Now for a VERY special ELR post—-meet Vegan Professional Triathlete, formulator of the Vega nutrition line and writer, Brendan Brazier!!!
Hi Brendan! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with ELR readers 🙂 I know most of us are familiar with your book, The Thrive Diet, and what you say in it really “clicks”, especially to us endurance athletes. For those of us who haven’t read the book yet though, could you briefly explain what The Thrive Diet actually is?
BB: Well, the basic concept is reducing stress through better nutrition. Stress is basically the root cause of all disease and problems. Problems with North Americans is that we treat the symptoms of stress and not the cause. By only treating the symptoms, we are allowing problems to keep going, and eventually you have a much higher chance of getting a disease. By treating the symptoms you have merely covered up all the warning signs. For example, when we get tired we drink coffee or eat sugary food. With The Thrive Diet, we aim to bring down the stress levels to treat the actual cause of the problem; its more of a holistic approach. The downside is that this isn’t a quick fix, its more of a lifestyle. After changing the way you eat you start to crave the foods that are good for you and have no interest in the foods that are bad. You wont crave coffee or sugar anymore. If you allow those problems to keep going, eventually you usually get disease but all the warning signs.
Wow. That’s so true! So often we grab a Starbucks coffee when we are exhausted or an advil when our head aches….but you are saying these things just cover up the real root problem, they don’t fix them. I know after I quit drinking coffee I feel 100% better than I ever did before. Is there a detox period for getting on The Thrive Diet bandwagon though if you are used to eating a SAD (standard American diet)?
BB: Well, yes. It depends on how much you jump into it. I don’t suggest jumping in 100% at one time. Instead, at first I suggest weaning yourself into it. That works a lot better. It might take a good year if you eat a SAD. But then this is a lifestyle, which is the key.
I just love the idea of fueling solely on plants. Its just so clean and healthy. How has your athletic ability changed since you went vegan?
BB: First, I didn’t do it properly. I didn’t feel good and I was tired and hungry all the time. Then, figured out how to do it properly and get all of the nutrients that I needed. I started to recover quicker than others and was able to train more and improve faster. Once I figured everything out, it (The Thrive Diet) became a high performance diet. Any athlete can benefit from a well put together plant based diet.
Now I know many people are curious about protein, since its always such a hot debate. How are you sure you get enough of it? Is it ever a worry for you?
BB: I probably get less than half than what is recommend for someone with my activity level. However, I have no trouble building and maintaining muscle at all. In the beginning, I did lose a little weight but my strength to weight ratio went way up and I became a much better endurance athlete. I get very good quality protein such as hemp and leafy greens. I eat a big salad every day!
I agree, a big salad is a must. Since I’ve starting having a green smoothie and a salad during the day my energy levels have skyrocketed. Can you tell us what a typical day is in terms of meals and snacks?
BB: I eat throughout the day so I really don’t eat big meals. I don’t get really hungry or really full ever and eating throughout the day is truly good for digestion. On a typical day, I’ll get up and will snack on one of the bars from my book (recipes in The Thrive Diet) then go out for a run and have a Vega smoothie afterwards. Then, throughout the day, I’ll graze on a lot of fresh fruit and and a big salad at night. No dessert—if I want something else I’ll have more fruit.
You must go through a lot of produce in your house! Do you count calories at all? What is your take on that?
BB: I never count calories! I eat as much as I want, which is fine if you are eating whole foods. You are getting lots of fiber and nutrients which turn off your hunger signal so you really won’t get as hungry as you used to once your body adjusts. You really cant overeat when you are eating such a good diet made of healthy, whole foods. I eat as much as I want and I gain muscle quickly. Because of this, you will notice the meal plan in my book doesn’t list any portion sizes. You can have as much as you want and never feel guilty since it all is so good for you!
Something interesting I really liked in your book was when you described the benefits of “next level foods”; foods that go up and beyond the nutrition of just the standard healthy diet. Do you have any simple tips for us to incorporate them into our diet?
BB: Goji berries are great but so are blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. I put goji berries in energy bars and smoothies; they are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Chlorella is great too. It is an algae from Japan that is 70% protein and is in the Vega smoothie mix so you don’t have to worry about adding it separately.
Speaking of these “superfoods”, what do you suggest in form of vitamins? I’ll admit, I’ve been really bad lately and haven’t taken anything except for a calcium supplement twice a day since Spring. I know we SHOULD be taking a good multi-vitamin every day but there’s just so many on the market….what do you suggest for optimum energy and performance?
BB: Well actually, I don’t take any supplements or vitamins. I just eat really well. I used to take a lot of them and when I stopped, nothing bad happened so I just never started taking them again. I think its important for people to know they don’t “have” to take vitamins and supplements if they already have a good diet made up of whole, natural foods.
Well that makes me feel better! There’s so many gimicks out there anyways. I’d rather just eat really healthfully and not worry about it. One of my main concerns is cost, however. You can’t deny that eating healthy can be expensive, especially when you are an athlete and going through a ton of food at one time! Do you have any tips on how to eat on The Thrive Diet while maintaining a strict budget?
BB: Yeah, there’s a few things. I shop at farmer’s markets quite a bit. Near my house in Los Angeles we have some great farmer’s markets. Also, the bulk section of supermarkets is where you can get such things like quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat very cheaply. I always tell people, too, If you buy good, healthy food now, your chances of needing drugs later in life is greatly decreased. You will have your health later on and you won’t need those symptom treating drugs.
So, what are the top five foods you always have in your kitchen at all times? For me, its definitely spinach, bananas, almond butter, peanut butter and almond milk…
BB: Bananas, dates, hemp, a lot of greens for sure and carrots because they are pretty easy and tasty.
I know in your book you talk a lot about how a smoothie is the perfect recovery meal. Why is this?
BB: A few reasons. You can get a lot into a smoothie, nutrient-wise and this is great because after you have had a workout your body is very tired and liquids digest much easier than a heavy meal. You can get everything you need in an easily digestible form that is very tasty as well!