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'm a runner who has recently become vegan. I'm concerned that since I eliminated dairy products from my diet I might not get enough calcium and, therefore, be more prone to stress fractures. Is this a legitimate concern?
Drinking milk actually weakens bones over time due to its acid-forming effect. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a lack of dietary calcium, but stress and the overconsumption of acid forming foods and supplements that leads to most cases of poor bone health and eventually stress fractures or osteoporosis for athletes. The blood itself will always remain neutral; this is imperative for survival. If the body is consistently fed acid-forming, denatured foods and supplements, or encounters stress from other sources, it must take measures to ensure a neutral blood pH is maintained. In doing so, the body pulls alkaline calcium from the bones. Of course, over time, the bones will become weaker as a result of this survival mechanism.
The conventional way of treating low calcium levels and osteoporosis is simply to suggest the person "take" more calcium, usually in the form of tablets. The calcium source in tablets is generally derived from materials such as oyster shells, bovine bone meal, coral and dolomite (rock), all of which are extremely hard and unnatural for the body to assimilate. Their large size and recommended daily number to be consumed is a testament to their poor bioavailability. The body must work very hard to get calcium from these sources, another reason this method of boosting calcium stores is inferior.
As the body carries out normal functions such as movement and digestion, it naturally becomes increasingly acidic. In fact, a natural by-product of healthy metabolism is an acid-forming effect. This normal biological function can be taken to excess when an inordinate amount of food is consumed--another good reason to eat nutritionally dense foods and, therefore, less total food.
Athletes in peak training are the most affected by excessively high acid levels (acidosis). Vigorous exercise causes lactic acid build up. Stress, of any kind, precipitates this even further. Of course, physically stressed, many athletes also must deal with various types of performance anxiety. An increased metabolism is yet another factor athletes face, further lowering pH. Combine this with the fact that athletes require more food in general with an emphasis on protein to aid muscle recovery, and you have the recipe for an acid-ravaged body.
Those who maintain an acidic environment within their bodies are also prone to fatigue. Since acidity is a stressor, cortisol levels rise, resulting in impaired sleep quality.
The best way to counter acidosis is to eat food rich in chlorophyll. Chlorella (algae from Japan) and leafy green vegetables are the best. Raw, unprocessed foods are also an important facet of maintaining alkalinity within the body. Raw sesame seeds are very rich in calcium and alkalizing as a result.
Aside from diet, there are ways to reduce acidity within the body. Deep breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation are a few alkalizing methods. These beneficial techniques contribute to the maintenance of strong bones more than dairy food consumption possibly could.