Ask Vegan Athlete Brendan Brazier
Brendan Brazier is a professional triathlete from North Vancouver, and the 2003, 50 km Ultra Marathon National Champion. A successful vegan ironman, Brendan contributes to our magazine with a feature called Ask the Vegan Athlete. In each issue Brendan answers questions posed by readers and offers advice to other athletes who choose to eat a plant-based diet.
Brendan is the author of Thrive: a Guide to Optimal Health and Performance Through Plant-Based Whole Foods. His website addresses concerns of vegetarian athletes, provides a forum for vegan athletes, and includes his schedule of activities.
For more info visit his website at http: //www.brendanbrazier.com
I heard that vitamin and mineral supplements boost energy, therefore athletic performance. Is this true? Is more better?
If you have recently looked through any sport or fitness magazine you will have undoubtedly noticed ads making claims such as "improves performance by 20%." Even many articles that carry more credibility often make such claims. Does that mean the vitamin and mineral supplements actually improve athletic performance? Yes and no -- mostly no.
If you actually take the time to carefully read many of the studies cited you will notice that they were performed on people who had a deficiency in the vitamin or mineral that was tested. This is a key factor. A person who has extremely low levels of any kind of essential nutrient will not perform at potential. Obviously, when supplemented with the lacking nutrient, the person will improve performance as a direct result.
Can we then conclude that supplementation of that vitamin or mineral improves performance by such and such a percentage as demonstrated in a clinical trial? Not in a "real world setting." Most often funded by manufacturers, these tests produce results that are misleading. Mind you, they are not bending the truth by reporting such gains when their product is taken, but are reporting results not typical for a healthy person who eats a sensible diet.
Have you heard this one before? "I just want to make completely sure that I'm getting all the vitamins I need, so I take large doses. My body will just excrete what it doesn't use." While this is true of water-soluble vitamins, it is not a logical approach. However, it is a common attitude, especially for athletes. Take as many supplements as you can afford "just to be safe."
As mentioned, the body does excrete the water-soluble vitamins and minerals that it doesn't need, but at what cost? It's not a high-energy cost for a healthy body to flush out unneeded vitamins, but it is still a cost. While the body is under great stress to recover from workouts, the last thing you want to do is give it another stress. Of course, the principal reason most people take an excess amount of supplements is to speed regeneration. Quite often the supplents interfere, prolonging the time to complete recovery.
Juicing, for example, is another way to pack an inordinate amount of nutrients into the body, but is that really desirable? I personally am an advocate of whole foods with nothing taken away, including the fiber, which is not the case with juicing.
I know an athlete who would drink copious amounts of carrot juice each day. Ironically, he would be the one to get sick more often than most other athletes who trained a comparable amount under similar conditions. When he routinely picked up a viral infection, it would often linger for an extended period. Believing that he was addressing the cause of illness while sick, he would make even more vegetable juice by extracting the fiber. After learning this for myself and explaining that it is actually possible to place more stress on the body by "giving it an extra job" of removing what it doesn't need, I convinced him to stop juicing. This was about a year ago; he hasn't had a viral infection since.
Of course there are always exceptions. For example, a person who eats a standard American diet, rarely seeing fresh fruit or vegetables, will benefit from supplemental vitamins and minerals and certainly will improve health by juicing. Ideally, of course, the diet should not lack nutrient rich food in the first place.
Nutrient rich foods such as nuts, seeds, legumes, fruit and vegetables are fiber rich for a reason. Once you're full, you have consumed enough vitamins and minerals. Again, an exception to the rule is if you consume primarily food grown with herbicides and pesticides. As with an excess of vitamins and minerals, the body must excrete the toxins of conventionally grown produce. Choose organic.