Nuun CEO Kevin Rutherford on Being a Plant-Based Triathlete and the Importance of Ice Cream
No matter what kind of diet you follow, hydration is key. This is why Nuun is a brand we should all know about, not just endurance athletes who need to refuel on the run. Nuun makes drink tablets that fizz when dissolving into water and provide you with a strong dose of electrolytes. There are four types of tablets: Sport, immunity, vitamin, and rest, depending on what support you need that day, and they come in yummy low-sugar flavors.
All of Nunn’s products are plant-based, which was something President and CEO, Kevin Rutherford, implemented after he joined the company in 2013. Kevin keeps a plant-based diet himself, and as a triathlete, knows the value it brings to his athletic ability and his life in general. We chatted with Kevin about going vegan and how it plays into his life as the head of Nuun.
What made you decide to go plant-based?
My path to being vegan was a long journey. I started in 2006 when I first tried raw vegan. I had been reading information about how meat was really hard to digest and how it was an energy taker because it takes so long for your body to break it down. I hated that post-lunch 2 pm lull in the afternoon and was looking for ways to increase my energy levels. So I tried it and it worked. The lull disappeared and I felt lighter. But while doing raw vegan, I was also training and working out a lot. My wife started to noticed I was losing a lot of weight. So then I introduced dairy and fish back in for a few years. Then in 2013, my wife and I decided to go full vegan. It was both from a health perspective, and today my conviction comes really from my passion for animals and helping them. It didn’t start there, but it shifted there.
What was your biggest challenge?
It’s easier to be vegan today than ever before. I tend to travel a lot for my job, and it’s still a challenge to get the sustenances I need on the road, and I struggle to be pure 100% vegan. I tend to go to big cities and find New York City the most vegan-friendly. Sometimes you can’t control if there is dairy in your dish but, I try to just go with the flow.
How are you getting enough protein?
I don’t think it’s that tough. It’s far less difficult then people realize. Vegetables are loaded with the protein you just have to eat a lot of them to get the benefits. We add a wide variety of beans, lentils, nuts, nut butter, and tofu sporadically to our dishes. I do take supplements as well because I tend to train quite a bit.
What are your daily meals?
Breakfast: I like to start my day with a liquid meal to ease into the day and break the fast to get my body rolling. I usually have a Vega One shake and mix in with a nut alternative milk. Then switch to my Nuun hydration to get my electrolytes.
Lunch: Salad, or like grain bowl filled with quinoa.
Snack: Protein bars from Vega or Garden of Life or fruit like an apple or banana. And Hippeas are my favorite salty snack
Dinner: My wife Kelly is an incredible cook, so she is always experimenting and trying new stuff. We found that because plant-based cheeses have come so far, to make something like a plant-based lasagna is actually easier than its ever been. Kelly makes it in a crockpot, so it’s cooking all day. Another dish is an acorn squash sliced in half and stuffed with quinoa, tomatoes, peppers, Tempe, cashew butter, and seasoned with garlic and herbs. We also love Banza in terms of pasta too.
Do you have a go-to sweet?
I love ice cream, and it was something that I missed. But the ice cream market for plant-based has progressed so much in the past few years. I don’t think there is a trade-off anymore. Nada Moo is one of my favorite brands, and there is a local place in Seattle called Frankie & Jo’s that is ridiculously good.
How did being plant-based affect the rest of your life in your job?
I took over as CEO at Nuun 6 years ago and discovered as we were moving forward with what our nutrient platform would be and what was the right ingredients we wanted to use that most of our flavors were considered vegan, but not all. As we were re-formulating to make our product natural, I decided to make all our products vegan so that they could be for everyone, and we can access more people. It felt like the right thing to do, and I wanted to take pride as the CEO and face of the company. We kept upgrading our a great electrolyte product, first by making it all-natural, and today it's non-GMO, project certified, vegan certified, and gluten-free.
What has the body change in your body been?
I am leaner and also think because my energy level is up and I don’t have that afternoon lull, I think my mental acuity and sharpness hold better than it used to.
How has it affected your athletic ability?
With endurance sports, one of the competitive advantages is you can get power per pound. So being light and pair that with strength and power, it's a combo that is to your advantage. I think that is why the plant-based movement is really starting to catch on in sports and athletes because you are putting in what your body needs and what works best for your body to digest quickly and get back on track and recover quicker.
To break down meat, it can take upwards to 18 hours. Where a plant-based diet, depending on what it is, will break down in around 4-8 hours. So you will recover faster and then can train more. And the idea of being lighter, that power per pound, you are using less excursion with every stride or stroke then if you were not as lean.