Brendan Brazier, Ironman athlete (finished twice in the top 15 at Ironman Canada) and ultra marathoner, is the author of the book The Thrive Diet, the vegan nutrition guide to optimal performance in sports and life.
A few days after Spain’s Eneko Llanos, also a vegan, won the grueling Ironman Lanzarote, I wanted to address the issue of the plant based diet and what it does for endurance athletes.
From his home in Southern California, Brendan Brazier took 20 minutes out of his busy schedule to talk to Merlendurance.com to share his thoughts on the topic.
As coaches we are often being asked by our athletes about protein, why is that and what do you tell them?
I am being asked this question quite frequently also. You have to realize that the meat and dairy industry has been efficient at marketing these products for years now. Athletes need to realize that you can get some protein through a plant-based diet. For example I am roughly 165 pounds and I eat about 70 grams of protein which is way less than what diet books recommends. But I have not lost any strength as a result of it. My strength to weight ratio remains high which is what you want for an endurance athlete.
The main sources available are pseudo-grains and seeds. Quinoa, wild rice, amaranth, lentils, peas, spinach and kale. A large salad will be a high source of protein for instance. Hemp protein for a morning smoothie will be valuable also for endurance athletes.
What are some of the main obstacles to adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle?
Endurance athletes are often concerned with calcium and iron. Obviously it is linked to bone strengths and issues leading to potential stress fractures for instance. So they are reluctant to cutting meat and dairy. Being a vegan is also cutting down refined food, refined floor and not just cutting meat.
How can athlete manage their time more efficiently when adopting the vegan lifestyle as they most likely will spend more time preparing some recipes and shopping for fresh foods?
I usually try to prepare my recipes all at once. For instance, for the energy bars, I make a huge batch every 4 months. I spend 90 minutes preparing it and put it in the freezer. Most importantly I make sure to have certain items at hand all the time such as quinoa and amaranth and buckwheat flour to name a few. Also today because of my professional schedule, I tend to graze a lot more. I will eat fruits, vegetables and seeds all day long, as well as a big smoothie in the morning.
Athletes will realize that their tasting palette will change gradually and the taste of a sweet potato for example with some sea salt and a bit of lemon will be delightful. Our taste buds change as we move along with this vegan diet.
What are some of the advantages of grazing? Some people often say that it may be beneficial for athletes to do so instead of eating the traditional 3 meals a day?
Yes. I believe so. I find it to be better as you are never full and never hungry really. It is eventually good for your energy level but especially good for your recovery as there is less blood needed to go to the stomach. You are thinking more clearly as well. You will not be as tired when you eat smaller amounts throughout the day.
Some of the other advantages would include a better sleep. You will gradually notice that you sleep more deeply and efficiently. You don’t need as much sleep either. Your sugar and flour cravings will go away. The general fatigue that may occur usually around 3 pm will not be as important. Your skin will be softer. Something of importance for athletes is that your flexibility will be increased as you have more minerals in your diet. This improved flexibility will lead to a higher efficiency which is a key aspect for endurance athletes.
Do you find that people respond well to this type of diet and they tend to adopt it more widely now?
I do. I see more and more people trying the plant-based diet. People are more open-minded and they realize that once they try it they feel good, they feel better. They appreciate the food they are eating.
Because of the success of your book (The Thrive Diet), have you been asked to collaborate to certain projects to better promote the ideas explained in your work?
Yes. Dr. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study, and professor at Cornell University, has created a program titled The Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition. It is an online course offered at Cornell University that has been really successful. So i am working with him as i teach a course titled: “The Plant-Based Diet and Elite Athleticism. This is something that has been working quite well.
Do you have any additional projects?
I am currently writing a recipe book that will have about 200 recipes. It is set to be published in the US in March 2011. I continue to tour to talk about The Thrive Fitness, my latest work which stands as a training program almost. Although I continue to train between 90 min to 2h per day, I don’t do it hoping to achieve any results but to simply keep my creativity at a high level as it helps.
How do you feel when you read that some athletes eat junk foods before some key events?
All in all I think that we are going in the right direction. But there are still some younger professional athletes who continue to have bad eating habits. What I find is that as they grow older, if they want to keep that edge that makes them be better than the rest of the field, they have to look at nutrition. They need to understand that a better nutrition means a longer career. So they soon realize that nutrition is an important part of their lifestyle.
Who are some of your role models if any?
In the 1990 when I more or less started with the plant based diet, I read that Dave Scott was a vegetarian. I also discovered that Carl Lewis at the peak of his career had turned to a more plant based diet. I can’t say that I had role models as I like to discover, establish a logical research and tweak as I go. But it made sense and I could feel it. This diet gives you a higher amount of energy.
Follow Brendan Brazier at : http://www.brendanbrazier.com/index.html