When it comes to athletic conditioning, the diet equation is pretty clear: eat meat for muscle-building protein, and carbs for quick energy. Right? Well, maybe it’s not that simple. A growing group of athletes are giving plant-based diets a try and finding that they can provide great results — it’s all part of the growing popularity of vegan eating, whether you do it all the time or part of the time.
Canadian author and Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier has a simple explanation for why athletes are getting on board: “Simply put, because it works.” These elite athletes wouldn’t continue with a program that wasn’t providing them with results. “They are feeling better and performing better, so they go with it. There’s also a lot more information out there than in the past, so it’s easier to get good information.”
Along with his work in writing and athletics, Brazier is also the creator of the Vega line of plant-based nutritional supplements, which will be expanding its newer Vega Sport line. He just released his new book, Whole Foods to Thrive, which details the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, and provides dozens of recipes, including some from his favourite restaurants in Canada and the United States.
We’ve got five tips from Brendan Brazier on how to amp up your health and fitness and improve your results, as well as a recipe from Whole Foods to Thrive.
1. If what you’re doing now isn’t working, mix it up
Brazier did this when he wanted better training results, by switching to an all plant-based diet. “I first started eating a plant-based diet to try and boost my performance. It didn’t work at first, but once I got it right, it allowed me to recover faster, thereby allowing me to improve at an above-average rate.” There are many other elite athletes who eat a plant-based diet, including Mike Tyson and Georges Laraque. “This type of diet is instrumental in allowing me to handle the physical stress of training better and improves my recovery rate. This is why I am able to train harder and more frequently and improve faster. It also reduces inflammation, which allows my muscles to contract efficiently, which means I don’t have to use as much energy to move. This dramatically improves my efficiency; and that makes me a better athlete.”
2. Go for nutrient density
All foods have their own balance of macronutrients — carbs, protein and fats — but they also have a variety of micronutrients like vitamins and minerals. Choosing foods with the highest concentration of micronutrients will ensure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck when it comes to calorie consumption. Green vegetables, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, legumes and extra-virgin olive oil are all examples of nutrient-dense foods.
3. Remember that plants have protein too
We tend to think that meat and protein go hand-in-hand, but plants have protein too. Chickpeas, beans, soybeans and legumes are all good protein sources, as are grains like quinoa and amaranth. “I spent more than 200 days on the road last year and I was able to get enough protein to keep me energized,“ Brazier said.
4. Include raw foods in your diet
Cooking our food can break down nutrients and enzymes in it, making it less nutritious than it could be. Eating some of your food raw — in the form of fruits and vegetables, for example, or sprouted grains — or lightly cooked (steamed, for example) helps to ensure that you’re getting everything you can from what you eat. Starchy foods like sweet potato, however, should be eaten cooked.
5. Stay alkaline
The pH scale measures the level of alkalinity and acidity. When we eat the wrong foods, or are stressed, our bodies can become too acidic, making us susceptible to fatigue and illness. Eating alkalizing foods like leafy greens and sea vegetables like seaweed and algae can help prevent this.
Sacha inchi baked apple cinnamon cereal
With high-quality protein and omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, this cereal is filling. A great way to make it even more nutritious is to top it with an energy bar cut into small piece. It takes ten minutes to prep and about an hour to bake.
Sacha inchi looks like a nut but it’s actually a seed rich in omega-3 fats and protein. It’s a staple food of natives living in the Peruvian Amazon. Try SaviSeed from Sequel.
½ apple, diced
1 cup oats (or cooked or sprouted quinoa, to make cereal gluten free)
½ cup diced sacha inchi seeds
½ cup ground flaxseed
½ cup hemp protein
½ cup unhulled sesame seeds
½ cup sunflower seeds
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ground stevia leaf
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ cup hemp oil
¼ cup molasses
2 tbsp apple juice
1. Preheat oven to 250°F.
2. In a large bowl, combine apple, oats, sacha inchi, flaxseed, hemp protein, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, stevia, and sea salt. In a small bowl, blend together hemp oil, molasses, and apple juice. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, mixing well.
3. Spread on a baking tray lightly oiled with coconut oil. Bake for one hour.
4. Let cool, then break into pieces.
5. Keeps refrigerated for up to two weeks.
Makes 4 cups (about five servings)
Recipe from Whole Foods to Thrive by Brendan Brazier, published by Penguin Canada