Brendan Brazier is one of only a few professional athletes in the world whose diet is 100% plant-based. You may recognize Brendan as he's featured in Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet. He's a professional Ironman triathlete, best-selling author on performance nutrition, and the creator of an award-winning line of whole-food nutritional products called Vega. He is also a two-time Canadian 50K ultra-marathon champion.
Brazier was named one of the most 25 fascinating vegetarians by VegNews magazine and has become a renowned speaker and sought-after presenter throughout North America, helping individuals and businesses thrive by sharing his dietary stress-busting program, the Thrive Diet.
MindBodyGreen: You became a vegan at age 15. How did that happen?
Brendan Brazier: It happened because I was an athlete looking for a good performance-based diet, with an emphasis on speeding up my recovery between workouts. When I first started, I dove in headfirst to a 100% plant-based diet, and that definitely wasn't the way to go, as I was always hungry and tired, and I lacked sources of protein and omega-3s. Ultimately, that led to the launch of Vega.
MBG: What do you say to fellow athletes who are interested in a plant-based diet?
BB: That they shouldn't think that a plant-based diet can make them a better athlete—but it can speed up your recovery. I've now seen a lot of athletes who are focused on "strength," like football players and body builders, becoming aware of plant-based diets. They're not necessarily becoming vegan, but they are acknowledging that a plant-based diet can speed up recovery—inflammation goes down, functionality goes up. They are also acknowledging that they eat meat and protein because they enjoy it—not because they feel their body needs all that extra protein.
MBG: What's your typical breakfast?
MBG: It seems like plant-based diets and veganism have become increasingly popular because of books like Skinny Bitch and subsequent media coverage. Is this a good thing?
BB: Yes, all in all, it is a very good thing. Skinny Bitch has drawn a lot of people into this way of eating who probably wouldn't have been attracted to it previously. I know Rory (Freedman, the author of Skinny Bitch), and she did a great job of making the book direct and easy to read, and bringing plant-based diets into the mainstream.
MBG: What's your biggest source of protein?
BB: Well, I probably have 60 to 70 grams of protein a day (about half what people say I should have for my body weight of 165 pounds). I get this through my smoothie and my big salad. I try to have a big salad at least once a day with lots of spinach or kale. People don't realize that spinach and kale are about 40 to 45 percent protein.
MBG: What's the one product you can't live without?
BB: I can't live without Vega's Whole Food Health Optimizer.
MBG: How do you relax?
BB: I like running—and to me, running is relaxing. When I'm not on the road, I live in Los Angeles, so I'll go for a run through Will Rogers Park or Griffith Park.
MBG: Do you think some people equate running or exercise with stress?
BB: If you perceive something to be stressful, it's not going to work for you. For me, running is a great benefit, because I like it and I look forward to it; but for someone who hates running, it's going to be stressful. With regard to diet and exercise, it's important to find something that you like and that works for you.
MBG: Who inspires you?
BB: I really like people who really have drive, who have innovative ideas—people who aren't afraid to get their ideas out there—people who are trying to contribute to solving some of the world's problems.
MBG: Have there been any books that have influenced you?
MBG: Tell us about how you're spreading the word about plant-based diets and their environmental impact?
BB: Last year I spoke with college students at 21 universities about the food we eat and its relationship to the environment. People were really open to the idea—the reality that people can make a real environmental difference just by changing their diet. Buying a hybrid car is great, but the food we choose to eat can make a world of difference—a plant-based diet saves a tremendous amount of energy.
MBG: What's on tap for 2010?
BB: I'm excited about my new book, Thrive Fitness, coming out in January, as well as an online course at Cornell University offered through the T. Colin Campbell Foundation and eCornell. Through the course at Cornell you can earn a certification in plant-based nutrition online. My lecture in the course is called "Plant-based Diet and Elite Athleticism." Also, Thrive in 30 is a free online video series that's now available. It's based on info from my books and delivered in a simple, concise manner to get the message to a broader audience.