As the countdown begins for my goal to cycle 100km by the end of the summer, all the necessary training is behind me. Now it is simply down to selecting the nutrition I will use to fuel the journey. Even as little as 10 years ago, the notion of fueling sport on plant-based nutrition alone was largely unheard of and certainly not taken seriously. A lot has changed since then and now it is much more of an accepted practice and some believe it can even be beneficial to performance.
The Game Changers Documentary
Fueling sports by plant-based nutrition is explored in the documentary, The Game Changers, a film produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jackie Chan. The film documents the explosive rise of plant-based eating in professional sports and how more people are starting to question some of the traditional notions about meat, protein, strength and human performance.
The No Meat Athlete Blog and Cookbook
Back in 2009, one of the early pioneers of this concept was Matt Frazier who began his blog entitled the No Meat Athlete. Recently, I have been reading his cookbook by the same name, co-authored with Stepfanie Romine. In the book, they discuss the successful stories of athletes like Brendan Brazier, former professional Ironman triathlete and Scott Jurek, an ultrarunning legend, who both trained and competed on plant-based diets and partly consider their success in sports “not in spite of but because of their plant-based diets”.
Food to Fuel the Journey
In keeping with these theories, for my upcoming ride my nutrition will be homemade and completely plant-based. Before the ride, I was originally going to have oatmeal but then came across a “pre-workout performance cereal” from Brendan Brazier’s Thrive Energy Cookbook and decided to give it a try. Bearing in mind the universal advice to athletes, “don’t try something new on race day”, I tested it out on the last long ride before the event!
The recipe makes about 5 portions and when I served it, I added plant-based yogurt and topped it with easily digestible blackberries. The purpose of the cayenne pepper is to increase blood flow and speed up the intake of nutrients, however, I halved the quantity and used only 2 tsps. It was still quite spicy and, as it is optional and depending on your tolerance for spiciness, I would suggest adjusting accordingly.
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/4 cup blueberries
- 3 large Medjool dates
- 1/2 cup chopped raw almonds
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup ground flaxmeal
- 1/2 cup chia seeds
- 1/2 cup unhulled sesame seeds
- 1 tbsp cacao nibs
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
- 1/4 cup coconut nectar
- 2 tbsp water
- 2 tbsp matcha powder
- 4 tsp cayenne pepper
- Preheat oven to 250 F (120 C).
- Mix dry ingredients until combined.
- Mix wet ingredients separately and if using optional ingredients, add these.
- Combine wet and dry ingredients and spread evenly on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 50 – 65 minutes (depending how crunchy you like it) stirring halfway through.
- Cool and break into pieces before serving.
Why does this recipe work as fuel food?
Brendan advises in his book that this cereal will sustain workouts exceeding 90 minutes since the “macronutrients are synergistically combined to deliver a steady release of energy for sustained performance”. In addition he says:
- cacao provides a natural serotonin release to maintain mental focus;
- dates provide immediate energy;
- coconut nectar (or alternate sweetener such as maple syrup) will kick in just as the glucose wears off so there will be no energy dip;
- oats will prolong the muscles’ ability to function efficiently;
- matcha powder is an option to “turbocharge” the cereal; and
- the flax and chia enhance the body’s ability to burn fat as fuel for endurance activities performed at a lower intensity.
What to eat During the Ride?
About half an hour before the workout, I will have a banana as they are considered a perfect pre-workout food, especially for endurance activities. Full of carbs for fuel, bananas facilitate the slow release of glucose into the bloodstream. They also contain lots of potassium which can help in optimal nerve and muscle function during the workout.
The quantity of food to consume during the ride can depend upon body size, level of conditioning and exercise intensity. General recommendations are to consume about 30-60 grams (100-250 calories) of carbohydrates per hour. For my ride, this will be fueled with the Mango and Date Energy Bites and the Chocolate Chargers Energy Bars as well as plenty of water.
The Importance of Recovery
Performance is one aspect of sports but recovery is just as important. In his book, The No Meat Athlete Cookbook, Matt Frazier refers to Brendan as an athlete “who credited a vegan diet with shortening his recovery time”. As tough workouts break down muscle fibers causing inflammation, one of the reasons for this is that the anti-inflammatory properties of plants promote faster and more complete recovery due to the phytonutrients and compounds in them.
Some of the commonly-know anti inflammatory foods are ginger, turmeric and garlic but other foods include berries, nuts, greens and even soy. These nutrients and the benefits of the different colours of food are outlined in Eat or Drink a Rainbow.
Rich Roll wrote the forward for The No Meat Athlete Cookbook. Matt describes Rich as a man who went from being “a typical out-of-shape middle-aged guy to being named one of the 25 Fittest Men in the World by Men’s Fitness magazine”. Rich describes plant-based eating as an opportunity to “unleash your healthiest, strongest, and best self on the world”.
I am not certain that after cycling 100km that I will feel my “healthiest, strongest and best self in the world”! However, while training with plant-based eating, I have noticed that the process of eating these foods has started to “train” my system to reduce its desire for junk food and instead crave foods closer to their natural state. It doesn’t all happen at once and like any lifestyle change or feat of endurance, it all starts one step at a time!
For more information on the No Meat Athlete and The Game Changers check out Resources.