by guest blogger Brendan Brazier, athlete, author, and creator of Vega and Thrive Forward
My nutrition philosophy, summarized in the Thrive book series, is not based around calories, but focuses instead on what I like to call high net-gain nutrition. By eating foods that are easy to digest and contain the greatest amount of each micronutrient per calorie, your health will thrive.
Why aren’t we talking about calories?
If you’re an athlete or have ever been on a diet, you probably know a lot about calories. Calories are a measure of food energy, so it would make sense to assume that the more calories you eat, the more energy you’ll have. As an athlete growing up, I certainly believed that. But I now know this isn’t the case. If it were true, it would mean that if you ate a large fast-food meal, you would be bounding with energy, instead of feeling sluggish.
Make your energy investment go further
Have you ever thought about what the energy you eat does once calories enter your body? Your body needs energy for digestion and assimilation, and the more energy it takes to digest your food and absorb the nutrients within, the less energy you have to spend on movement and getting through the day. You’ll gain a greater return on your energy investment if your body can easily digest and assimilate your food and move on with your day. Ultimately, your body needs not just calories but nutrition: micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients; and macronutrients such as carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.
Reduce stress through high net-gain nutrition
Step away from focusing on calories, and turn your attention to nutrient density. Not only are plant-based whole foods more nutrient dense—high in nutrition for relatively few calories—but they are often easier to digest and assimilate, so your body doesn’t have to work as hard to gain energy from them. A higher net energy gain from these foods results in minimized stress, more energy, and better sleep quality. You’ll also feel less hungry because you are giving your body what it biologically craves—nutrients.
Simple ways to add high net-gain nutrition
Build your daily meals around whole, minimally processed, plant-based foods that are free of added sugars, common allergens (like dairy, gluten, and soy), and artificial ingredients (flavoring, preservatives, and colors). Swap out highly refined starches that are low in nutrition yet hard to digest, such as pasta, white rice, and bread, for less processed, more easily assimilated carbohydrates like fruit and pseudograins. Amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, and wild rice can form a nutrient-dense carbohydrate base for meals (and they bring a welcome protein boost, too). By avoiding highly refined foods and artificial ingredients, your body can more efficiently digest what you’ve eaten and use the energy and nutrients the food delivers faster and more effectively. Every nutrient consumed becomes a functional tool to support health and wellness rather than empty calories that simply end your hunger.
For more information on high net-gain nutrition, check out Thrive Forward. My free online wellness program can be personalized based on your unique needs. Whether you are hoping to fuel a new exercise routine, learn new kitchen tricks, or find out how to manage your weight, Thrive Forward will help you to know, eat, and feel better.
Brendan Brazier is a former professional Ironman triathlete and two-time Canadian 50K Ultramarathon Champion. He’s now a successful performance nutrition consultant, best-selling author of the Thrive book series, formulator of the award-winning line of plant-based Vega nutritional products, and creator of Thrive Forward, an online video series designed to inspire and educate people about plant-based nutrition.