This month we feature a book that reveals how an athlete can thrive and attain lofty goals on a vegan diet.
a Guide to Optimal Health and Performance
Through Plant-Based Whole Foods
By Brendan Brazier
Oceanside Publishing, 2004
Swim 2.4 miles. Then bike 112 miles. Following the bike ride, begin your 26.2-mile marathon run. Anyone traveling those grueling 140 miles in less than 17 hours earns the title of Ironman. One athlete who proudly wears that Ironman title is Brendan Brazier, the author of THRIVE, who is also the 2003 Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion.
Fifteen years ago doctors would have said it's not possible for a vegetarian to be healthy or even be a successful athlete, much less an Ironman. Brazier is living testimony that an athlete can not only follow a vegan diet but can also be a successful triathlete.
When he was 15, Brazier opted to try a vegan diet to improve his athletic performance. Initially it didn't work. People kept telling him to resume meat eating to maintain his strength, but Brazier continued on his chosen path to become a world class championship athlete.
Along the way he discovered how best to cope with the physical stress on his body. He learned that the faster he recovered from stress, the sooner he could return to physical training and thus enhance his fitness. He calls stress "the modern plague" and subdivides it into three categories: uncomplimentary, complimentary, and production.
Uncomplimentary stress includes poor diet, worry about things that are uncontrollable, environmental toxins, setting unattainable goals, and poor planning. Complimentary stress is optimal exercise that improves muscle tone, reduces body fat, increases strength-to-weight ratio, improves immune function, and produces clearer thought function and better sleep quality.
Production stress is what Brazier calls "an unavoidable by-product of a productive life, a necessary part of modern day success." In this category he includes physically demanding training sessions, working overtime, dealing with personal and family responsibilities, and taking a calculated risk.
Brazier advocates reducing uncomplimentary stress while harnessing the power of the complimentary and coping with the production stress. He makes a number of suggestions for coping with stress.
A body that is provided with sufficient vitamins and minerals will have the proper fuel to carry on its activities and reduce uncomplimentary stress. This fuel comes with proper nutrition that replaces refined carbohydrates and caffeine with whole foods providing a nutrient-rich diet that will eliminate food cravings.
This nutrient rich eating will lead to other benefits. It will reduce the appetite and improve sleep that in return will lower overall stress. By consuming enough nutrient-rich foods to support one's activity level, one gains the benefit of a decrease in body fat. Most of all good nutrition will improve both the quality and quantity of life.
Keys to Creating a Biologically Younger, Leaner Body is a chapter bound to attract the notice of many readers. One of the keys to achieving this body is consuming "premium food" to regenerate the body, especially when the body faces high levels of stress.
Heading the list are dark, leafy greens rich in chlorophyll and vital in the anti-aging process. Included in this group is chlorella, a single-celled fresh water green algae. In selecting chlorella Brazier advises one with a high CGF (Chlorella Growth Factor) to speed cell regeneration, slow signs of aging, enhance healing, and facilitate muscle recovery. He recommends a minimum of 1.5 g daily.
Another food high on his list is maca, a staple in the Peruvian diet for thousands of years. Maca works to restore hormonal health and aids the body in recovering from physical stress. Brazier suggests obtaining the gelatinized form that removes the starchy part of the maca root. This form is easier to digest and is more readily assimilated by the body. It has a nutty taste and dissolves in liquid more easily. Brazier recommends at least 1.5 g daily.
Hemp is another miracle food that Brazier considers "the finest source of raw protein in nature." It contains all10 essential amino acids and offers a boost to the immune system to hasten physical recovery. Edestin, an amino acid only present in hemp, is an important part of DNA. Hemp leads the protein pack because of naturally occurring enzymes that make it relatively easy to digest. A deep rich green color, a pleasant smell, and a nutty taste are indications that the hemp seeds are fresh. Brazier does not indicate a daily dose for hemp.
Flax is touted because of its role as the best omega-3 source in the plant kingdom. It is valuable in reducing inflammation and for facilitating the metabolism of fat. He says 10 grams or 1 tablespoon of whole flaxseeds will create efficient burning of body fat. Because it contains soluble and insoluble fiber, flax slows the release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream and helps to control insulin. It is also a complete protein and plays an anti-inflammatory role. Brazier recommends buying whole flaxseeds and grinding them in a coffee grinder. Flax meal is not as nutritious because the oil has been removed to leave mostly fiber that does not contain many of the nutrients in the whole seeds.
Legumes, soy protein and tofu are included in his regimen because they are good sources of plant-based protein. Grains are recommended because they are high quality carbohydrates. He does recommend a dietary program that emphasizes alkaline grains over acidic ones. Grains that should be eaten more frequently because they are gluten-free and alkaline are amaranth, quinoa, millet, wild rice, brown rice, and buckwheat. More acidic grains include whole wheat, spelt, and kamut.
Two seeds that are highly recommended are sesame and pumpkin. Sesame seeds are a rich source of calcium. He grinds them and sprinkles the meal onto soups, salads, cereal, and pasta. Because pumpkin seeds are rich in iron, he sprinkles them onto a variety of foods.
Completing the favorite food items are ginger, probiotics, stevia, and a daily dose of raw foods. Brazier loads up on ginger because of its anti-inflammatory properties while taking 250 mg of non-dairy probiotics daily to insure friendly intestinal flora. He is a strong advocate of stevia, an herb used as a sweetener. Because it contains no carbohydrates, it has no effect on insulin levels. He adds it to many foods to help regulate blood sugar levels and to improve the release of energy in food it accompanies. Raw food is vital because it brings more enzymes into the diet and thus aids digestion while reducing uncomplimentary stress.
THRIVE is not a lengthy volume, yet it is a valuable resource for anyone who engages in vigorous physical activity but wants to reduce stress and meet nutritional needs. In less than 100 pages Brazier clearly explains and lays out a plant-based whole foods program that will improve performance and general health of anyone concerned with fitness. Most valuable is his advice on reducing stress and creating a younger biologically healthy body. He is a living example that refutes any notion that a vegan diet is unhealthy.
"Not only has not eating animal product for the past 14 years not stifled my athletic performance, it has significantly elevated it," says Brazier.