As a “nature-based” peak performance specialist, I am often asked about nutrition for sports performance and fitness. Although it is no longer my primary focus professionally, I have spent the majority of my life as a competitive athlete and fitness enthusiast. It is becoming widely accepted, as it should, that nutrition and physical performance are tied together very tightly. I have found through my own experience as an athlete recovering from two serious knee injuries that plant-based foods containing high amounts of nutrients, fiber, alkaline minerals, chlorophyll, and high water content were the foundation of my recovery and repair. This is the most important aspect of physical performance, the ability to recover quickly and safely from high intensity training.
I have found over the years that the majority of information on fitness and performance based nutrition can be distilled into five guidelines. This is invaluable for both the seasoned “natural” athlete or one who is transitioning into a more plant-based lifestyle. There are many misconceptions about raw food and plant focused nutrition that hold little to no weight when stacked up against the evidence of a well thought-out strategy conducted over a reasonable duration of time.
Review and experiment with these five fundamental strategies for peak performance:
Hydration: The basis for all of life on the planet is water and salt. Human blood is more identical to a saline solution (salt water) than any other natural substance. Salt is what holds water molecules to the tissues of our body, keeping us conductive and hydrated. Sodium is one of the four (calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium) fundamental electrolytes found in the mineral matrix of nature. Adding 1/4 tsp of non-refined sea salt to 1 liter of filtered or spring water can replace any energy or sugared electrolyte marketed drink. My experience has proven this a thousand times over.
Every day our bodies accumulate acidic waste products from our environment, our food, and basic metabolism. Consuming 1 1/2 liters of fresh water with 1/4 tsp of sea salt upon waking up is the best way to set up your body’s detoxification and hydration pathways for the day ahead. How you start your day is how you finish it!
Plant-Based Proteins: When it comes to transitioning to plant-based protein, the golden rule I have come to find is a serious athlete will need to double up on proteins such as hemp, brown rice, pea, and other forms of high quality, full spectrum protein. The reason is simple. Our bodies will acclimate to whatever form of fuel we feed them over time. If our bodies are acclimated to animal based proteins, processed foods, cooked foods, and sterilized water, the body will require a transitional period to acclimatize to higher grade fuel.
A lot of times the body is using “calories” to fill in the “nutrient” needs of each cell. This is a backwards approach, but one most people undergo due to conventional diet approaches. By adding in a double serving of high-quality hemp protein in our smoothie, the body begins to register this as its preferred fuel source and adjusts appropriately. Plant-based protein burns much cleaner than cooked animal protein; this is a metabolic, physiological reality.
Catabolic and Anabolic Balance: Perhaps the most under-addressed aspect of fitness and health in general is the dynamic balance between catabolism (breaking down) and anabolism (building up). To simplify this concept in terms of nutrition, look at the extreme spectrum of the raw food diet. Raw foods focus on stripping the accumulated waste materials and unusable protein matter, and rehydrating the body from past indiscretions. Then it focuses mostly on building the body through what is perceived as the best “building blocks” for health. Both philosophies must be respected as the breaking down and building up processes represents the natural cycles of health.
It is possible to achieve this balance on a high raw, plant focused lifestyle if done correctly for one’s individual needs. The first half of the day will ideally be comprised of liquids: water, juices, smoothies, tonics, etc. The second half will be more dense foods such as nuts, seeds, fatty fruits, salad, etc. I recommend readers look into intermittent fasting to create a specific practice for increasing catabolic and anabolic efficiency.
Diversify Your Training: As an athlete or simply a fitness enthusiast, diversity in your workout routine is important. There are numerous benefits to switching up your routine, like increased range of muscular motion, enhanced coordination/movement patterns, quicker thinking, and overall fewer injuries from excessive training in one activity. As a basketball player and tae kwon do athlete, I incorporated various training regimes to supplement my core performance, such as weight lifting, swimming, cycling, sprinting, yoga, and rehabilitation or corrective movement exercises.
Rest: The golden arch of all fitness and athletic performances is rest, rejuvenation, and recovery. The balance point between catabolism and anabolism is achieved primarily through both “active rest” and “deep rest.” Active rest is where you engage in an activity that provides relaxation such as reading, walking, writing, stretching, etc. Deep rest is taking daily naps and getting the right amount of sleep to reset your neurological system, hormone balance, digestive environment, and muscular system. It is often recommended to go to sleep about 10 pm as this is when our anabolic hormones (testosterone, HGH) begin to rejuvenate.
I would like to leave the reader with a final thought from my book The Life Food Peak Performance System:
“One of my missions is to educate young and professional athletes on the truth about the fabricated protein facts and how to excel on a plant-based lifestyle. When an athlete is able to remove high-density animal products from their diet and move into a high-raw plant-based diet, they will most likely notice their body snap into their ideal weight over a few months, allowing for increased levels of performance and clarity. The long time heralded image of huge muscles and professional body builders is, in my opinion, very unnatural to the physiological design of the human body. The excessive intake of coagulated animal proteins promotes inflammation along with cellular oxidation to follow shortly after. As athletes, we want to make every attempt to decrease inflammation in order to recover and repair from the demands of heavy exercise.”