Adopting clean, plant-based nutrition drastically changed my athletic career and allowed me to forge a seven-year profession as an Ironman triathlete. Today, I work with a wide range of elite athletes who have seen significant improvements in performance from adding more high-net-gain foods, focusing on high-return exercise, improving their sleep and reducing “uncomplementary” stress. Whether you’re a strength or endurance athlete or are just trying to get in the best shape of your life, focusing on these four components of vitality can improve your performance— and help you feel better.

Components of vitality

No matter what level or type of athlete you are, it’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of perfection — a perfect race, a perfect training session or a perfect time. But peak performance is more than a single event. I did not see significant improvements until I moved beyond my training plan and looked at nutrition, sleep and stress in a holistic manner. For long-term improvement in performance, focus on these four components of vitality that will improve your sport and life:


If you’ve hit a plateau in your training, it’s likely because you’re not getting the most return from your exercise. As you become more fit, the same exercises with which you started your fitness journey will start to lead to smaller gains. Instead of just pushing yourself harder, push yourself smarter. High-return exercise means being smart about your energy investment — if you’re not seeing the results you want from training, change it up by adding in cross-training.


High-net-gain foods energize and invigorate you through nourishment, not stimulation. High-net-gain foods are nutrient dense and easy to digest, leaving you with the greatest return on your energy investment.


While it’s easy to cut out sleep when our schedules are busy, sleep is essential for performance gains. Deep sleep allows your body to start repairing, strengthening and regenerating cells and muscle tissue. Focus not just on the quantity of sleep, but on the quality.


Exercise is a complementary stress. While it is initially stressful, your body sees improvements from it — much like studying for an exam. On the other hand, uncomplementary stress doesnʻt have any benefits and leads to an increase in cortisol levels. Whether uncomplementary stress is coming from work, family or friends, your training and mood will improve when you begin to manage it. Some people find yoga and meditation help to reduce stress. Simply doing more of what makes you happy can alleviate stress as well.

It may seem as though these four things are a lot to change in your training program and life. Again, it’s not about being perfect; it’s about making small changes that lead to improvement. A great place to start is by focusing on adding more high-net-gain foods to your shopping cart.

Shop smart with high-net-gain nutrition

Start adding more high-net-gain foods at your next trip to the grocery store. Because plant-based foods are alkaline forming, and easily digestible, they can help eliminate digestive stress and allow your body to rebuild even stronger after your workout. Besides increasing the amount of leafy green vegetables you’re consuming, you’ll want to focus on getting a variety of foods to get a balance of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) and micronutrients.

1. Protein

Plant-based proteins not only can provide all the amino acids necessary for building muscle but also are alkaline forming and low in saturated fat. Eating a variety of plant-based proteins (found in beans, nuts and seeds) will provide enough complete protein for your body to utilize. Try adding hemp seeds to your smoothie or beans to your salad this week.

If you would like to supplement your intake with a protein powder, look for one that combines more than one plant-based protein source; is minimally processed; and is free of artificial colors, preservatives and sweeteners.

2. Carbohydrates

While eliminating carbohydrates is trendy, minimally processed carbohydrates are nutrient dense and provide instant energy for your body. Look for fresh, whole-food sources like raw and dried fruit, whole grains, and starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes and squash). One of my favorite carbohydrates for athletes is buckwheat — a pseudograin that is gluten-free and high in protein. It has all essential amino acids and is rich in vitamins B and E as well as calcium. Sprouted buckwheat makes a great breakfast or addition to trail mix or smoothies.

3. Essential fats

Eating fat will not make you fat, and healthy fats are necessary for hormone production — including growth hormone to increase muscular strength. Heart-healthy unsaturated fats are found in cold-pressed oils, avocados, nuts and seeds. Look for sources of essential fatty acids like omega-3s in chia seeds, ground flaxseed, hemp seeds and sacha inchi seeds.

Find Brendan Brazier featured on the Fitplan app’s training programs from the world’s top athletes, and stay connected with him: Twitter: @brendan_brazier, Facebook: @brendanbrazier and Instagram: @brenddanbrazier.