What’s the best fuel for athletes? Good question. The theories keep changing. It used to be carbs, and now it’s healthy fats. I know a vegan athlete or two, I'm friendly with Spartans who are Paleo enthusiasts, and have chatted with others who eat nothing but raw food. Most fall somewhere in between. I’m for any diet that works for you, including a plant-based diet for athletes.
Personally, I keep food simple. I follow the advice of food journalist Michael Pollan, who advises, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” That’s why I was psyched when I saw The No Meat Athlete Cookbook by Matt Frazier and Stepfanie Romine (The Experiment; May 2017).
Frazier is well known in the vegetarian and vegan athlete communities for his blog, No Meat Athlete: Runs on Plants. He’s run marathons, double marathons, and even a 100-mile ultra fueled by a vegan diet. In case you’re worried that a plant-based diet for athletes doesn’t provide enough protein, consider the vegetarians in the animal kingdom. Gorillas, rhinos, and elephants all eat a vegetarian diet and are among the largest and most powerful land animals. The truth is that the diet of a vegan athlete provides all the nutrients you need, even for the 100-mile ultra circuit.
I don’t have a lot of time for cooking, so I appreciate that Frazier and Romine's book is all about tasty, simple food that is quick and easy to prepare. After all, they’re both athletes — Frazier is an ultra-endurance runner and Romine is a yoga coach — with hungry spouses and kids. Sounds like the De Sena house!
The No Meat Athlete Cookbook is more than a collection of recipes; it discusses what any athlete needs to know about a healthy, vegan lifestyle. Because it uses a minimum of gluten, soy, sweeteners, and refined oils, it’s good for most weight-loss diets. And unlike some vegetable-based cookbooks, it doesn’t use fake meat substitutes.
Here are some features that I found particularly helpful in executing a plant-based diet for athletes:
- Food Worth Eating Every Single Day: These are the foods you want to build into your regular diet for maximum health impact, including berries, leafy and cruciferous greens, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices, beans, onions and garlic, mushrooms, and green tea.
- Oil-Free Cooking Tips: Frazier and Romine aren’t opposed to healthy fats. They just want you to get them from whole food sources such as nut butters, olives, and avocados.
- Bowl Blueprint: Nothing is quicker or more satisfying than a grain, bean, and green bowl. The cookbook provides mix-and-match components for endless tasty options.
- Wraps and Leftovers: I know lots of people who do a week of food prep on Sundays. To help people who just don’t have time to cook every night, the authors provide a list of recipes that are perfect as a topping or wrap that you can throw together after work.
- Make Your Own Sports Fuel: Cut out processed sports drinks and bars. You can make your own electrolyte drinks, flavored protein powders, smoothies, recovery drinks, bites, bars, and — for those long-haul road workouts and races — Calorie Bomb Cookies.
Here's a good place to start: DOWNLOAD THESE SMOOTHIE RECIPES.