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Vegan for the Holidays

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Ask the Vegan Athlete

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've recently become vegan and am having trouble maintaining muscle mass even though I am constantly eating. What's wrong?

In today's hectic, fast-paced world, we are inundated with nutrient-lacking foods. Consumed mostly for convenience sake, processed and refined foods have led us to a decline in health and have elevated medical costs. Having to consume more of them to "fill up" due to their absence of usable nutrients, yet high sugar and calorie counts, we have become an obese, energy-depleted society.

Back a few years in my more conventional-thinking days, I would try to gauge my caloric intake requirements based on my activity level and body weight. Eating about 8000 calories on heavy training days, as determined by my calculations, I would usually need a rest day soon after. I realize now, a large part of my need for the extra rest day was not just to recover from the energy expended during training, but primarily from the energy expended digesting all that food!

At the time I would eat lots of starchy, high carbohydrate foods such as conventional pasta and bread. Roasted nuts, usually in the form of peanut butter, would also be a large part of my high-calorie yet low-nutrient diet. As these are hard for the body to digest and assimilate and have little to offer in terms of nutrients, I was actually robbing myself of energy with every bite.

By consuming more easily assimilated foods, you can conserve a large amount of energy. There are two main reasons for this:

  • Nutrient-rich easily digested foods can be assimilated with less expenditure.
  • When more nutrient-rich foods are present in the diet, the body does not have to eat as much as if it were fed "average" foods.
Brendan Brazier As a direct result, not as much needs to be eaten and therefore digested. This is a huge net energy gain, to be spent as you please. If the body is left to decide, it will likely choose improved immune function and quickened restoration of cells damaged by stress--essentially, "anti-aging" activities.

Once I realized the value in nutrient density, assimilation, and absorption of food, I began eating in terms of net gain with no adherence to calorie consumption guidelines. Instead, I focused on consuming nutrient dense, easily assimilated foods. As a result my recovery rate has significantly improved. I no longer need an extra day to recover from eating copious amounts of conventional food. Enhanced by simple means of increased efficacy, my body now pools its retained energy resources to recover more quickly from muscle damage associated with training. Today, I consume about 30% fewer calories than I did just two years ago yet have more energy through conservation, as opposed to consumption.

Instead of feasting on common refined foods, I now consume whole foods almost exclusively. Raw, alkalizing, enzyme intact, living foods have become the foundation of my diet. Switching my main carbohydrate source away from refined starches to whole fruits and vegetables was my starting point. In doing so, the majority of my energy needs, obtained from primarily carbohydrate, were now being met by a wide variety of fruit and whole grains.

Raw nuts and seeds, with an emphasis on hemp and flax as well as legumes supply me with protein and essential fatty acids. The majority of vitamins and minerals I require come from fresh, raw vegetables--dark leafy green in particular.

You can more easily maintain hydration by consuming whole foods raw instead of eating them dried, processed, and cooked.

Specifically, foods that offer a superior net gain are:

  • alkaline forming, high in chlorophyll
  • rich in enzymes, raw and alive
  • rich in pre and probiotics
  • best consumed in liquid form

By implementing some of these suggestions, you can not only maintain strength and lean muscle tissue on a vegan diet, but you can also increase both significantly.

Click here for Ask the Vegan Athlete Index

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