yogurt with chia seeds and berries
  • Cooked lentils or chickpeas
  • Steamed edamame with a little salt
  • Protein smoothie with soymilk, banana, peanut butter, and berries
  • Green smoothie with kale, lemon, coconut water, apple, and ginger
  • Whole grain tortilla with beans, brown rice, squash, and zucchini
  • Hummus and red bell pepper, cucumber, carrots, or cauliflower
  • Banana "nicecream" (To make, freeze ripe bananas in round slices for several hours, blend the slices in a food processor until smooth, then add your favorite nut butter, nuts, fruit, or dark chocolate.)

Myrial Holbrook is a former Vegetarian Resource Group intern and played numerous sports in high school. She is a student at Princeton University.