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Interview + Giveaway with Brendan Brazier, author of THRIVE

Posted Feb 14 2010 8:43pm


Happy Valentine’s Day!

In case my posting tonight didn’t tip you offI’m having a mellow evening at home. And that suits me just fine–the last three weeks have been so nutso that any chance to veg out is welcome. TonightI’ve got a hot date with my computer and my current guilty pleasure of choice—True BloodSeason One—along with a special raw dinner you guys’ll be hearing about later this week.

So I think it’s pretty clear by now that the majority of Choosing Raw readers are ladies. This is no surprisegiven the food blog world demographics. And it’s nice for mebecause I can often address some of the women’s issues—birth controlfor instance—that are near and dear to my heartalong with others—such as eating disordersbody imageand peer pressure—that impact both gendersbut affect women more prevalently.

That saidI have a solid and awesome male readership (wassupIan!) and I love to open up the conversations on the blog so that they’re of interest to men and women alike. In additionI have a bunch of wonderful male clientsand I like to keep them readingtoo!

I notice one big difference between my male and female clients. Women are mostly concerned with how proper nutrition will make them feel: how will their digestion improve? How will their energy levels increase? How will their relationship with eating and body image shift? How can they foster feelings of pride and enthusiasm for the foods they eat? My male clientson the other handare interested in what proper nutrition will enable them to do. How will it boost their athletic performance? How will it help to transform their bodies? Will increased energy help them to function better at workand accomplish more? Can it get them dates?

The answer isof coursethat proper nutrition can and will do all of these things. It’s not unusual for my male clients to ask me for evidence of that promise over the course of our first few sessions. They want guarantees thatif they’re willing to clean up some of their nasty little habits (fast fooddrinking too muchtoo much red meator—for the gym rats—junky soy protein powders and brick-like meal replacement bars)they’ll see results. So what guarantee can I give them?


I give them Brendan Brazier. Which is to say that I nearly always give my male clients—especially the very athletic male clients—Xeroxes from Brendan’s first bookThe Thrive Diet. I consider it one of the definitive books on vegan athletic performanceand it answers (better than I can or do!) some of my clients’ most burning questions about the vegan diet for athletes. Calciumproteinironstressrecovery? The answers are all in therein simplewell researchedand authoritative language. Brendan has a knack for making such complex concepts as acidity/alkalinityathletic recoveryand adrenal fatigue feel comprehensible and clear. Best of allhe speaks from experiencefrom the vantage point of a professional ironman triathlete who has been fueling with a 100% plant based diet for over a decade now. Just as my own experience with raw and vegan foods can often help to inspire my female clients directlyBrendan’s lifestyle and achievement is an inspiration to my male clients. And he isof coursean inspiration to athletes everywhere—malefemaleveganor omni.

The cornerstone of Brendan’s advice is this: reduce bodily stress by optimizing diet. Reducing stress willin turnshorten and maximize recovery time. Brendan noted early in his career that recovery was an oft-ignoredbut significant component of athletic performance–moreeventhan the training process. Shorter recovery times mean more prolific and higher quality athletic output. Brendan began research the benefits of a plant based diet in depthand what he found was that eating a diet that maximized alkalinity and minimized stress (stress to the adrenal systemthe liverand the kidneys) was likely to minimize recovery time. This diethe concludedwas 100% plant basedwith a focus on raw foodsalong with ancient grains and legumes.

Sound familiar? :-)

Adopting this diet has allowed Brendan to maximize his own athletic performanceand it has inspired him to help others. Since The Thrive Diet was publishedBrendan launched his now famous Vega brand: drink infusions and bars that are 100% whole foods and plant based. Many bloggers have blogged about them already. I had my first introduction to them this monthwhen I was offered the chance to sample some of Brendan’s new Vega whole foods Vibrancy Bars. These—to quote from the Vega site–are:

“…a unique and utterly delicious blend of all-naturalraworganicand enzymatically-active plant-based superfoods including sprouted buckwheatsprouted almondsacaiSalba and hemp seeds.

Unlike any other bar on the marketVibrance bars maintain a taste of guilty pleasure while also being vegangluten-freesproutedalkaline-formingand rich in Omega 3antioxidants and phytonutrients…Clean and greenVibrancy bars contain no refined sugarsoilsgluten or soy and are GMO and pesticide-free. Decadent and deliciousVibrance bars are available in Chocolate DecadenceGreen Synergyand Wholesome Original!”

More on these below!

Since Brendan has been such a personal inspiration to meI asked whether or not he might be willing to answer a few questions about his experience and his nutritional philosophy with my readers. Andmuch to my delighthe graciously said yes! So it’s with great excitement that I present a short Q & A with bestselling authorironman triathleteand environmentalist Brendan Brazier.

1) WelcomeBrendan! Let’s start at the beginning. How did your fascination with vegan and raw nutrition begin?

WellI guess it began in 1990when I was in 10th grade. I liked running and swimming and biking and wanted to do it as a career. I was constantly looking for ways to improve. What I noticed was that the top training programs didn’t differ much from most regular programs. And those programs didn’t really differ much from one to the next. This led me to suspect—though it would become clearer later on—that recovery was more decisive than training in boosting athletic performance. And I quickly realized that recovery was all about nutrition. So I understood the value of recovery at the beginning of my careerand that has made a huge difference for me.

Of coursethis didn’t all come together for me right away. Like most athletesI tried a bunch of popular regimes at the beginning: high carblow carbhigh protein. I even tried a plant based approachbut it didn’t work at first. I was always tired. My coach (this was in 1990) was a great coachbut he didn’t understand the connection between nutrition and performanceand he was dubious about vegetarianism. So I became proactiveand I took a good look at my dietdetermined to clean it up and also see what I was lacking.

Wellit turned out I was lacking a lot of basic things: proteinB-12calciumand iron. I decided to put them in a blended drink after my workouts; it seemed like an easy and efficient way to do it. I added pumpkin seedsfor exampleand my iron levels immediately shot up. The whole experience—adding whole foods to a blended drink—planted the seed and the habit that later that became Vega.

2) It’s definitely not an unusual experience for a new vegan to find that he or she hasn’t quite mastered the art of getting enough dietary varietybalanceand nourishment. Tell us more about what you were low onand how you remedied it.

Welliron was the main thing. But againwhen I started adding ¼ cup soaked pumpkin seeds to my smoothiesmy iron issues disappeared. TodayI’m also sure to frequently eat greens with citrusbecause Vitamin C helps with the absorption of iron. This means big salads with citrus dressing!

3) Talk to me about calcium.

Well as you knowthe problem is that we’re losing calciumnot that we need to ingest more and more of it. High acid foods force our bodies to leach calcium from our bones. So what we really need to do is increase our alkalinity. But what I did to boost calcium through food was to add unhulled sesame seeds to my blended drinksand it worked really well.

4)   I find it interesting that all our national conversation about athletics is all about training or performance—with almost no attention paid to recovery. Can you talk about how you discovered the importance of recovery?

Wellas I saidnoting the similarity of various training programs and had a lot to do with the “aha” moment. It must have been recoveryrather than trainingthat helped to distinguish who excelled.

Reallyexercise is nothing more than muscle tissues and cells being broken down. And when you restthe body grows back stronger — it overcompensates. Good food provides the building blocks for this process. The body pools the resources you take in through food and helps you to grow muscle back. If you eat poor nutritioncells don’t grow back after athletic strain—they don’t have the resources—or they grow back abnormally (which can proceed to cancer). So although lots of athletes load up on junk food after grueling performance—they figure they can afford toor that they’ve earned itnow that a competition is over—it’s actually the worst time to eat junk foodbecause that’s when the body will assimilate most quickly and seriously. If you want to eat junkfinebut eat it later—not right after a workoutwhen the body will assimilate it directlyand be less likely to filter it out.


5)   How has your athletic performance changed since you went vegan?

Once it started workingI was able to train significantly fasterwhich meant that I could become professional more quickly. I think my having been able to go professional so fast was a testament to my attention to detail and to good nutrition. I feel like a lot of athletes are overfed and undernourished. They’re getting the total calories they needbut not the enzymes and vitamins and nutrients. They suffer overconsumption and weight gain later on—and all the problems that accompany them.

6) Amazing pointand part of the reason I think calorie counting is such a flawed practice. Many of my athletic clients dothoughget very hyper-concerned about caloric intake. How many calories do athletes really need?

People put so much faith in calories outcalories in. I was doing that for a long timeeating a ton of peanut butter and breadbut they were the highly processed varietywhich means that that I was expending so much energy trying to digest them [of coursemy readers know that hard-to-digest foods sap us of energy and make us exhausted!]. The net-gainin other wordswas low.

That’s what I wrote about in Thrive—high net gain foods—foods that allow you to expend very little and gain a lot of energy.

After I changed my dietI was getting far fewer calories than I had before—at least 20-30% less. And I was performing so much better. You would think that more calories would mean more energybut if that were the casepeople eating a ton of McDonalds would have a ton of energy! TodayI eat far fewer calories than the conventional athletic book would dictate. People would never see my age and calorie intake and believe that I maintain the kind of training and athletic regime I dobut againit’s about net gainnot a calorie incalorie out abstraction.

vega7) So this clearly factors into the idea of smoothies and recovery shakes. They’re a ton of nutritional gain with very little expendituresince they’re all whole foods and they’re blendedto ease digestion…

Right. Here’s what the drinks have going for them:

1) Convenience—they’re quick to make
2) Digestive ease
3) After a workoutblood needs to be in extremitiesdelivering oxygen and cleaning up lactic acidso you can’t have it rushing all to your digestive tract to digest heavy food
4) They can add a lot of high qualityplant based protein really easilyas well as variety of foods in one single source
5) You don’t crave things as muchbecause you’ve gotten all the nourishment you need
7) They provide energy through nourishmentas opposed to stimulation in the form of short term chemicals

8  )   Let’s move on to your incredible understanding of high-rawvegan foods. You offerI thinkthe bestmost condensed account of the acid/alkaline balance of any author I’ve read. In factI Xerox your chapter on it for new clients! Say a few words about acidity and alkalinityand how/why they matter.

Wellit sounds complexbut when people hear itit makes such sense. If your body is acidic from too much caffeineprocessed foodtoxinsand tough to digest animal proteinseverything suffersand your bodyagainhas to leach minerals from your blood to neutralize the acidity. The more alkaline you becomethe better. It’s that simple!

9)   So here’s a confession: compared to most people in the raw communityI have a fairly skeptical attitude towards “superfoods.” I know that you’re a fan of some of thesebut not to the kind of fanatical degree I’ve seen elsewhere. Could you share a bit more about your feelings on superfoods? Which ones do you really supportand why?

Thrive Diet mentions a few of these. Macachlorellaspirulinaand rooibos tea—these are the kinds of foods that can really give you a boost. But without the basics—proper diet and lots of greensetc.—they’re not going to guarantee health.

10) I usually tell my clients and readers thatif you’re eating welldietary supplements aren’t necessary—with the qualification that many vegans do need B-12 or D3. I know you’ve mentioned before that multivitamins shouldn’t be necessary if you’re eating a varied and plant based diet. But of coursethe Vega infusions are supplements of a sort. Can you tell me more about them? What purpose do they serveand how did you formulate them?

Vega is a fairly faithful replica of what I was making myself when I was fifteen. The vibrancy and energy bars are the same as what I used to prepare at home. I really liked them and they worked for me. The bar recipes are in the bookso people can make them themselveswithout too much cost. None of the Vega products are proprietaryand there are no special secrets. My recipes aren’t hard to make. It’s all just food. The same idea goes for the Vega lineand it’s important for people to get that.

The Vega smoothie infusion is really popular. A lot of parents like giving it to their kids because it tastes so goodand it has fiberso it won’t create a sugar spike. Stablenice. Several parents have actually said that they thought their kids had behavioral problemsand in fact it was just dietary—usually too much sugar.

The Vega smoothie infusions and whole foods optimizers also have EFA oils. As athletesyou breath more and oxidize quicklyso you need more antioxidants.

Vega sport is a pre-workout drink. It has brown rice proteinherba mategreen teatrace mineralsnaturally occurring caffeinewhich preserves muscle glycogenkombuchaand coconut oil.

As for vitaminswellI thought I needed thembut I got over that when I stopped taking themand nothing bad happened. My bloodwork stayed the sameand my health stayed the same. If people want to take supplementsfinebut for people who are looking for alternativesthey can get everything they need through goodconscious food choices.

11) A lot of my male clients who are vegans or vegetarians get skepticismeven teasingfrom other men about their diets. Of coursethey look and perform better than their doubting friends! Is it hard to be a male vegan athletesocially? Is it hard within the industry?

I used to get teasedbut I don’t anymore. People just see the results. They see the steady improvementand the ability to train harder. There are a lot of athletes I know who aren’t vegan yetbut they’re close. The culture is really changing. Many used to think they needed to go plant based to performbut now they also like the taste and the lifestylewhich is an important distinction. They eat the food cause they like it. Every athlete I know now eats no meatand no dairy.

And by the wayI think really people are really catching on about dairy [I hope so!!]. Frequently when they become vegetariandairy consumption goes upand people immediately don’t feel well.

12)  So you think that professional athletic culture is shifting with regards to foodand how people think about food? That makes me really happy to hear! Is this lifestyle gaining traction?

I’m sure I’m a bit skewedbut from what I seethere has been a lot of progress in the last few years. People are open minded and willing to try. And when things workpeople stick to it.

And you don’t have to make it complicated! I don’t spend a lot of time preparing food. I think people get the impression that I spend more time doing recipes than I do. When I’m on the roadI spend most of my time eating from the salad bar at Whole Foodsand I make a lot of big salads at home. Not complicated.

13) Final question: what’s the future of VegaBredan? Tell us how you plan to see it grow and expand!

More of the samebut keep expanding. Get more good products and messages out there that are going to help people make good choices. I’d like to do a whole sports line: recovery drinkelectrolyte drinkgels. I also just started another bookone that will go beyond sports or diet. It’s going to be a food issues book—so it’ll have a lot to say about nutritionbut also the environmenthealth careanimal rightsand more.

Wow! I can’t wait to read that book. I have to say that what distinguishes Brendan in my mind from other athletes or fitness/lifestyle writers is this: he’s tremendously thoughtful in ways that extend far beyond food and fitness. Brendan isn’t just interested in recipes or meal plans—though he offers readers both—or in workout tips. He envisions being active and eating well as only two parts of a much bigger vision of how we ought to nourish ourselves in this world: consciouslywith thought given to the environment and to each other.

I know thisbecause I had the tremendous pleasure of sitting down with Brendan to lunch two days ago! A phone interview simply didn’t give me enough of a chance to hear about his visionand luckily for meBrendan came into NYC for a few days to promote Vega at GNC (umveganwhole foods supplements competing with the usual sea of soywheyand processed junk? Yes please!!!).

Upon realizing that we are both devotees of Bonobos coconut soupBrendan and I decided to grab lunch therewhere we proceeded to enjoy the soup and giant salads (OKhis salad was slightly more giant than mine).


We chatted about healthcarethe planetschool lunchesthe raw communityand the writing/editing life. And what became increasingly clear to me was that Brendan is as much an advocate as he is an athlete. He has a positive vision for changing the planet and the national dialogue about wellnessand he’ll continue to explore and expand this vision in his work. I expect that Brendan’s writing career will—to make a terrible pun—thrive for a long time to comemoving into topics that go far beyond nutrition.


But while we’re thinking about nutritionlet me mention that the Vega bars are really good. Here’s the chocolate and the green vibrancyboth of which I’ve tried:



I love that these are sweet but not too sweet. And I can taste the greenwhich may be a turnoff to somebut guess what? I’m all over it!! Hardly a surprise. My only issue is that the bars are a little miscombined (buckwheat + nuts/dried fruit)but the amount of buckwheat is minimal enough to be too problematic. I’ve also tried the Vega smoothie infusionswhich are delicious! I like them with just a big of almond milk or hemp milk and ice.

OK. I hope you’ve made it this far in a very looooooong postbecause a) Brendan is awesome and b) I’m giving away a copy of his new bookThrive Fitness: The Vegan-Based Training Program for Maximum StrengthHealthand Fitnessalong with samples of the new Vega Vibrancy Bars. In order to winsimply comment on this post. Period. And tweet it for a second entry. Winner will be announced next SundayFeb. 21st.

And naturallyif you haven’t yet entered to win a Tribest Blenderyou really should.

Thanks againBrendanfor your throughtful interview. You are an inspiration to all of us!!!


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