Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Plant Powered Athlete

What do Madi Serpico, Scott Jurek, Rich Roll, and Brendan Brazier have in common? They are all plant-powered endurance athletes. While this may be a foreign concept in the professional athlete community, there are many who are showing it can be done. Not only are these athletes proving they can sustain while on a plant-based diet, they are also maintaining that their performance has improved because of it.

Madi Serpico plant powered endurance athlete
Madi Serpico: A plant-powered athlete
competing at the national level pursuing
a career in olympic distance triathlon.
At Race Rx, we hold the belief that not one diet will work for all athletes as every athlete has different needs and, of course, different performance ideals. This is one of the reasons we created a fuel that is compatible with nearly every diet imaginable. That said, we have to admit, we were intrigued and inspired by plant-based endurance athletes and we wanted to know more. Because the ideal vegan diet has yet to be defined, it's difficult to find a a "plant-based endurance athlete diet plan." We look forward to hearing more from plant-based athletes and experts, as this field continues to unfold. In the meantime, here is what is currently available:

The Protein Conundrum:

Because animal products are eliminated in a plant-based diet, oftentimes, so is a large portion of protein. Endurance athletes, in particular, need to consume substantial amounts of protein as it slows carbs from reaching the bloodstream too quickly. If enough protein is not consumed, insulin levels can spike causing the dreaded crash. So how do these plant-based athletes get the protein they need? Experts say that the complete spectrum of amino acids (that we typically rely on meat for) can be achieved by eating a variety of foods. Lentils, peanut butter, beans, nuts, quinoa, and grains are all great sources of protein. Even vegetables contain small amounts of protein. Creating meals based on combinations of these foods can ensure athletes are getting the 8 essential amino acids needed for hormone and muscle synthesis.

Mixing it Up:

As any athlete will attest, changing to a new diet requires thought put into not only the macronutrients, but also rounding out the diet with micronutrients. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals found in trace amounts. Adding healthy oils to the diet such as olive or flax will aid in making these micronutrients more bio available. In a plant-based diet, ensuring these micronutrients are included in the diet is a necessity. As most athletes use smoothies as a recovery or supplementary drink, including some lesser known items is a easy way to do it. For example, algae in the form of Spirulina can be used to get adequate amounts of DHA, which is found in fish. And, blackstrap molasses can be added as it contains significant amounts of micronutrients as well.
Rich Roll Plant Powered Endurance Athlete
Rich Roll is one of the most well-
known plant based athletes. He
has been hailed as one of the
world's fittest men.


According to the plant-based community, meat and dairy products contain acid-forming properties. In contrast, a plant-based diet creates a non-acidic or alkaline environment within the body. Having an alkaline environment may be the reason these athletes cite they are able to cope with and recover better with training and physical stress in general. Pair that with experts who tout that the diet reduces the risk of disease and adds three to six years to the human lifespan.

We look forward to following Madi, Brendan, Scott, Rich and all other plant-based athletes on their journey. And, we'd love to hear how Race Rx is working in your plant-powered diet!