Two-time Canadian 50 km Ultra Marathon champion and former professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier has spent the past 20 years developing a high-performance vegan diet, which he shares in his best-selling books and with his line of plant-based supplements, Vega
Brendan Brazier never set out to be a best-selling author, sought after speaker, supplement formulator, or environmental advocate. He was just a 15-year-old kid with a dream of being a professional Ironman triathlete.
But what set him apart from others in the sport, and across any sport for that matter, was the fact that he was determined to succeed and excel on a 100-percent plant-based diet. Through years of trial and error, Brazier blazed a trail in developing a system that not only allowed him to achieve peak performance, but gave him an edge over his competitors.
The vast amount of knowledge he acquired while developing his unique approach spawned a series of books and a line of whole food nutritional supplements called Vega, and with that came speaking engagements across North America.
By voicing what he’d learned about the impact of food production on the environment, he found himself a budding environmentalist, and even joined David Suzuki on the Students for Sustainability cross-Canada speaking tour.
He now spends more than 200 days a year travelling across the continent with speaking engagements promoting plant-based nutrition for performance, health and the environment.
Brazier’s favourite vegan recipes
With his new book, Whole Foods to Thrive, coming out this month, he continues to be a strong voice and leading authority on how our food choices not only affect our physical health but the health of the planet.
The book offers 200 vegan recipes from Brazier’s favourite chefs and restaurants, including New York’s Candle 79, Los Angeles’ Cru, Toronto’s Live Organic Food Bar, and Vancouver’s Gorilla Food, and illustrates the resources conserved by choosing plant-based foods over animal-based foods.
Reduce nutritional stress by consuming high net gain foods
Over the course of his professional athletic career, Brazier discovered that one major benefit of consuming a nutrient-rich, plant-based diet was stress reduction.
Exactly how does diet affect stress? Consuming over-processed foods devoid of nutrients and containing pesticides, unnatural chemicals or hormones is very taxing on the body as it must expend energy to process and eliminate what’s been ingested while gaining very little to no benefit.
This damaging cycle of eating empty calories, expending energy to process them, and still not feeling satiated is what Brazier dubs “nutritional stress."
However, by consuming the proper fuel, what he calls “high net gain” foods – dense in nutrients but easy to digest and assimilate – the body is better able to handle the stressors of everyday life while maintaining a high level of energy and vitality.
Diet accounts for over 40 percent of the average North American’s overall stress
Stress, says Brazier, can be broken down into three categories: uncomplementary stress, complementary stress, and production stress.
Production stress is created in the process of achievement, such as following an intense workout regime prior to a race or pulling an all-nighter to finish an important paper. Complementary stress, like moderate physical activity, is stress that provides mental and/or physical benefits. Uncomplementary stress is unfavourable stress, such as poor nutrition, anxiety or environmental toxins.
In his first book, Thrive: A Guide to Optimal Health and Performance Through Plant-based Whole Foods, Brazier attributes 10 percent of the average North American’s stress to complementary stress, 30 percent to production stress, and 60 percent to uncomplementary stress – and nutritional stress accounts for an estimated 70 percent of that uncomplementary stress.
That means diet accounts for over 40 percent of the average North American’s overall stress.
A shake a day keeps stress at bay
(Image: Flickr / Matthias Rhomberg)
Knowing that a plant-based diet can play such a large role in reducing stress, not to mention the environmental impact of livestock production, you’d think that someone like Brazier might try to scare his audience into adopting a vegan lifestyle, bullying them with troubling details and frightening statistics.
But he does nothing of the sort.
In fact, he warmly enoucourages small changes, stating that, “When implemented properly, I believe a vegan diet is an optimal one for performance. However, if a strict animal-free diet is not for you, principles from it can complement an omnivorous eating plan with impressive results."
Even though the health benefits of plant-based eating and the environmental impact of raising meat are widely known, veganism can seem a little overwhelming to the average person. When asked what he believes to be the most impactful principle to adopt, Brazier’s answer is simple: "start with a daily plant-based, nutrient-rich smoothie.”
The birth of Vega
Brazier began experimenting with his diet as he embarked on a professional athletic career, carefully whittling away the contents of his nutritional regime until he was left with what he found were the most nutrient-dense, high-return foods.
Unable to find a ready-made, plant-based protein shake (most on the market were 100 percent animal-protein-based), Brazier concocted his own blender drink that contained an ideal blend of raw plant protein, simple carbohydrates and essential fatty acids, as well as probiotics, enzymes, antioxidants, chlorophyll-rich chlorella (containing Vitamin B12), and maca, a Peruvian root vegetable that supports the adrenal glands (which secrete the stress hormone cortisol).
It became bothersome to carry around all of the ingredients for this smoothie recipe with his hectic training and travelling schedule so Brazier approached a manufacturer, Sequel Naturals, to see if they were interested in helping him formulate a ready-to-go version of his plant-based, nutrient-rich smoothie.
Impressed by his nutritional success, knowledge and passion, Sequel allowed Brazier the freedom to formulate what would become a whole line of plant-based whole-food products called Vega.
Blazing a nutritious, environmental trail
The boy who set out to break records in solitary, endurance sports has now retired from his professional athletic career to pursue the advocacy work his experience has led him to. Tirelessly travelling the continent over half the year, Brazier is determined to spread the word on the array of benefits gained by consuming a plant-based diet, from peak performance to stress reduction to alleviating environmental strain.
On Whole Foods to Thrive, Brazier says, "I thought it was fascinating; researching it was great, and I totally enjoyed writing it, it was so much fun. The things I learned were very eye opening. I think it will really resonate with people, there’s a huge void in the connection [between what we eat and its environmental impact] and articulating it clearly and simply. This is a solutions-based book.”
“I saw an interview a while ago with Malcolm Gladwell and the interviewer asked him what makes a good writer, and he said ‘to make the complicated simple and the boring interesting,’ so I’ve hopefully done that in [Whole Foods to Thrive].”