Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brendan Brazier, Vegan Athlete

This week I had the pleasure of seeing Brendan Brazier speak about his experience as a tri-athlete and vegan. I am re-inspired and motivated!

Brazier is not only a (professional) tri-athlete, he is an Ironman triathlete. For those of you who may not be familiar, an Ironman triathalon is a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a marathon (26.2 miles). Yes, all in one day. Brazier is also an ultramarathon runner; ultramarathons are either 31, 50, or 100 miles.
So, obviously this guy needs to be in top physical shape in order to perform. This is his career, not his hobby. So he's not kidding around.
While he's now pretty well-known for being a vegan athlete, he didn't start out trying to be "vegan". He experimented with various nutritional strategies, and tracked his performance. He explained that it was all about performance. He discovered that a plant-based diet allowed him to recover faster, and therefore train more. It was all about how efficiently the body processes food to get the amount of fuel it needs. The "cleaner" and more efficient the diet, the less energy the body spends on breaking down food, and the more energy the body has to recover and repair from intense training.

This philosophy is outlined in his first book, Thrive. I read this book a while back, and was really impressed with it, but had forgotten much of what I'd read. After seeing him speak, I am again inspired and motivated, and I am going to re-read the book.

Here's my thought: the same principle of efficiency, energy, and recovery would apply to healing as well as training. So, while most of us are not triathletes, these principles would help anyone, particularly those of us whose bodies are recovering from illness or injury. The less energy your body spends processing food and waste, the more energy is available for the body to do what it is designed to do, and repair itself. That healing process is slowed down if our bodies are busy trying to assimilate low-nutrient foods or process waste, such as non-necessary ingredients from foods or pollutants from the environment.

Brazier went on to talk about the impact of stress- physical, emotional, nutritional, and environmental- on the body, and how a diet high in nutrients and micronutrients can combat the effects of stress. A diet high in fruits and vegetables (especially vegetables) is high in minerals, which are alkalizing. An alkaline diet has been shown to decrease inflammation and increase efficiency. He discussed the role of hormones, including growth hormone and adrenal stress, and its impact on health and fatigue. Here is an example: Poor nutrition ---> Stress on the body (including adrenal stress) ---> Poor sleep quality ---> Tired when you wake up ---> More poor nutrition (sugar, caffeine, calories) to stay awake through the day ---> Adrenal stress (you can see the cycle there).

Here is a graphic that illustrates some of the effects of stress on the body (remember, your body doesn't know the difference between "good" stress and "bad" stress):
I was particularly interested in what he had to say about hormones. He shared that at one point, he was experiencing weight gain, even though he was training 35-40 hours a week and eating 100% vegan. He was certain he was burning more calories than he was taking in, yet he was gaining about a pound of fat every two weeks. Clearly, there was something more going on than simply "calories in, calories out". He finally found an endocrinologist who ran some tests and told Brazier he was "hormonally injured" due to the physical stress on his body from the training. (Remember: the body doesn't recognize the difference between "good" and "bad" stress, it just responds to the trigger). Due to the chronic stress (training), Brazier's adrenals and other hormones were out of whack. I found this particularly interesting, since I am also struggling with a "hormonal injury" - only my injury was from a toxic exposure, not from overtraining (darn). Brazier was able to correct for this by incorporating even more minerals into his diet (he used maca root in particular).

By backing off on the intensity of his training for a couple of weeks (to reduce the stress on the body) and making a few dietary adjustments to increase minerals (to counter the stress on the body), his adrenals returned to normal, his performance returned to peak shape, the quality of his sleep improved (so he needed less sleep), his cravings for sweet and starchy foods late in the day stopped, and the weight gain stopped. He continued to get lab work for a while, until it became unnecessary as his hormones had stabilized at healthy levels (I too, have seen several of my lab markers improve and stabilize when eating mostly raw, mostly vegan). Also encouraging to note; Brazier uses no drugs or supplements, only whole, nutrient-dense foods to maintain optimum levels of nutrition and performance.

It was a fantastic talk, followed by Q&A. I was really glad I was able to attend. If you would like to read more about Brendan Brazier, you can visit his website, or check out one of his books.

This one outlines the philosophy of efficiency and performance, and includes recipes he created and uses himself:

This one is focused on physical performance: training and workouts:

This is his newest book, which includes over 200 recipes collected from some of his favorite vegan chefs and restaurants:

Brazier is on a book tour to support the new book, so check his website and see if he might be coming to a location near you. It's well worth seeing. Also- at this event, they provided samples of all of the Vega products after the talk, but I didn't stay for that part.

No comments:

Post a Comment