Brendan Brazier, who was named one of the 25 Most Fascinating Vegetarians by VegNews magazine, is a professional Ironman triathlete, author, speaker, entrepreneur, and health and wellness advocate.
First and foremost Brendan is a passionate athlete with a desire to excel. Through his extensive research and personal experience, he has narrowed down one of the key elements to becoming a high performance athlete. That key element is diet, and not just any diet, but a plant-based whole food diet. He knows what he speaks of, he lives it, and is one of a hand full of professional athletes whose diet is 100 percent plant-based, 80-85% of his diet consists of raw vegan foods.
Brendan’s dietary acumen spans beyond the athletic arena. He shares his knowledge as a sought-after speaker and presenter, and has addressed US Congress on Capitol Hill on the topic of improving personal health through better diet.
In this interview, Brendan shares with us his projects and upcoming events, gives advice to aspiring athletes and those of us who simply work out to keep fit, tells us about his most memorable competition, and more.
Enjoy the Interview…
Ingrid Weithers-Barati: Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you to become a professional Ironman triathlete?
Brendan Brazier: I first got into the sport of triathlon when I was 15. At the time, I started running to be a better hockey player. My skating wasn’t very good. So I thought if I could be fitter, I could be a better hockey player. I found that I really enjoyed running and started taking running really seriously. I did too much too fast and got injured so I started riding a bike to allow my running injury to heal and discovered I really liked cycling. Then I thought if I could learn how to swim I could do a triathlon. I fell in love with triathlon and the lifestyle. If I could make a career out of this and turn professional that would be ideal. I started training really hard and realized I would need every advantage I could get to reach an elite level. So I got a hold of the top athletes training programs and compared them to the average athlete and what really surprised me was that they were basically the same. So there was another factor that made some athletes great and others average. My goal became to find out what that was, which was recovery or the rate at which your body can repair itself. I found that 80% of recovery could be attributed to nutrition. I knew I could train more and improve faster if I recovered quicker. And I could recover quicker if I ate high quality food.
IWB: Which part of the competition do you enjoy the best - swimming, cycling, or running?
BB: Running. It has always fit into my lifestyle best. I can train wherever I am; whether on the road or at home.
IWB: What do you enjoy most and least about being a triathlete?
BB: Most: the training. Every day, I get to do what I love. Least: the time it takes. Triathlon training doesn’t leave much time for anything other than training making it difficult to fit in other projects.
IWB: Do you experience nervous jitters before a competition?
BB: No, I believe that if you run through all the steps of the race and training in your head, there’s no room for jitters. If you feel well-prepared, you can be confident you’re going to have a good race. I make sure I’ve taken all the steps I can to prepare and even have a backup plan like a spare tire for my bike or extra food and water just in case. Plus, if you enjoy what you’re doing the whole experience doesn’t seem as daunting and you’re less likely to have nerves.
IWB: Which is your most memorable competition, and why?
BB: My most memorable race was Ironman Canada in Penticton in 2001. It was the most “mental” race I’ve ever done. About 100km into the bike, I was in 6th place and started having back spasms. They continued throughout the remainder of the ride and into the run. This race was a real test of mental focus. I had to summon all my strengths to get past the pain and focus on the race. I ended up finishing a respectable 11th overall but really took away the biggest lesson from the power of mind over matter.
IWB: What one word would you use to describe yourself?
IWB: Aside from being a professional triathlete, what are some things that bring you the biggest joy?
BB: I get to do what I love every day. I get to travel around the country and share information about plant-based nutrition and sustainability. I meet amazing people and open many eyes to the benefits of eating this way.
IWB: If you could be or do anything else what would you be or do?
BB: I’m doing what I love.
IWB: Tell us why you chose being vegan over being vegetarian, and when and why you decided to transition to a raw vegan diet?
BB: I initially set out to discover the best diet to improve my performance as an athlete. As I looked at the training plans of pro athletes, I discovered that the actual training didn’t vary that much from person to person so next I looked at their diets. It seemed that nutrition had a significant impact on recovery time – then I began to research foods that would improve recovery. My research directed me to a nutrient-dense vegan diet. Once I switched to a plant-based whole food diet it hasn’t changed a lot. I’ve included more raw than I started off doing initially. I’d say I eat 80 or 85 percent raw now. When I’m on the road, I don’t have the time or facility to prepare the food that’s in the meal plan, so I graze even more. I’m fortunate that I’m at a lot of health food stores a lot of the time so I can get good food.
IWB: Are there any particular plant-based foods that help you to prepare and/or acclimate yourself to different weather conditions [warm, cold] before a competition?
BB: When I first started eating largely raw I found it a bit hard in the winter—in Vancouver, it was raining for months on end. But after going through a couple more springs and summers of eating raw, when winter came I developed the desire to eat less cooked foods. I wasn’t forcing myself to eat raw, I just ate whatever I felt like if it was whole, plant-based foods.
IWB: Do you enjoy preparing raw recipes? If so, what do you enjoy making?
BB: Since I’m on the road a lot, I don’t have as much time as I would like to prepare to prepare raw recipes. But when I am home, I like to make some of the raw energy bar recipes in The Thrive Diet.
IWB: Some athletics venture into the culinary world by becoming restauranteurs. Would you considering opening a restaurant?
BB: No, while I think it would be great to have a place where people could get healthy, convenient food while on the go, I think my energies are better focused on creating new Vega products and letting others share their expertise in the restaurant business.
IWB: What was your most memorable raw food meal?
BB: The white nectarine I just ate was pretty good! I like such a variety of food, I really can’t choose just one.
IWB: Besides eating a plant-based diet and as much of it locally grown as possible, what others things do you do to help sustain the health of our environment?
BB: While on tour and through my books, I’m able to spread the word about plant-based nutrition and the impact that this choice can have on the environment. Sharing this information is one of the biggest way I can do my part to help sustain the health of our environment.
IWB: Do you have a hobby? If so, tell us about it.
BB: Honestly, napping! I don’t have a lot of time for hobbies but when I do get a little down time – a nap always sounds good!
IWB: What is the one thing about you few people know?
BB: I think I’m a “what you see is what you get” kind of person.
IWB: Tell us about your products line Vega?
BB: I had been making a blender drink since I was 15. I found plant-based sources for complete protein, B12, iron, calcium and omega-3 fatty acids, blended them into a drink that I had after workouts and it made me feel exceptionally well. As a result, I was able to start my pro career earlier then the other athletes I was training with – even though we were doing the same exact things. I teamed up with Sequel Naturals, makers of ChlorEssence and MacaSure plant supplements, to produce a convenient version of this blender drink that was the first product in the Vega line. Vega now has a line of plant-based, nutrient-dense whole food products including drink formulas, snack bars and oil blends that are all-natural, gluten, wheat, soy and allergen-free products.
IWB: If there is one important tip or piece of advice you could offer an aspiring athlete or the everyday person who works to keep fit, what would it be?
BB: Find what you love to do and make the most of it. If you find a form of fitness that you love, you are more likely to stick to it and won’t need to force yourself to get out for your workout.
IWB: Are there any projects and/or events that you are involved in that are coming down the pipeline?
BB: My speaking tour starts up again this month. First, off to Philadelphia, then up to New York and Boston and later this year, on to California and Florida. Dates are available at vega community. My follow up book, Thrive Fitness is due to release in the US in January 2010. I recently released a free online program called Thrive in 30, which shares videos and emails about optimal health through plant-based nutrition. I wanted to make the information provided in my book accessible by all; I realized that the people who need this information most are the least likely to buy the book so by posting online anyone can learn about plant-based nutrition. We’ve also created an online community Vega Community, which provides a supportive online community for anyone on or interested in learning more about plant-based nutrition.
IWB: Is there anything that you’d like to add, any closing thoughts?
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