Even if you don’t consider yourself an athlete, we believe there is an inner athlete in all of us. We all may have to dig a little deeper at times but that athlete is there. So get outside and do something you love! Explore. And do it on a daily basis. Life is too short to not to.
We are advocates of a Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) diet for many reasons, but one is because it increases your quality of life from the inside out. We believe this lifestyle is best for optimal health and overall wellness and can help you and your loved ones avoid major preventable diseases. The cool thing is that it’s good for the animals and environment too.
- Make sure you eat enough.
Many athletes and people in general fail on a WFPB diet because they fail to eat enough total calories. Whole plant foods in general are low in calories (except for things like nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut), but that’s the beauty of it all. We absolutely love food! We would rather be able to fill our stomachs full of lots of good food rather than only a little. People transitioning from a SAD (Standard American Diet) to a WFPB diet may not realize that they need to eat more food to get enough calories for their sport. Food=Fuel.
While we don’t recommend counting calories, we do recommend being mindful of how much (or little) you are eating, where the food came from and if it’s nutritious or not. Make sure to take time while you’re eating to not only fully chew your food, but to also allow yourself to be thankful you have a wonderful meal in front of you. This will not only help you slow down and actually enjoy what you’re eating, but will help your brain access how hungry you truly are.
2. Make sure you eat QUALITY.
I’m talking nutrient density here. Whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grain complex carbohydrates (oatmeal, buckwheat, brown or wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, millet, teff, popcorn, sweet potatoes, squash and other tuber vegetables), beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, nuts (also nut butters) and seeds (chia, hemp, sesame, pumpkin) are all packed full of high quality nutrients that your body craves as an athlete.
These types of foods also give your body natural energy, reduce cravings, keep your immune system running well and help your body to recover faster by reducing inflammation. Do you see a pattern here? Pretty much any food that grows from the ground or a plant is considered quality. You can’t go wrong with whole foods. And that means eliminating anything refined and processed.
3. Eat often and eat the rainbow (and we’re not talking skittles here).
We recommend eating every 3-4 hours to help keep your blood sugar stable and your metabolism running high. This will also curb cravings and help you to not gorge yourself at dinner. Eating consistently throughout the day will leave you a happier, healthier person. We recommend eating bigger meals early on to make sure you’re giving your body the fuel it needs. Also aim to eat a variety of colors each day of fruit and vegetables. This ensures that you’re getting an array of disease fighting phytonutrients and antioxidants to keep your immune system running strong. Mix it up and have some fun. And don’t forget about fresh herbs and spices!
One thing that Damian and I do with some of our favorite meals it to constantly change the recipe and see what new ingredients we can add to a dish. Or just try a new fruit or vegetable each week. This helps keep food from getting boring, but also helps you get those 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
4. Always have a plan and extra food on hand.
Stuff happens and you always need to be ready. That’s pretty much the life of an athlete right? We always need to expect things to go wrong and have a backup plan of what to do next in order to succeed. The same rule applies to food. If we’re going somewhere, we always bring lunch, some extra snacks and water in case we end up being there longer than expected. This not only helps you stay on track with healthy eating, but also minimizes excuses…. “well, I was hungry and the donut was right there….” Besides, who knows how long that hike you’re on will last. We always tend to be out in nature longer than expected because the “majesticness” of it all sucks you in. Check out our recipe for energy bites if you happen to be out longer than expected too.
5. Follow the 80/20 and 50-70% rules.
A WFPB diet isn’t really a diet, it’s a lifestyle. It’s the same as running, biking or any other sport. You do it once and you’re in love. You’re body craves more. You eat whole foods and your taste buds begin to change and you crave nutrient dense foods. Cookies don’t cut it anymore. (We argue that any dessert can be made healthier and vegan, so if you crave some type of dessert you don’t have to feel guilty about eating it.) Once that paradigm shift happens you’ll better understand what we mean.
In the mean time while transitioning, we would advise our athletes to strive to eat whole plant foods 80% of the time and 20% of the time you can eat what you find enjoyable. But we guarantee the more whole foods you eat and the more you focus on eating what is nutritious, those cravings for junk food will go away. But it probably will take some time so don’t beat yourself up in the meantime if you slip. It’s not about perfection, it’s about seeking out high quality, nutrient dense whole plant foods. Trust us, your body with thank you.
You can use the 50-70% rule too. Strive to eat at least 50-70% of your daily intake of calories from whole plant foods. For example, your dinner plate should be loaded with a huge salad and avocado. Next to it should be some sort of vegetable like steamed broccoli. Then for the main dish, have quinoa topped with sweet potato. Whatever is space if left, can be your choice of meat. We would recommend wild game if possible because it’s the leanest, cleanest source of meat. The more you eat this way, you’ll find that you don’t really need or miss the meat. For some people, going WFPB 100% isn’t a realistic option and that’s ok.
6. Shop the seasons and utilize the bulk sections.
A great way to get variety in your diet and keep things fun and fresh is to buy what’s in season. We know this isn’t new, but it’s worth mentioning again as a reminder. It also ensures that you’re getting the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious types of foods available. Look for foods that are vibrant in color, fragrant, crispy and juicy. Also, shopping the seasons and local a great way to save a good chunk of money. Another way to save is to buy what you can in bulk. We do this for almost all of our grains, seeds, nuts and dried fruits. If the store you shop at doesn’t have an item you purchase regularly in bulk, don’t be afraid to ask if they can get it in.
7. Be consistent and always have items on hand.
One of the ways to become a better athlete that we think goes unnoticed is consistency. Consistency is key to a lot of things in life but is also very important in fueling and refueling properly as an athlete. The easiest way to succeed on a WFPB lifestyle is to be consistent in your eating habits. Something you are struggling with is only difficult until it becomes a habit. So get in the habit of always having critical items on hand. Also, make sure you have 4-5 go to meals that are simple and quick to cook. We always have brown rice, oats, quinoa, sweet potatoes on hand as well as canned beans, nuts, seeds along with fresh fruit and vegetables. We consider all of these things staples and you can whip up a quick meal easily if you’ve got most of the items in your pantry.
8. Hydration is important not only in summer, but the other three seasons as well.
We all know that proper hydration is key to athletic performance but making sure you’re drinking enough water will optimize your potential as an athlete and prevent early fatigue. It also enables you to acclimate better to warmer or colder weather. You should urinate every 2-3 hours. A great way to tell if you’re getting enough water is to check your urine color. It should be a pale yellow. If it’s dark in color you’re already dehydrated or may also be lacking nutrients. (Just another reason to eat those fruits and veggies!) So just because the temperature may drop outside doesn’t mean you can throw all hydration out the window.
Coach Damian and I love to utilize smoothies not only because they are wholicious, but also because they are quick and easy to make and also helps us to be adequately hydrated. Click here for one of our pre race smoothie recipes
9. Recover well.
Most plant foods are naturally anti inflammatory but some are more potent than others. Turmeric, ginger, garlic, berries, cherries, dark leafy greens, ground flax seed and beets help to reduce post exercise pain and inflammation and can help your body recover faster. Quality sleep is also very important. This is the time when your body heals and repairs muscles the most. Make sure your room is cool, quiet and dark to get the best nights sleep. Also, minimize stress, get your rest (naps are good!), relax, roll it out, stretch and self massage in any way possible and/or hire someone to do it regularly. And a daily dose of sunshine is important too! Not only will this help you get natural Vitamin D, but it’ll make you happier from the inside out as well. Less stress and a happier, healthier athlete leads to faster recovery.
10. Give it a rest, your digestive system that is.
Scheduled breaks are good for your body and mind to give yourself the necessary time to recover and prevent injury. Your digestive system needs a break too. We recommend 10-15 hours of “intermittent fasting” each night. Definitely start on the lower end and don’t do this in the middle of marathon or ultra marathon training if you’ve never focused on it before. Try it in your off season or when not training for a big race.
So for example if you finish eating dinner at 6pm, don’t eat at least until 6am the next morning. Waiting until 8 or 9 am is even better. One thing that would be helpful if you get really hungry in the morning is to do a fasted run early that am. You will reap tons of rewards in your health and running. Fasted workouts can improve muscle glycogen storage efficiency, but these types of runs should also be strategically placed in your training. We wouldn’t advise doing them every single day, but a couple of times a week wouldn’t hurt.
Giving your digestive system a rest also helps to trigger the regeneration of stem cells, boosts the immune system and encourages weight loss. It will improve insulin sensitivity and increase longevity as well.
11. Bonus Tip: Keep it simple.
People think that cooking has to be a long, daunting and tedious task. It doesn’t have to be that way. Our meals usually take under 20 minutes to prep and cook. Most of our recipes have under 10 ingredients too. There are thousands of WFPB recipes online that are quick and simple to prepare. When you focus on nutrient dense meals, it’s fun and enjoyable to cook knowing that what you’re about to eat is making you healthier.