Clean Eating 101
You dont have to be a professional athlete to reap the benefits of clean, plant-based nutrition. Who wouldnt like better sleep, have fewer cravings and more energy?
I define clean eating as plant-based with a predominant focus on whole, unprocessed foods, free of artificial ingredients and organic whenever possible. Whole, unprocessed plant-based foods are nutrient-dense, full of vitamins, minerals, quality macronutrients and antioxidants to keep your body healthy. If you cant pronounce an ingredient, it should probably be avoided. Artificial, heavily processed and genetically modified foods have the opposite effect of nourishment, instead causing stress on your body. Look for organic food — as well as local foods that may not be certified organic, but are grown without pesticides or herbicides — to benefit your health, local economy and environment.
Training breaks down muscle tissue and food provides the materials (nutrients) to rebuild it. The quality of muscle and amount of strength you gain is directly related to the quality of food you eat. I used to load up on pasta, white bread and pizza before a race, since thats what my coaches and peers did. Instead of increasing my energy levels, these just made me feel sluggish. After months of trying to figure out why I wasnt reaching my goals despite training hard, I decided to learn more about nutrition.
It soon became clear to me that nutrition was more than simply carbs, protein and fat. I began eating more foods that were easily digestible, yet contained the greatest amount of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants) per calorie. I called this high net-gain nutrition. Observing this nutrition principle, I began swapping out my refined starchy staples — which were low in nutrition yet required a lot of energy to digest — for easily assimilated, less processed, nutrient-dense options. Fruit and pseudograins such as quinoa, amaranth, millet and wild rice became my new staples. The result was greater energy — while taking in no more calories. I became leaner and developed better muscle function as a direct result.
Add, Dont Subtract
Clean eating doesnt have to be all or nothing. Perfection is not the goal — constant improvement will get you further. I find the best approach if you’re planning to transition to eating a more plant-based diet is to focus on foods that you’d like to add to your diet (hemp, chia, kale, quinoa, smoothies, etc.) rather than to think about foods you’d like to take out of your diet (dairy, refined sugars, fast food, etc.) Once you start including more good foods, they will begin to crowd out the room in your stomach — and your life — for not-so-good foods. Focus on adding one food a day (or a week, if thats what works for you). Starting your morning with a nutrient-dense smoothie is one of the best ways to ensure you start the day on the right foot — for both energy and nutrition.
Learn how to know, eat and feel better with my free online wellness program, Thrive Forward. Changes in your diet are best done in small increments, which all come together to produce significant results. Join me by thinking about the #OneChange you can make today to improve your nutrition, and see gains in your performance.
Brendan Brazier is a former professional Ironman triathlete and two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion. He is now a successful performance nutrition consultant, bestselling author of the Thrive book series including the newest book Thrive Energy Cookbook, formulator of the award-winning line of plant-based Vega nutritional products and creator of Thrive Forward. For more information, visit his website and follow him on Twitter @Brendan_Brazier.