When looking for vegan athletes on the interwebs it doesn’t take long before one stumbles onto the name of Brendan Brazier. A former professional ironman triathlete from Canada, Brazier has two first places at the Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon attached to his name. He is also a bestselling author, speaks at Cornell University and has his own line of sports nutrition. Enough reasons for me to want to know more about the guy. And since I needed to engage in some long-neglected reading activity I downloaded his book “Thrive: the vegan nutrition guide to optimal performance in sports and life” onto my Kindle.
The book contains the accumulated nutritional knowledge of Brazier, gathered on his quest to formulate a diet that would speed recovery and keep him at peak athletic performance. It is henceforth known as the Thrive Diet. The goal, in short, is to eliminate stress and its deteriorating effects. According to Brazier about 70% of the average North American’s stress level stem from suboptimal food consumption. That’s where the Thrive Diet comes in.
Vegan food for athletes – The Thrive diet
As the subtitle suggests, the book is all about nutrition. With Brazier being a former pro-athlete one might expect that he would devote a considerable part on training and exercise. However, that is only a minor topic. There are some general guidelines and practical tips (keep a journal for workouts and nutrition) as well as some lifestyle advice (rest and relax, hydrate). People looking for triathlon-specific training advice have to look elsewhere. Thrive is about what to eat and when.
On the topic of what to eat, the Thrive Diet is built on a few tenets:
- High net-gain nutrition – Whole foods that gives the body more energy than it needs to digest and assimilate
- Raw and low-temperature cooked foods – For high enzyme content to enhance digestibility and bioavailability (rate at which food is absorbed by and has an effect on the body)
- “One-step nutrition” – This is Brazier’s name for nutrients that don’t have to be broken down again (amino acids, fatty acids, simple carbs)
- Alkalizing food – To balance the body’s pH
- Avoiding common food allergens
The goal is to wean yourself off overstimulation from nutrition (such as refined carbohydrate and caffeine) and to re-establish a healthy baseline for optimal performance. The book calls this recalibration.
Concerning the when to eat, almost a whole chapter is spent on the importance of timed nutrition to enhance physical performance. You learn about which macronutrients are important to consume at different times (before, during and after exercise) and at different levels of intensity. That part also comes with descriptions how to make sports drinks, gels and even puddings yourself. Foodnerds of the world rejoice. And it doesn’t end there.
To ease the transition into the Thrive Diet, about half the book is made up of a 12-week meal plan, a corresponding grocery list and recipes. Even though eating raw foods is an important component, if you see yourself crunching away on baby carrots and celery sticks, think again. It’s all there: smoothies, pizza, burgers, salads and dressings, pancakes, crackers, dips and sauces, drinks and dessert. I personally had no idea you could make a pizza crust from beans or crackers from green tea but sign me up!
Thrive – The conclusion
As you can already guess, I liked Thrive. It’s an interesting book and well-packed with information. The only thing I didn’t like too much is that it is a text-only experience. The absence of pictures makes it somewhat boring to look at. However, Brendan Brazier obviously knows what he is talking about and gets it across in an uncomplicated and understandable way. The chapter on stress and cortisol was especially worth reading to me, since I tend to be a bit on the side of overtraining.
Learning how to make food easier on the organism was also very eye-opening. I already incorporated several points from the book into my nutritional regimen and quickly noticed positive changes. Plus, the recipe section is great. Brazier’s zucchini chips (on the pic to the left) have already found their way into my permanent snack program. Not only is the book a great resource for athletes looking for nutritional advice but also serves as a good cookbook for raw foodists or people who like to experiment.