Is holistic and plant-based the new trend in sports nutrition?

Is whey on the way out? Sports nutrition could be headed toward holistic formulations rather than star ingredients, says Vega formulator Brendan Brazier.

While conventional sports nutrition putters along with the same old ingredients and formulations for sports enthusiasts and serious athletes, Brendan Brazier is championing a new idea: sports nutrition that considers the whole body.

Brazier, a vegan, former Ironman athlete and formulator of Vega, says more and more professional athletes are extending their careers by thinking about the long haul—not just the next workout. He works with NHL, NFL, PGA and UFC fighters on holistic, plant-based sports nutrition. To name a few:

  • Montell Owens, Jacksonville Jaguars' fullback
  • Kenny Florian, UFC fighter
  • Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles second baseman
  • Matt Lombardi, Toronto Maple Leafs

Why is plant-based nutrition the new darling of sports nutrition? Here are Brazier's thoughts on emerging sports performance trends and how to attract the vegan consumer.

newhope360: Vega's Sport Performance System is a standout in the sports nutrition marketplace because it's the only all-natural, plant-based system. How did you develop this product and why do you think customers are attracted to it?

Brendan Brazier: I wanted to make it easy for athletes and help them know that timing is vital. It's not just what you eat, it's when you eat it. A lot of people eat too much protein right before a workout and wonder why they feel sluggish… well, protein is for rebuilding and repairing, whereas carbs are more for fuels.

Also, each ingredient is performance-driven and has a specific purpose, and they complement one another. We don't just put in a bunch of good ingredients and hope for the best. Each is in there for a reason. We actually did an embarrassingly small amount of market research. We basically just went with our gut and what has worked well with me in the past.

I look at the products, and I think with [Vega Sport Pre-Workout] Energizer, it could even be a little overbuilt. It's very comprehensive in what it does, so if we could have done it over maybe we would have built them a little more basic and not quite as encompassing. Some people get confused by the complexity of the ingredients, and that's why I thought it was important to have the "prepare, sustain and recover" system. Color-coding the product was important. Simplicity is key.

newhope360: Do sports-driven consumers research ingredients or do they simply buy sports nutrition systems at a glance?

BB: The typical Vega consumer is more educated and will read the ingredients. That's why it's been successful, because they understand the logic behind each ingredient. I think that's why [our system is] separate from those of other sports nutrition companies. If a Vega customer reads those [products'] ingredients he or she probably wouldn't buy because it's for a different person, a more conventional athlete and not a natural athlete who looks at performance holistically. That's a general Vega trait: more holistic and long-term and not just about this workout, but the next workout and the one following that.

newhope360: Is sports nutrition headed toward meeting long-term, rather than short-term, goals?

BB: I don't think it's there yet. I certainly don't see that with conventional. If people perform great at a workout, and they feel amazing because they've taken something, they're going to keep doing it even if it's burning out their adrenals and causing cortisol to go up, which will eventually cause them to lose muscle and not sleep deeply, so they wake up tired, stiff and sore.

Personally, coming from an Ironman background, I started off with that mentality. I lived for the next workout. Then, five, six, seven years later it caught up with me. I had to be holistic if I wanted my career to continue.

I do find, though, that with some of the football and hockey players I work with, who are later on in their career (probably have about two or three years left), they're starting to think, "How can I extend my career?" Because for them it's dollars, too. If they could play a couple years in the league and make an extra few million dollars, it's very appealing to them. I think that's initially why many of these athletes have come to me—for the holistic approach.

A lot of younger guys are now starting to think holistically from the beginning, and they're going to extend their careers probably 20 percent. I don't think that's a stretch. That's a huge advantage for guys who are usually done mid-30s, they'll go through their early 40s and still be a top level—and in some cases at an even higher level, like for endurance sports. I think we'll seek people peak later in life because they've been able to train more over the course of their career.

newhope360: Why is eating vegan beneficial for athletes?

BB: A few things: It's more alkaline forming, which will help you reduce inflammation, which decreases recovery time, which means you can train more in less time, which means you improve faster. And reducing inflammation also means you have greater muscle functionality which means you can move with less effort so you don't have to work as hard to move.

As an endurance athlete, that means your heart rate comes down and you travel farther with less effort. And if you're a strength athlete, that means you can lift heavier weights to get stronger. Even your digestion—if you don't spend that much energy digesting, then you have more energy to work out longer.

newhope360: What's your take on whey protein (which is not vegan) being the star protein in sports nutrition?

BB: Whey is highly regarded and has been for years—good marketing is what it boils down to. With the combination we use—hemp, pea, rice and SaviSeed and now even chia—it creates a flat line amino acid profile, which is as good as or better than whey, but the advantage is it's not from an isolate. And a lot of the proteins are chlorophyll-rich, so it's actually alkaline forming, which means you will recover more quickly after exercise and it will reduce inflammation more quickly.

Hemp protein [the base of the products] is complete on its own, but it's lower in tryptophan, so we added rice protein and SaviSeed protein to balance that out. That's important for muscle tone, building muscle, as well as mood and mental clarity.

Pea protein is high in glutamic acid which is important for the conversion of carbohydrate into energy. A lot of people who gain weight from eating carbs: 1. they eat the wrong carbs but 2. they often don't have enough glutamic acid rich foods in their diets to allow the body to convert the carbohydrate into energy, so it's stored as fat. Those proteins are beans and seeds, not something that the average North American eats on a regular basis. Adding that to the formula has definitely helped.

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