Top tips on plant-based performance from barefoot trail runner and Superfoods voice Werner Daniel

Gather a group of friends around your typical South African braai, sow the seed of plant-based diets and watch the hot debate rise on whether the human body is in fact carnivorous, omnivorous or herbivorous. Many are adamant they feel healthier, fuller and fitter on a lean animal protein diet and that there’s no way their muscles and physically active lifestyle could be sustained on the likes of green, leafy salads. But the protein harnessing power of plants is becoming more and more evident and showing none of the bodily and environmental down sides, especially when we begin looking for them in ancient superfoods. We need only look at the gentle four-legged grazers of Africa to see how much strength can be supported and sustained by a plant-based diet. But to bring the proof of concept back to our own species, we touched base with renowned barefoot runner and voice behind the successful Superfood brand, Werner Daniel, to find out how his high performance, plant-based lifestyle came about.

Werner has been working with and using Superfoods on a daily basis for close on 14 years. By including Superfoods and adopting a whole food lifestyle Werner has positively transformed every aspect of his life.

The low that spurred on the Superfood high

You might not have guessed it from his highly active Instagram feed, but Werner once weighed nearly 90kg, sustaining his lifestyle on a standard South African diet and a dizzying array of supplements.

“I had those typical mid-afternoon energy slumps, my sleep patterns were out of sync, I suffered from severe dry skin and my energy levels were really not ideal for someone in their late twenties. I knew something had to change.”

Now weighing in at 75kg, he confesses, with the broadest smile, to having more energy than in his youth.

“Everything shifts when you start eating high quality whole foods, including Superfoods in your diet. I express gratitude on a daily basis that I discovered this exciting way of life,” says Werner.

But changes like this don’t come in the shape of a silver bullet. Werner tells me he started with a high percentage raw detox for a year working closely with his wife Chantal Daniel from Naturally Nourished who supported this process using key phase 2 detox supplementation. This was followed by a shift over to a plant-based lifestyle and the inclusion of Superfoods into his daily diet.

Discovering his love for barefoot running

The healthy addiction to running only surfaced down the line once Werner discovered his surplus of energy.

“Within a few months my energy levels literally started to sore through the roof. I then started trail running with my brother Peter Daniel. We would casually run the trails around Cape Town after work. I soon realised that I had found a true passion!”

With much support from his wife, Werner placed 3rd in one of his first races and just like that found himself hooked to the high performance lifestyle. His preference for plant-based foods isn’t the only place where this athlete chooses to tread lightly.

“I luckily began my journey as a trail runner running in Vibram Five Finger shoes. I was naturally drawn to them from the get go and have found that running consciously in Vibrams allows me to run at the pace my body needs to run at, which naturally leads to less injuries.”

On plant-based diets and alkalised performance power

I was curious about whether a lifestyle like this required a strict adherence to one diet over another. Was he a dedicated vegan or vegetarian if he swore by plant-based diets? Werner’s answer surprised me.

“I choose not to box myself with food labels, as I feel the best maintenance orientated health lifestyle includes a rich variety of conscious ingredients. This includes plant-based foods, Superfoods, as much organic food as possible and consciously reared and farmed whole foods.”

He goes on to explain why a primarily animal protein diet doesn’t align itself as well with performance as you might have previously thought.

“Meat forms acidity in the body and as an athlete the last thing you need is high acidity levels. The more alkaline we are the faster we recover so that we can get back out there and do more of what we love. Pure performance will naturally be available to you if you are adopting a highly alkaline, nutrient dense and highly oxygenated existence. I have had first hand experience of this.”

Other important factors for an alkalised peak performance body:

  • Water is a vital part of my daily regime – drink spring water as far as possible
  • Breath work is crucial in increasing your alkalinity levels – choose to adopt a conscious breathing practice pre-, during and post-racing to assist with recovery
  • Werner recommends the highly alkalising Spirulina and Superfoods Green Shake

With all these highly alkalising lifestyle choices, this barefoot runner confesses to hardly suffering from stiff muscles, even after a big event like the recent 65km Ultra Trail Cape Town he ran in December last year.

An ethos to food beyond a love for the brand

But was there an ethos to food and nutrition that drove this sponsored Vibrams runner, father of twins and full time on-the-go marketing head in his overall approach to food?

“Food as medicine is my ethos. We need to start realising that the conventional food available today has little to no nutrient and mineral density left in it due to soil depletion and poor farming practiced. Food plays a vital role when it comes to nourishment but the average person is unfortunately not getting to experience this. Organic food is definitely the way to go but organic produce in sufficient quantities are hard to come by.”

Wern is an adamant believer that using organic, highly nutrient dense Superfoods on a daily basis is the best way to rapidly realign us back to optimal health and longevity.

Wern’s top performance game changers

There is no magic on-the-day-concoction. Pure performance comes from the inclusion of excellent daily food habits.

“You may get a boost from certain Superfoods and herbs on the day but to truly adopt a longevity mindset with performance, fast recovery and high energy levels in mind we need to include Superfoods, herbs and organic nutrition daily. ” These are his daily lifestyle game changers:

  • Coconut water –  for hydration
  • Maca – strength building adaptogen
  • Spirulina – complete protein (12 times more digestable than beef!)
  • Chia seeds – excellent ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 of 3:2 makes it a great anti-inflammatory food
  • MCT oil – improve energy levels and helps build lean muscle mass
  • Chaga – loaded with nutrients & protects your body’s cells against stress and oxidation
  • Moringa – contains all essential amino acids, powerful source of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories
  • Hemp – complete protein, muscle builder & energy booster
  • Cacao – slimming anti-depressant and antiaxidant
  • Organic super berries like goji berries and mulberries

On substances to avoid and the 80/20 rule

Many athletes attest to avoiding foods like sugars and alcohols completely. Werner prefers to live by the 80/20 rule. “80% absolutely high performance whole foods and the other 20% is fun food that I consciously choose to include into my lifestyle and will enjoy a sensational glass of wine with friends on the occasion.”

  •  avoid refined Sugar like the plague
  • gluten is not a big issue but still steer clear whenever possible, it does have an effect on your performance and acidity levels

“Life is for living and I always recommend that you should never deprive yourself if you get the calling for something less than optimal.”

He explains that as you become more conscious of how food makes you feel, you will naturally choose to stay clear of the unhealthy options. Taste buds become more sensitive to unhealthy food when your norm becomes the inclusion of excellent food choices. Your body has innate knowledge. Once you empower it it will always guide you. His best advice? “Always use gradient to get you there and don’t be too hard on yourself.”

Wern’s simple morning breakfast smoothie

“Being the Dad of twins, my moring breakfast has to be done in a flash!”

Chia Super bowl breakfast:

Lunch time salad

Try to include the following:

Healthy snacks

Recovery drink

“For recovery I am a strong believer in alkalising and replenishing lost nutrients as quickly as possible.”

My recovery drink includes:

And if you’re looking to only make 1 change: Find a spring and only drink spring water!!

Can carbo-loading and plant-based performance go hand in hand?

Ok, so you’re happy reducing your reliance on animal protein, but how does carbo-loading come into the picture if the point is to be alkaline?

According to Werner, white refined carbohydrates are dangerous and in high quantities before a race will again acidify your system. He prefers to look at a more whole food and balanced macro nutrient intake. With too many unrefined carbs your system, your body has to compensate by leaching minerals from your bones and skin to rectify the imbalance, which is not ideal for an athlete. Wern suggests including the following:

  • Unrefined carbohydrate Superfoods like Lucuma powder –  offers an array of other nutritional benefits like high iron, beta carotene, phosphorous and niacin

Inspiration for runners looking to embrace a similar lifestyle

Even a dedicated trail runner and whole foods advocate gets his inspirational and emotional boosts from somewhere. I asked Wern to share his reading list as I am personally a firm believer in the power of knowledge for the brain – the alkaliser of our thoughts.

  • Born to Run  – big inspiration on the power of Chia seeds
  • Eat and Run by Scott Jurek’s  – fantastic read.
  • Finding Ultra by Rich Roll –  was a game changer for me and inspired me to look at the Ultra running scene
  • The magic of Superfoods
  • David Wolfe’s Superfoods book  – both very shaping reads

“I listen to podcasts daily in the car whist I am working and I have found this to be a fantastic way to ingest cutting edge information.” Wern’s podcast hotlist:

Current read: Superlife by Daren Olien  – The 5 simple fixes that will make you Healthy, Fit and Eternally Awesome.

And if that wasn’t inspiring enough, we thought we’d include Wern’s 2017 running schedule so you can get an idea of the type of performance this barefoot runner happily sustains on his above lifestyle.

  • Tsitsikamma 60km Ultra in March
  • Oorlogskloof 42km Ultra in April
  • The Beast CT 50km mountain run in June
  • Grootvadersbosch stage race 32km / 15km July
  • Whale of a trail 53km in July
  • Helderberg mountain challenge in August
  • Cederberg traverse 100km in October
  • Ultra trail Cape Town 100km in December

To follow Werner’s journey on barefoot trailblazing and his inspired whole food lifestyle, follow him on Instagram.

Here’s to discovering your true potential and living the best life your body was made to embrace.

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