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Vegetarians in Paradise

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

Would you explain your theory of net gain where you increase your energy through conservation, not consumption?

The nutritional value of food as stated by the "label claim" is, of course, pertaining to what is IN the food, not what the body actually GETS from it. A more sensible way to assess the energy-providing attributes of food is to consider its net gain. The net gain of food is the term given to what we are left with once the food has been processed for energy by the body. We all know that the body gets energy from food in the form of several nutrients. However, the more energy the body has to expend to digest, assimilate and utilize the nutrients in the food we give it, the less we are left with.

An example would be the consumption of white bread. Have you ever eaten at a restaurant that served French bread before the main course? In the past, I would wolf down the bread and though my stomach was physically full, I would still be hungry. Since white bread is basically void of any useful nutrients, my body wanted to continue eating despite the fact that my stomach was full. To digest, assimilate, and then eliminate the white bread requires a large energy expenditure. As a result, the net energy gain from it is very low. In fact, if the bread is buttered or if a trans-fat-containing spread is added, the result can actually be a net loss!

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.

Brendan Brazier 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 8,000 calories on heavy training days, 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! By consuming more easily assimilated foods, one can conserve a large amount of energy due to two main reasons:

  1. Nutrient-rich easily digested foods can be assimilated with less expenditure.
  2. 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. 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 realizing 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 focus 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 by means of 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, vegetables and grains was my starting point. 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 ones in particular.

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

It's easy to pack nutrients into liquid form thereby improving assimilation and basically allowing the body to get what it wants while expending less energy. I have one or more nutrient-packed shakes daily to insure that I get all the nutrients I need to support my activity level. Also, since it's important to eat several meals and/or snacks a day, it's convenient to make one or more of the liquid variety when you're busy.

Ideally, a shake should contain all the nutrients that a compete meal does. First, make sure that the protein is an easily digestible one, such as hemp, which is packed with live enzymes that improve digestion and absorption. For essential fatty acids (especially Omega 3), I use ground-up whole flax seeds. Maca, an adaptogen, adrenal tonic, and a source of sterols and sterolins, is also a critical ingredient. Chlorella, for its detoxifying properties, naturally occurring vitamin B12, growth factor, nucleic acids, and rich chlorophyll content, is another worthy addition.

Hemp, flax, maca, and chlorella are the four primary ingredients in all my shakes. After adding them, I blend it all up with whole fruit and water or nut milk. Feel free to experiment with all kinds of fruit for variety. Berries are always desirable as they are loaded with antioxidants. Raw carob powder is also a nice addition.

Remember, when it comes to improving net gain, the key lesson is: if you don't spend it, you'll still have it. Think in terms of energy conservation when it comes to vital body functions like digestion and assimilation to help you perform better at work, home and play.

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