[This is the first post of a series on runner’s diets. Brendan Brazier is a professional Ironman triathlete and a two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion. He is also one of only a few professional athletes in the world whose diet is 100 percent plant-based. Brazier is a bestselling author on performance nutrition and the creator of the award-winning VEGA line of whole food products.
Other posts in this series feature: the Paleo diet for ultra runners, and running on a gluten-free, casein-free diet by Barefoot Angie Bee. Our next post is courtesy of the crazy barefoot vegan wonder and ultra marathoner Patrick Sweeney. Enjoy!]
When you think of the word, thrive, what’s the first image that comes to your mind? For me, the word conjures up images of health and strength, vitality and life: it could be an image of an athlete who is able to cross the finish line after an ultra marathon with such vigor that you have to ask yourself, “I wonder what he ate for breakfast?” My diet philosophy and book called the Thrive Diet is rooted in this idea.
I raced Ironman triathlons professionally for seven years, all on a vegan diet, and I honestly don’t believe I would ever have achieved what I did in this field if it wasn’t for the attention I applied to my nutrition program. I know I was going somewhat against the grain, but a plant-based, whole food diet offered several advantages. Among them: I was able to train harder and I stayed light – yet became stronger, especially when running. I don’t aspire to build muscular size (bulk), but rather to simply develop what muscle I do have to be strong, and thereby function efficiently. I find that as a direct result, endurance will take a leap forward. This was certainly one of the greatest attributes this novel way of eating bestowed upon me and I wanted to share it with you.
TOP 8 FOODS FOR RUNNERS
Healthy, whole food nutrition consists of many elements. The following eight are of particular value for people who are runners:
1. Alkaline-Forming Foods
Alkaline-forming foods balance the body’s pH. An acidic environment adversely affects health at the cellular level; people with low body pH are therefore prone to fatigue and disease. And because acidity is a stressor, it raises cortisol levels, which results in impaired sleep quality. To help your muscles recover and to lower your cortisol levels, consume highly alkalizing foods, such as those rich in chlorophyll, soon after exercise.
When our body’s activity level rises, we use extra oxygen. This causes cellular oxidation, which can create free radicals. These reduce cell life span and in turn cause premature cell degeneration. A reduction of stress through better nutrition combats free radical production. Antioxidants in foods help to rid the body of free radicals by escorting them out of the body.
For most people, building, strengthening, and repairing bone is calcium’s major role. Runners, however, have another important job for the mineral: muscle contraction and rhythmic heartbeat coordinator. About 95 percent of the body’s calcium is stored in the skeleton, but it’s the remaining few percent that is the first to decline. Calcium in the bloodstream is lost in sweat and muscle contractions, so active people need more dietary calcium.
Electrolytes are electricity-conducting salts. Calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and sodium are the chief electrolyte minerals. Electrolytes in body fluid and blood regulate or affect the flow of nutrients into and waste products out of cells, and are essential for muscle contractions, heartbeats, fluid regulation, and general nerve function.
5. Essential Fats
Combined with proper endurance training, a diet with an adequate supply of EFAs can help improve running and endurance. Our bodies can store only a small amount of muscle carbohydrate. Once the body has burned all of its carbohydrate stores, it has to be refueled—as often as every 30 minutes during a long race or workout. This fuel shift and endurance during running is facilitated by dietary EFAs.
Iron helps maintain the health of red blood cells so that the body can deliver oxygen-rich blood to the hardworking extremities—maximizing efficacy and therefore running performance.
Phytonutrients are plant compounds that offer health benefits independent of their nutritional value. They are not essential for life, but they can help improve vitality and quality of life. For example, a phytonutrient found in tomatoes improves blood vessel elasticity and thereby enhances blood flow through the heart. This enhances running performance.
8. Raw Food
Before the body can make use of cooked food, it must produce enzymes to aid in the digestion process. That takes work, which of course is an energy draw and therefore creates a nominal amount of stress. In addition, food containing both sugar and fat cooked at a high temperature can provoke an immune response that causes inflammation.
Post Workout Plant-based Nutrition Tips: Helping You Help Yourself
In place of isolates and acid-forming animal foods, there are a host of plant-based options that will ensure inflammation be kept to a minimum after running. Post workout, excellent plant-based protein sources include: hemp, pea, and rice protein. And while protein is a crucial component for muscle repair and building, so too are essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), vitamins, minerals, enzymes, probiotics, antioxidants and a host of other nutritional components that can be found in a variety of plant-based whole foods. This being the case, my post workout smoothies will deliver greater results if it contains these components, not merely protein. Additionally, chlorella – a form of freshwater algae – is an excellent addition to the post-workout smoothie. Due to its exceptionally high chlorophyll content, it’s among the most alkaline-forming foods available.
What other tips can vegetarian athletes use to pump up their energy level, while upping the intensity of their workouts?
Whether veg or not, I recommend taking a holistic approach to increasing energy for workouts. Nutrition, sleep, and stress reduction all play a role in increasing energy and improving athletic performance. By eating nutrient-dense, whole foods will improve sleep quality and reduce cortisol levels (stress) which will give you more energy.
For runners looking to increase energy and speed recovery, there are a few great food sources to choose from. Known as an adaptogen, maca curtails the effects of stress by aiding the regeneration of the adrenal glands. It helps lower cortisol levels, which will improve sleep quality. Of course better quality sleep directly translates into more waking energy. For a pre-workout kick, I use yerba mate. It does contain caffeine but is one of the healthiest forms. It is also included in my pre-workout drink, Vega Sport Performance Optimizer.
[You can sign up for Brendan’s free online program, Thrive in 30. Complete with video segments, Thrive in 30 is based on Brendan’s Books Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life, and Thrive Fitness: Mental and Physical Strength for Life]