Most vegans know of a little thing called Vega, the all-vegan company founded by triathlete Brendan Brazier. Determined to improve his athletic performance by minimizing muscle recovery time by reducing nutritional stress, Brazier pieced together the Thrive diet. The plant-based diet features whole foods with an emphasis on raw, fresh options. Brazier discovered that these nutrient-dense, “high net-gain” foods increase energy, decrease body fat, and improve mental clarity—essentials for athletes—or any average Jane just trying to make it through the work week.
Given our increased knowledge about the dangers of processed foods and the health benefits of an un-processed plant-based diet, this theory seems like common sense (and shouldn’t nutrition feel like common sense?). The less energy our bodies have to spend coping with barely recognizable foods, the more energy they’ll have to fuel other activities.
Building off this nutrition theory, Brazier designed a nutrition plan for vegan athletes (or anyone seeking to improve performance!), with food intake right before, during, and after physical exertion. Dispelling the myth that not eating after exercise will lead to weight loss, he explains: “Properly fueled modest amounts of exercise followed by high-quality nutrition will dramatically increase the effectiveness of the exercise itself, without the need to increase its duration or intensity.”
Brazier’s workout nutrition tips are based on the following principles:
– During activity, the body will look for simple carbohydrates to burn first (think banana). If none are available, the body will seek complex carbs (think oatmeal) to turn into simple carbs. Unfortunately, this robs the body of more energy.
– Eating too much protein before exercising will probably result in muscle cramping. Protein requires more fluid to be properly digested, and dehydration can lead to cramps.
He then places workouts into three different categories:
– Level one: high intensity, shorter time, lasting one hour or less (think a three mile run or a game of soccer)
– Level two: moderate intensity and time, activity lasting between one and three hours (think power hiking or half-marathon).
– Level three: low intensity lasting a long amount of time (more than three hours) (think long hike, Ironman, or long days on your feet).
Depending on the level of your activity, you should fuel yourself accordingly:
Level one: Fuel up with a simple carb, preferably fruit. Brazier recommends combining glucose-rich with fructose-rich foods like dates and agave nectar, respectively. The combination will provide both quick (glucose) and long-lasting (fructose) energy.
Level two: For more moderate activity, the body tends to burn slightly more fat and protein than it does during high-intensity exercise. Brazier recommends including a little bit of high-quality protein like hemp seeds, flax seeds, or almonds. Including a small amount of fat from avocado or coconut oil may also optimize performance during moderate activity.
Level three: Before a longer activity, consume foods that combine complex carbs, fat, and protein to prolong endurance. The body burns a moderate amount of each during longer, gentler activity.
At any level of exercise: Hydrate with sports drink and gels—but skip the Gatorade. Artificial flavors and coloring are a no-no on the Thrive Diet. Natural sports drinks, however, contain electrolytes and simple carbs to keep the athlete fueled and hydrated. Brazier explains that you can’t go wrong with coconut water, the original sports drink. Gels are similar, except they’re in, well, gel form. Blending dates and agave nectar into a paste make a sweet and energizing during-workout snack gel.
At any level of exercise: Seek a post-workout snack high in simple carbs immediately after exercise. You can’t go wrong with a hydrating fruit smoothie! For roughly 45 minutes after activity, the body needs simple carbs to recover since simple carbs don’t require a lot of energy to digest and use. After an hour post-workout, you should consume a nutrient-dense meal that combines raw protein and vitamin-rich vegetable and grains.
Refuel after a workout with a blood cleansing whole-foods smoothie.
How do you fuel up for exercise?
Photos: Melissa Dooley via Flickr, Amazon, Peaceful Dumpling.