Eating to Win: Plant Based Energy for Sport, Work and Life

The world runs on carbs!

Of over 50,000 edible plants on earth, only 15 of them provide the majority of caloric energy to the world’s population.  Over 90 percent of all of the calories eaten on this planet come from carbohydrate rich staple foods such as corn, rice, wheat and potatoes.

Carbohydrates are the currency by which the body produces energy for work, exercise and mental activity. If you want to get anything done and you want to be consistent all day long, you’ve got to take in enough carbohydrate energy.

This meal we made in Montezuma is rich in staple carbohydrates, including black beans, rice and corn tortillas.

Fortunately, carbs and plant foods are synonymous. So, if you eat a healthy plant based diet centred on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes, your diet will naturally contain plenty of carbohydrates. 

However some people don’t get enough carbohydrate energy on a vegan diet. There are a few reasons this happens

One reason is that low carbohydrate diet fads have made people afraid of carbohydrates. Unfortunately, some well meaning vegans worry about ingesting too many carbohydrates and fear weight gain.

I often see vegans avoiding foods such as potatoes, fruit and rice in favour of fake meats, protein powders and high fat oils. Because they are afraid of carbohydrates, they skew their nutrient intake towards protein and fat. But human protein and fat needs are far lower than we have been trained to believe in this part of the world.

According to the World Health Organization, daily human protein needs are a mere five percent of total calories. Most plant foods are at least five to ten percent protein. This means you can meet your protein needs without even thinking about it, as long as you consume enough calories every day!

Even the humble potato derives ten percent of its calories from protein!

The simple fact is that whole plant foods contain all the necessary macronutrients for optimal health in ratios that are optimal for energy and disease prevention. Whole plant foods are also rich in vitamins, minerals antioxidants and fibre. There is no human requirement for protein powders or free oils.

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Although we fear that carbohydrates have made us a fat nation, we consume far fewer than most of the world, whereas leaner nations in Africa and Southeast Asia consume the most.

A diet based on whole grains, tubers, beans, fruits and vegetables with modest additions of nuts and seeds looks very different from a macronutrient perspective than the typical North American diet. That’s not a bad thing!

Such a diet is naturally low in fat (10 percent), moderate in protein, (10-15 percent) and high in carbohydrates (75-80 percent).

This is the dietary pattern that has been associated with the reduction and reversal of many chronic illnesses such and type 2 diabetes and heart disease while promoting longevity. It has also been shown to aid in weight loss without counting or restricting calories.

A whole food plant based diet is optimal for health and body weight even while being an extraordinarily high carbohydrate diet. What’s more, it provides ample energy for a demanding lifestyle. Whether you are an athlete, or tackling a project at work that requires a lot of brain power, you will benefit from a diet high in healthy, unrefined carbohydrate.

It is important remember that a whole food diet is less dense in calories than a diet containing animal foods or refined oils and grains. This mean you will need to eat more food to fuel yourself. I suggest periodically monitoring your food intake with an app such as CRON-O-Meter or My Fitness pal to ensure you are taking in enough.

This is especially important if you have trained yourself to eat small portions of food. Modern wisdom has told us that portion control is a good idea. But hunger is an impulse that has worked for humanity for the better part of 2,000,000 years. You cannot deny your body’s desire to eat any more than you can deny your need for sleep. No wonder so many people are hangry!

It is not our hunger mechanism that is flawed so much as the foods we have become accustomed to eating in the past 100 years. By all means, restrict your intake of foods that are deleterious to your health. But on a whole foods plant based diet you must learn to once again trust your hunger rather than deny it.

You should to include calorie rich staple foods at every meal.  Greens and fibrous veggies do not contain enough calories to sustain you. Think of these as vitamins and added nutrition – not staples. A salad for lunch does not cut it, unless you’ve got a pile of rice hiding under that salad or a big pile of beans on top.

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Bananas, a favourite of many, including myself!

Base your meals around traditional starches such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, barley, millet, wheat, quinoa or beans. Consuming lots of fruit can also contribute to your calorie needs. My favourites are bananas, dates and papayas. I eat copious amounts of fruit every day for breakfast. I can’t think of a better or tastier way to start my day!

Oatmeal and fruit, wholegrain pancakes or a giant smoothie in the morning. A bean and rice burrito at lunch. Oil free oven baked fries, whole grain pasta or a veggie curry served on copious amounts of rice for dinner. Use your imagination and eat your fill!

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