Healthy Food Bites to Go: Plant-Built Athletes Raise Their Game Using an Unconventional Playbook

by Ronna Corlin


Great news! There is a new way to hack into heightened athletic performance. Steroids, hormones and ample amounts of animal-based protein are being upstaged by spinach, fiber and foods from the plant kingdom.

Members of elite sports teams in the fields of football and basketball, celebrated tri-athletes, bodybuilders, champion tennis players and heavyweight boxers are influencing a global conversation about switching food from the animal kingdom for a more whole, plant-based lifestyle, in order to achieve a competitive advantage.

Perhaps, the most high profile athlete to be outspoken about the advantages of eating more plants is five-time Super Bowl champion, revered NFL quarterback and offensive captain of the New England Patriots, Tom Brady. In his best-selling book The TB12 Method, Brady outlines a winning holistic regime focused on eating foods with the biggest bang for your nutrient buck – namely fresh, in-season, organic food, authentically sourced and local where possible. He describes his peak performance eating style as “a commonsensical, mostly plant-based/plant-heavy and seasonal nutrition regime.” Brady states decidedly that he is not vegan or vegetarian, although many ask.

He loads his plate with foods predominantly from the plant kingdom – mostly vegetables (which do not promote inflammation) plus fruits, whole grains and legumes. Meat chicken and fish are not the orbit around which his veggies are scattered, they are the accent, and in limited quantity.  White, paler-looking, highly processed foods like white bread, white rice, white sugar, and junk food (chips, fries and ‘nuggets’) which don’t exist in nature, are not existent in his eating universe. This is HIS secret for preserving the enduring flexible energy that at 40, keeps this repeat champion at the top of his game.

BUSTING MYTHS ABOUT PLANT-BASED EATERS:

MYTH #1

THEY DON’T GET ENOUGH PROTEIN

People who eat a whole foods, plant-based diet are routinely questioned by those who believe meat is the only reliable protein source. This cartoon illustrates that many species of gorillas who are typically six times as strong as an adult human and naturally lean, subsist as herbivores not meat eating prey, fueling on plant foliage (leaves, stems and roots,) fruit and hydrating vegetation. Gorillas eat a mainly vegetarian diet.

Apes are 20 times stronger than humans and they don’t rely on a meat-based diet. They eat plants all  day long. It’s a myth that you need meat for strength*.”

– David Haye, Vegan World Heavyweight Boxing Champion *provided you eat to caloric needs.

According to a 2013 study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, plant-based eaters on average receive 70 percent more protein than the minimum recommended intake.

 

Beef vs. Broccoli                                                                                                                                        BEEF has 6-8 grams of protein per 100 calorie serving. BROCCOLI has 11.1 grams of protein per 100 calorie serving (plus phytochemicals and essential nutrients that reset the body to promote health and prevent disease.)

MYTH #2  

PLANT-BASED EATERS HAVE LESS ENERGY THAN A MEAT-EATER

Many, who stop eating meat and focus on plant-based foods, are elated by daily surge of energy. The simple act of eating more foods which contain essential nutrients and phytochemicals (exclusive to the plant kingdom), found in whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables boosts energy and immunity. If you are experimenting with vegetarianism, remember that calories must match your training and activity level in order to balance nutrient levels. If, for example, an athlete isn’t getting enough carbohydrates or protein, recovery will suffer after training and muscles cannot repair themselves effectively. Add in more lentils or beans, grains, fruit and healthy fats (nuts, unsweetened nut butters and avocado) and dairy-free, plant-based products (milks, yogurt and nut-based cheeses.)

Professional Ironman and Triathlete Brendan Brazier thrives on a an entirely plant-based vegan diet. He relies on  what he terms high net gain nutrition which consists of foods with a high nutrient content, supplying the body with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber, none of which are found in animal-based foods. In his book ‘THRIVE’, Brazier describes how the consumption of nutrient-dense plant foods reduces the body’s stress response, enabling the body to conserve energy as fuel and use it as building blocks. By contrast, heavily processed junk foods ultimately create an energy deficit.

 

MORE PEAS PLEASE

This creamy plant milk from Bolthouse Farms is sourced from yellow peas which are milled into a flour. At 10 grams of protein per 8 oz. serving this pea protein-based milk is well ahead of almond milk at 1 gram of protein per serving. It contains 50% more calcium than cow’s milk without lactose, carrageenan, soy, nuts or gluten.

As l started my own transition toward a plant-based diet six years ago, my mindset about why I was eating food  shifted as well. My food choices were no longer based on emotional eating or obsessive dieting, or to satisfy cravings. This mindful self-awareness was critical in easing my switch to what has been for me a healthier, more energizing, more compassionate and quite unexpectedly, an anti-aging protocol. While my whole food, plant-based eating may seem restrictive to many, I prepare every meal deliciously and the lifestyle has become completely natural for me.  Through this transition l have taught myself to prepare former favorite foods using substitutes for meat, poultry, fish and dairy. The rapid proliferation of plant-focused manufacturers over the past decade has produced burgers that ‘bleed’, better-for-you pasta that can take the heat and dairy-free desserts that rival any homemade brownie.  Even Ben & Jerry’s has hopped on the wagon to introduce vegan pints.

From green markets to traditional grocery chains to big box stores to discount retailers to e-commerce business goliaths like Amazon, the high performance plant-based life is accessible and affordable to those willing to explore and possibly challenge their existing belief system about what they eat.

“What you put on your fork is the most important thing you do everday.”Dr. Mark Hyman, Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine and best selling author of the just published FOOD: What the Heck Should I Eat?

Give a fork about what you eat. The food revolution rolls on, and the power of eating plants on and off the field might be your gamechanger in 2018. If you linger in the produce section next time you food shop, your energy edge might just surprise you.

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