Ask Vegan Athlete Brendan Brazier
Brendan Brazier is a professional triathlete from North Vancouver, and the 2003, 50 km Ultra Marathon National Champion. A successful vegan ironman, Brendan contributes to our magazine with a feature called Ask the Vegan Athlete. In each issue Brendan answers questions posed by readers and offers advice to other athletes who choose to eat a plant-based diet.
Brendan is the author of Thrive: a Guide to Optimal Health and Performance Through Plant-Based Whole Foods. His website addresses concerns of vegetarian athletes, provides a forum for vegan athletes, and includes his schedule of activities.
For more info visit his website at http: //www.brendanbrazier.com
What foods are best to eat after exercise to promote recovery?
As people become more aware of the importance of recovery, I hear this question with increasing regularity. This is a good sign because it means most are starting to truly understand how fitness is improved. Simply put, stress (training) combined with adequate rest and proper nutrition is the recipe for improved performance. Interesting to note, the better the nutrition, the less rest needed; therefore, the faster performance improves.
First. Recovery from a workout actually begins before the workout has begun. The less uncomplimentary damage done, the better. I'm suggesting that it is not in the athlete's best interest to break down his/her body in a way that will not result in improved performance. For example, if an athlete embarks on a run without being adequately hydrated, an unnecessary stress is being placed on the body. The athlete will experience a higher heart rate due to inadequate hydration, but fitness will not improve as a result, and fatigue will occur sooner. As a consequence, recovery will take longer, but will provide no payoff in terms of improved fitness. This can be referred to as uncomplimentary stress, avoidable stress with no payoff. For recovery time to be minimized, the athlete should make sure the body is properly prepared to take on the stress of exercise.
Immediately following a workout, once hydration has been achieved, the best foods to consume are fresh fruit with a small amount of protein. Fresh fruit is easy to digest, and the naturally occurring sugar it contains helps to quickly restock depleted muscle glycogen stores. The protein further speeds the uptake of sugar into the system. However, the amount of protein must be small at this meal, comprising 25% or less of the total number of carbohydrate grams. This is usually referred to as a 4:1 ratio, meaning that for every 4 grams of carbohydrate, there is 1 gram of protein.
Another requirement for protein is that it be easily digestible, ideally in liquid or pudding-type consistency. Medium firm tofu is a good option for a post-workout protein source. It is certainly easy to digest and contains magnesium and calcium, two important minerals necessary for smooth muscle contraction. The body needs to restore calcium and magnesium after exercise because they are both excreted in sweat.
This snack should be consumed within 45 minutes from the time the workout has ended. If the body is made to wait longer, recovery will be impaired.
Here is a suggestion for a post workout snack, Chocolate Recovery Pudding taken from my book THRIVE: a Guide to Optimal Health and Performance Through Plant-based Whole Foods.
Chocolate Recovery Pudding
1 banana* (for electrolytes)
1/2 pear* (for natural sugar)
1/2 T. hemp oil (for essential fatty acids, omega 3 + omega 6)
1/2 T. cocoa powder (for natural flavor)
sprinkle sea salt (for sodium lost in sweat)
Blend all ingredients together until reaching a consistent texture. I recommend a food processor.
*The riper the pear and banana, the sweeter the pudding.
Once about an hour and a half has passed since finishing the recovery snack, a balanced, nutrient-rich, easily digestible meal is optimal. I recommend a nutritious blender drink containing all the components of a complete meal. The reason I recommend a liquid meal is to help reduce the strain on the digestive system. When the body is pooling all its resourses to help repair damage done by training, it needs all the help it can get. The best sources of protein are hemp, pea and rice in powder form, mixed with water. I like hemp because it is very high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps further speed recovery. Hemp also contains anti-inflammation properties that help soft tissue repair, important after exercise.
pH is also an important factor to be aware of when making a recovery formula. Lactic acid is produced by exercise. The consumption of alkaline producing foods will help to neutralize the typically acidic pH of a fatigued body, thereby speeding recovery. The most alkaline foods are those with the highest chlorophyll levels--dark, leafy greens. I recommend a daily salad for this, among other, reasons. However, since dark, leafy green vegetables aren't great for making blender drinks, I use chlorella. Chlorella is a fresh water algae from Japan. It possesses the highest amount of chlorophyll, more than any other plant or animal. Also, chlorella has a large amount of vitamin B-12 and, is almost 70% protein, an excellent addition for anyone, especially a vegan athlete. I recommend 1 to 2 teaspoons in each blender drink.
Maca is also an excellent food to help speed recovery and promote energy. Grown in the Peruvian highlands, maca is a turnip-like root vegetable. Available at many health food stores in powdered form, maca helps to nourish and rejuvenate the adrenal glands. After training or any other type of stress, the adrenals become fatigued. If the stress becomes chronic and not enough time is allowed for recovery, common symptoms of stress become apparent. As with Chlorella, I recommend 1 to 2 teaspoons in each blender drink.
Here is an example (also from my book THRIVE) of a recipe I make to supply the nutrients I need to optimize recovery, therefore performance:
1 banana (for electrolytes)
1/2 cup blueberries (for antioxidants)
1/2 pear (for natural sugar, fiber)
1 T. hemp oil (for essential fatty acids, omega 3 + omega 6)
1 T. ground flax seeds (omega 3, fiber)
2 T. hemp protein (for complete protein)
1 t. (2.5 grams) maca, powdered form (for sterols, alkaloids, glucosinolates)
1 t. (2.5 grams) chlorella, powdered form (for vitamin b12, chlorophyll, nucleic acids)
For variety, add either a tablespoon of raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Raw carob powder is also a good addition.
The ease of digestibility, the high pH (more alkaline), the raw protein source, and the nutrient density are all major advantages post workout vegan food sources have over animal based ones. Vegan or not, for the first few hours after a workout, abstaining from animal products is a clear advantage.