Brendan Brazier is one of only a few professional athletes in the world whose diet is 100 percent plant-based. He’s a professional Ironman triathlete, bestselling author on performance nutrition, and the creator of an award-winning line of whole food nutritional products called VEGA. He is also a two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion.
In the shadow of the “Standard American Diet”, the “modern vegetarian diet” has emerged. Although considerably healthier than the SAD, the “modern vegetarian diet” isn’t without its shortcomings. Mostly built on complex carbohydrates such as breads and pasta and fortified with processed soy products and laboratory created multi vitamins and minerals, the “modern vegetarian diet” lacks several health-promoting elements.
Interestingly, the “modern vegetarian diet” lacks vegetables, what ideally it should be built on.
When I first made the transition to a plant-based diet at the age of 15, I ran into several problems. As I learned more, and began to understand the subtleties of a plant-based diet, what mine lacked revealed itself.
Complete protein: Vital for muscle regeneration and hormone production, a lack of dietary protein quickly leads to a lack of optimal health. This is was one of my problems when I first adopted the diet in 1990. However, these days the chance of vegetarians lacking protein is slim. Due to a flood of soy and gluten-based products such as imitation hot dogs, hamburgers, steaks and even bacon, options are plentiful. Unfortunately, the availability of these products have lead to another concern. Soy and gluten sensitivities are becoming prevalent, simply because so many of our foods contain more soy and gluten than the body can handle. Resulting in mild flu-like symptoms, fatigue, reduced sleep quality and sometimes even irritability, an over abundance of soy and gluten in the diet should be avoided. I opt for as many raw sources of protein as I can. Hemp is an excellent choice. I also like sprouted legumes, seeds and pseudo grains such as amaranth, quinoa buckwheat and wild rice.
To become a great athlete requires work. Hard work, that’s a certainty. But, the often-overlooked smart work can play an equally large role in athletic success. While there’s no substitute for diligent training, as I found there are a few natural nutritional “helpers” that can directly complement the effect of exercise for a compounded performance boost.
We know that the best way to enhance the odds of becoming a better athlete is to put the body in a position in which it can physically and mentally handle progressively longer and more intense training. This is of course achieved by adopting a nutrition program that will support the fueling and regeneration process that an active person requires, one that’s significantly above and beyond that of a sedentary individual. The fundamentals on which this high-performance body can be constructed are, as you would expect, from building blocks that you supply it; food. Nutrient-rich, plant-based whole foods are the foundation on which optimal health (and eventually performance) can be created. Studies have shown that, when consumed post-workout, plant-based whole foods enable muscle tissue to grow stronger in a shorter amount of time than would be possible with the consumption of refined, fractionalized low-quality food.
Once this foundation of solid health has been built by means of premium building blocks, higher levels of both mental and physical performance can more easily be obtained as a logical next step. As I set my sights on professional triathlon racing in 1997, I began to search for additional ways in which nutrition could boost my performance as opposed to simply improving my health. While I had already obtained health, I felt it was time to take my well-being (and therefore my athletic performance) to the next level, a level beyond a simply solid bill of health.
At this point, most of us know what foods are healthy. The challenge is no longer in finding the best health-promoting foods, but rather conveniently incorporating them into the diet on a daily basis without overextending our time budget. What then is the best route to take when aiming to integrate more healthy foods into the diet by replacing the less-healthy options?
A common approach when transitioning to a new way of eating is to eliminate certain non-health promoting foods. However, the most effective way to seamlessly adopt a new eating plan is to include more health-promoting foods as opposed to eliminating the less healthy. This is a practical solution that works on a physiological level as well as a psychological one.
Physically, this approach is ideal in that it allows time for the body to detoxify itself. Healthier foods generally have more fiber, more chlorophyll and are often enzyme rich. These three components of healthy food will, however, take the body a bit of time to adapt to. By slowly adding foods that are rich in these nutrients, the body will grow used to them and actually begin to expect and even desire them over time.
When building up running mileage, it’s important to do it gradually to allow tendons, ligaments and muscles to recover before stressing them with the next run.
The safest way is to not increase running mileage or time by more than 10% per week. A three week build cycle followed by one week of recovery is a sound approach.
I go by time run instead of mileage because it’s easier to calculate. Simply time each run and add up the total number of minutes spent running in a given week. For example, if you went for a 30 minute run on Monday, a 60 minute run on Wednesday, a 45 minute run on Friday and an 80 minute run on Saturday, your total for the week would be: 195 minutes. Increasing by no more than 10%, that means the following week should not exceed 214.5 minutes of running (195 x 1.1 = 214.5).
Staying properly hydrated and fueled during exercise improves endurance, we know that. But what is the best way best way to ensure that you maintain hydration and blood sugar levels?
Drinking and eating of course. Simple.
The trouble is, sometimes while exercising intensely – especially in a race situation – we can actually forget about the need for fluid and calories until faced with the result of their absence. At this point, of course, it’s too late to hydrate and fuel without a decline in performance. We must drink before we are thirsty and take in calories before we are hungry or feel the first onset of fatigue.
To time this correctly, practise in training. I recommend eating what you would normally eat before a race, then go on a training run / ride. Allow yourself to get slightly thirsty, then look at your watch and subtract 15 minutes from the length of time you’ve been out. That’s when you should have stated drinking.
How important are fats, what forms should you be consuming and in what quantities? It wasn’t long ago when then medical community was advocating the avoidance of all fat, even in the form of nuts or an avocado. Long gone are the days of neglect and dismissal when it comes to fat. We have made great progress drawing more clear lines between raw plant based sources that are good for you, even anti-aging, and those that are harmful such as cooked, animal based, and processed saturated and trans fats.
A deficiency of healthy fat runs prevalent throughout the modern day North American diet with the majority of people consuming too many of the detrimental bad fats including saturated fats in meat and dairy, and processed polyunsaturated fats or hydrogenated trans-fat from cooking oil and margarine used in processed foods. Consuming too many of these and not enough of the good fats contribute to stroke, heart attack, chronic inflammation, cognitive impairment, allergy, auto immune diseases and ultimately premature death.
Many of the oils we think are doing our bodies good are in fact causing further damage. The processing of oil can be the difference between good and bad. Some extraction methods for cheaper oils involve high heat, which can actually cause the oil to convert to trans fat. Other extraction methods use chemical solvents to separate the oil, usually done with low-grade oils.
In addition to athletes, this program is ideal for anyone who’s struggling to maintain muscle tissue. Those of you who’ve transitioned over to a raw or largely raw diet will benefit from performing these exercises. While I devised the program to help myself become a better endurance athlete, it’s what enabled me to maintain muscle mass throughout my shift to a mostly raw diet about four years ago. It works exceptionally well for creating mobility and fluidity of movement.
A few decades ago, endurance athletes were encouraged to avoid “gym training” for fear that they would develop heavy, bulky muscles. The reasoning was that extra mass without function would inhibit endurance performance. Which makes sense. However, the reason “gym training” was adamantly shunned by the endurance culture was primarily because it was lumped together with the body building culture. Of course, the main reason bodybuilders lift weights is to build bulk. They also weight train for symmetry and definition, but the vast majority of their time spent training is working to get bigger.
In the early eighties, some endurance athletes began supplementing their regular endurance training with weight training in the hopes of improving endurance. The results were mixed. While the athletes generally gained some strength, they also gained weight. Therefore, their strength-to-weight-ratio showed only very modest improvements and not enough to justify the energy expenditure in performing the extra workout. In other cases, strength-to weight-ratio dropped. Why? The problem was that these endurance athletes were doing body-building-style workouts that were designed to grow muscle size with little or no improvement in functional strength. Which resulted in a reduction in the endurance athlete’s most valued attribute: strength-to-weight ratio.
When it was realized that various training principals and techniques could be reworked to make bulk-less strength gains, gym workouts for endurance athletes were revisited.
G Living’s Brendan Brazier is one the world’s few professional athletes whose diet is 100 percent plant based. He’s a professional Ironman triathlete, bestselling author on performance nutrition, and the creator of an award-winning line of whole food nutritional products called Vega.
The following is our second excerpt from Brendan’s new book “The Thrive Diet”, on sale now in Canada and and in the U.S. in January.
Ever have difficulty waking up in the morning or find that you have low energy all day long? Are you unable to concentrate at work? Do you feel sluggish and depressed? If so, you could be a good candidate for a cleanse. Cleansing your body of accumulated toxins can help you gain energy and improve overall health. Many people report more clarity, greater alertness, overwhelming joy and even incredible insight after a cleanse.
A simple test you can do to determine whether or not you’re in need is to eat a few leaves of a dark leafy green vegetable, such as kale, or down a couple of shots of fresh wheat grass juice. If you can get it down without cringing — chances are, your system is already alkaline. However, if these foods taste horribly bitter and nearly cause a gag reflex, you will certainly benefit from a cleanse.
Want to segue to a plant-based diet but concerned about getting adequate protein? Worry no more: properly balanced plant protein can offer several advantages over more traditional animal-based options.
It was once thought that only animal protein was complete and therefore a superior source to plant-based options. Complete protein is comprised of all ten essential amino acids. By definition, essential amino acids cannot be made by the body; they must be obtained through dietary sources. And, in fact, there are actually several complete plant protein sources. However, to obtain all amino acids in high quantities, it’s advantageous to consume several complementary sources of protein on a regular basis. For example, hemp, yellow pea and brown rice protein make up a superior amino acid profile that rivals any created in the animal kingdom.
Two weeks ago I was in Washington, DC, for a series of meetings on Capital Hill. I, along with two Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) staff members, joined Paul Marcone (paulmarconellc.com). The reason for the meetings was to encourage Congress to vote against the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is one that encompasses subsidies for the meat and dairy industry. It also subsidies some corn and grain production for the purpose of feeding livestock that will ultimately be eaten or used to produce dairy products. The Farm Bill allows an industry that can’t survive on its own to continue to exist. It provides the crutch that keeps it going. Not a sustainable approach, the Farm Bill is not beneficial long-term since many of these foods are the root cause of mild to major heath problems. Continue Reading / Additional Photos / Videos
A couple weeks ago in Ottawa, as part of my book tour, I gave nine talks in 11 days. I’m very pleased with the response. I got lots of good, genuine questions and was able to speak with many people. I’m pleased to say that combined with the media that I did along with the talks, all five of the Chapter’s stores in the Ottawa area sold out of the books. Continue Reading / Additional Photos / Videos
My Canadian book tour officially began on Thursday March 22nd in Montreal. I was extremely please with the amount of media attention. Montreal being what it is (largely French speaking), I was most impressed with the amount of interest in my book. (get a copy)
This particular bout of media attention came from a slightly different angle than what I’m accustomed. It focused almost exclusively on one chapter in my book: The Thrive Diet for a Healthy Environment.
This interest came as a result of my involvement in the Youth Conference for Climate Change that took place later that day in Montreal. All delegates received a copy of The Thrive Diet to help them make informed dietary choices; paralleling their other environmentally conscious decisions. Continue Reading / Additional Photos / Videos