One day, triathlete Brendan Brazier decided that for everything he ate, he wanted to get something in return. "Whether it was for more energy, inflammation reduction, greater recovery rate, a deep sleep, or building lean, functional muscle, eating with purpose and mindfulness became an integral part of my training, and therefore my daily life," says Brazier, who consequently founded the plant-based protein products line Vega.
He touts the endless benefits of eating foods in a natural, whole state in his recently released Thrive Energy Cookbook, a collection of vegetarian recipes that support athletic performance and overall health. But Brazier isn't the only one ingesting the new Kool-Aid; he has plenty of dedicated followers. Take Nashville, Tennessee-based Miles Dunning, who suffered years of self-destructive behavior fueled by the cutthroat music industry. He was "reborn" through health and wellness, finding Brazier's work in plant-based foods a powerful medium.
"Each additional step I took was in a positive direction, which inevitably led me to decide to attempt a triathlon," Dunning says. "I fell in love with training and feeding my body all of the right stuff. Less than a year from hitting rock bottom, I find myself a sponsored triathlete hoping to qualify for the world championships."
Inspiring both elite and everyday athletes, Brazier gave us the scoop on the power of plants.
For people new to the concept, what are the key benefits of plant-based foods?
A plant-based diet sets out to conquer three overarching nutritional objectives: high net-gain nutrition, alkaline-forming foods, and elimination of biological debt.
Can you break down high net-gain foods in a couple of sentences?
Net energy gain equals energy remaining once digestive energy has been spent. High net-gain foods are leafy greens and colorful vegetables, and they deliver energy by way of conservation rather than consumption. The amount of energy lost during the process of converting energy stored within food into usable sustenance varies greatly depending on the foods eaten. Processed foods require significantly more digestive energy to break down the food than natural and unrefined whole foods.
What are three baby steps for moving to a more plant-based diet?
Start slow and ease into it. Don't give up everything you normally eat all at once. Eliminate certain factors one by one—dairy, meat, processed foods, etc. Nutrient-dense smoothies are also a good starting point to incorporate more veggies and fruits into your diet.
Why do plant-based gels/powders work better for sustained endurance and performance?
The plant-based foods and products are much easier to digest. The less energy you spend digesting your food, the more energy you'll have to use as fuel, thus enhancing your performance. Race-day adrenalin reduces digestive strength; thus, fuel coming from food during your workout is crucial to sustained endurance.
What are a few of your favorite go-to plant-based snacks?
Smoothies filled with veggies and fruits, nuts and seeds with fruit, vegetables, Vega bars, and homemade energy bars packed with nutrient-dense ingredients. Here's a popular smoothie recipe of mine:
Cookies & Cream Recovery Smoothie
Ideal for strength athletes in pursuit of building lean mass, this recovery smoothie is a delicious way to feed your fatigued muscles while reducing inflammation and oxidative damage to your cells.
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) raw cashews
2 Tbsp. (30 mL) vegan dark chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) cacao nibs
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) raw cashew butter
1 Tbsp. (15 mL) pitted and chopped Medjool dates
1 scoop vanilla Vega Sport Performance Protein
1 cup (250 mL) unsweetened almond milk (or homemade)
¼ cup (60 mL) agave nectar or maple syrup (optional; recommended if your workout has exceeded 90 minutes)
About 2 cups (500 mL) ice cubes
In a blender, combine all the ingredients except the ice. Add ice to about 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the liquid line. Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy.
If you had to live off three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Blueberries, hemp seeds, and maca.
When kicking off a fitness goal, it's easy to forget about or ignore the importance of food/fuel. Why is it so critical to marry fitness and food?
If you're not well fueled by the food you eat, your workout won't be as strong and effective, thus making your progress slow or unnoticeable. If your body isn't receiving the proper nutrients, your body is less likely to recover quickly, thus preventing you from training consistently and powerfully.
Take the worst-case scenario: someone who lives on fast food. What immediate effects could someone like that see after shifting to a more plant-based diet?
More energy without stimulants such as sugar and caffeine, better sleep quality, faster recovery time, better digestion, reduced inflammation, reduced risk of injury, longer endurance.
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