8 Vegan-Friendly Nutrients for Athletes

Photo Courtesy of Brendan Brazier

When you think of the word, thrive, what's the first image that comes to your mind?  For me, the word conjures up images of health and strength, vitality and life. It could be an image of an athlete who is able to cross the finish line after an ultra marathon with such vigor that you have to ask yourself, "I wonder what he ate for breakfast?" My diet philosophy and book called the Thrive Diet is rooted in this idea.

I raced Ironman triathlons professionally for seven years, all on a vegan diet, and I honestly don't believe I would ever have achieved what I did in this field if it wasn't for the attention I applied to my nutrition program. I know I was going somewhat against the grain, but a plant-based, whole food diet offered several advantages. Among them: I was able to train harder and I stayed light—yet became stronger, especially when running.

I don't aspire to build muscular size (bulk), but rather to simply develop what muscle I do have to be strong, and thereby function efficiently. I find that as a direct result, endurance will take a leap forward. This was certainly one of the greatest attributes this novel way of eating bestowed upon me and I wanted to share it with you.

Top 8 Nutrients for Athletes

Healthy, whole food nutrition consists of many elements. The following eight are important for active people:

1. Alkaline-Forming Foods

These foods balance the body's pH. An acidic environment adversely affects health at the cellular level; people with low body pH are prone to fatigue and disease. And because acidity is a stressor, it raises cortisol levels, which results in impaired sleep quality. To help your muscles recover and to lower your cortisol levels, consume highly alkalizing foods, such as those rich in chlorophyll, soon after exercise.

2. Antioxidants

When our body's activity level rises, we use extra oxygen. This causes cellular oxidation, which can create free radicals. These reduce cell life span and in turn cause premature cell degeneration. A reduction of stress through better nutrition combats free radical production. Antioxidants in foods help to rid the body of free radicals by escorting them out of the body.

3. Calcium

Calcium builds, strengthens, and repairs bone. Athletes, however, have another important job for the mineral: muscle contraction and rhythmic heartbeat coordinator. About 95 percent of the body's calcium is stored in the skeleton, but it's the remaining few percent that is the first to decline. Calcium in the bloodstream is lost in sweat and muscle contractions, so active people need more dietary calcium.

4. Electrolytes

Electrolytes are electricity-conducting salts. Calcium, chloride, magnesium, potassium, and sodium are the chief electrolyte minerals. Electrolytes in body fluid and blood regulate or affect the flow of nutrients into and waste products out of cells, and are essential for muscle contractions, heartbeats, fluid regulation, and general nerve function.

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