Brendan Brazier knows a thing or two about eating for performance. The lean, 27-year-old from North Vancouver is a professional Ironman triathlete and champion of the Canadian 50-kilometre Ultra Marathon in 2003 and 2006.
The vegan (no meat, fish or animal products including dairy and eggs) says his success has everything to do with plant-based foods that are, in his words, "high-quality, nutrient-dense, alkaline-forming and easily digestible, in proper proportions."
After 17 years of experimenting, Brazier has come up with what he calls the Thrive Diet. The basic premise is that our body's inability to cope with stress -- caused not only by rigorous physical training but also by the pressures of modern life -- is the root of many ailments.
When we're under stress, our adrenal glands secrete the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream. Continual stress leads to elevated cortisol levels and adrenal burnout, which in turn lead to exhaustion, hormone imbalance, a weakened immune system, weight gain and a host of other problems.
"What I realized was that when I was eating refined pastas and breads and peanut butter and lots of things that are really processed and hard to digest, that that was creating a stress response within the body which raised cortisol levels and stress hormones and that made recovery [after training] a lot slower," he says.
Brendan believes we can combat that harmful stress with the foods of his diet, which include an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables -- mostly raw -- legumes, seeds (pumpkin, sesame and sunflower), and "pseudograins" such as amaranth, buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice (these are higher in protein, fibre and trace minerals than conventional grains).
His diet also includes healthy fats, with hemp oil topping the list because of its ideal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids and protein containing all 10 essential amino acids.
Pumpkin, flaxseed, extra-virgin olive and coconut oils are also good, coconut oil being the only fat Brendan uses for frying because it can be heated to a high temperature without converting to a trans fat.
Contrary to what you might think, Brendan says, coconut oil is good for us, rich in medium-chain triglycerides, a healthy form of saturated fat.
He's also turned his diet into a book, The Thrive Diet (Penguin Canada), complete with recipes and a 12-week meal plan.
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Brazier's all-natural energy bar should be eaten before a run. Use the protein-and-mineral rich Blueberry Rooibos Antioxidant Smoothie to reward yourself an hour or so after crossing the finish line. Ingredients for these recipes are available at natural food stores.
- Blueberry Rooibos Antioxidant Smoothie
500 mL cold water or 375 mL water plus 250 mL ice
125 mL blueberries
15 mL ground flaxseed
15 mL hemp protein
15 mL agave nectar
15 mL hemp oil
10 mL ground rooibos tea leaves
Mix all ingredients together in a blender. Smoothie is best fresh, but can be kept refrigerated for up to 3 days. Makes about 875 mL or 2 large servings.
- Apple Cinnamon Energy Bars
1 small apple, cored
250 mL fresh or soaked dried dates
125 mL soaked or cooked quinoa
50 mL almonds
50 mL ground flaxseed
50 mL hemp flour
10 mL cinnamon
2 mL nutmeg
Sea salt to taste
Grind almonds in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until desired texture is reached. If you prefer a uniformly smooth bar, process longer. For more crunch and texture, blend for less time. Remove mixture from processor on to a clean surface.
Roll the mixture into balls or shape it into bars. To shape into balls, use a tablespoon (15 mL) or your hands to scoop the mixture and roll between the palms of your hands. To shape as bars, flatten the mixture on the clean surface with your hands. Place plastic wrap over top; with a rolling pin, roll mixture to desired bar thickness. Cut into bars. Alternatively, form the mixture into a brick; cut as though slicing bread. As the bars dry, they become easier to handle.