Aiming to become fitter is one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions. It so happens to be one of mine in 2015. I know from experience that getting back in shape is painful at first, but the results are always gratifying. We have more energy, we sleep better, we’re stronger and less prone to injury, among many other benefits.
For those of us interested in eating a whole food plant based diet, the good news is that it paves the way to better athletic performance. There is no question that vegan diets are suitable for people who are active. In fact, some professional athletes across a variety of sports are swearing by it. Among them are hockey player Georges Laraque, ultra marathoners Scott Jerkins and Rich Roll, triathlete Brendan Brazier, boxer Keith Holmes, football player Desmond Howard and bodybuilder Billy Simmonds. If an ultra marathoner is sufficiently fueled by plants for a 50 km run, chances are we’ll be fine too!
Fuel your body with plants
What aspects lead to better athletic performance and recovery?
- Eating more unprocessed plants will decrease our body weight, which is leads to less stress and strain while exercising.
- Keeping our vessels healthy and open instead of damaged and constricted is always helpful when we exercise. Animal protein and trans fats / partially hydrogenated vegetable oils injure the lining of our arteries which can lead to decreased blood flow.
- We tend to think that we need a lot of protein if we are active. But because we draw on glycogen stores when we exercise, the intake of glucose in the form of carbohydrates (think dates and bananas) aides in the replenishment of glycogen stores. Note that there are little to no carbohydrates in cheese, unprocessed meat and eggs. There are small amounts in milk.
- Exercise leads to increased levels of free radicals in our bodies. Antioxidants, which are abundant in fruits and vegetables, neutralise free radicals and therefore accelerate recovery (animal products have little to no antioxidants).
- Toxins bio-accumulate in animals we eat (particularly in fish). By eating more plants than animals, we avoid the taxing effects of toxins on our bodies.
I went to Chipotle Mexican Grill recently with my niece Emma. They have super delicious vegan options that are really filling and not too expensive. Burritos and burrito bowls packed with brown rice, pinto beans, veggies, salsa and guacamole! With seven restaurants in the Greater Toronto Area, this American chain seems to be expanding. In London I’ve since tried Qdoba, which is similar and also very good.
The best blenders and a word about smoothies
My friend Sandy asked if I have any blender recommendations. I personally haven’t (yet) invested in a high end blender, but the plant based community swears they are worth every penny. Until someone gives me one, I’m using the Oster Beehive, which is a real deal at $60. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute gave it a “A” rating. It’s noisy but very powerful (great for crushing ice and making oat flour) and I like that the jar is glass and that is has an all metal drive system (more durable than plastic).
Four of the top blender brands on the market were tested and profiled in the January edition of MoneySense magazine. Here’s what they said:
Most powerful: Blendtec 725 ($499)
Best price: Oster Versa 1400 ($249)
Best controls: Breville Boss Super Blender ($696)
Best overall: Vitamix 750 ($769)
I would be remiss if I did not convey physician Caldwell Esselstyn’s official stance on smoothies. He is one of the founders of the whole food plant based movement and I have a great deal of respect for him and his perspectives. He tells his patients to avoid smoothies for two reasons 1) when the fibre is pureed, it is not chewed and so our bodies cannot produce nitric oxide from it (nitric oxide helps dilate our vessels) and 2) when fruit is blenderized, our bodies absorb the glucose more rapidly which tends to injure the liver and endothelial cells (which safeguard our vessels).
Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
This makes a great meal when on the go. It’s filling, fine out of the fridge for a few hours and doesn’t need to be heated.
- Cook 1 cup quinoa according to package instructions
- For dressing whisk together 2 tsp grated lime zest, 2 tbsp fresh lime juice, 3 tbsp oil, 1 tsp sugar, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp fresh ground pepper in a large bowl.
- Add quinoa to dressing and toss until dressing is absorbed, then stir in 1 can black beans (rinsed and drained), 2 diced medium tomatoes, 4 chopped scallions and ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus salt and pepper to taste.
Makes 4 servings