"Thrive" by Brendan Brazier

Thrive by Brandan BrazierContinuing with my health theme, I just finished a short book by vegan Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier called, Thrive: A guide to optimal health & performance through plant-based whole foods. I first saw Brazier interviewed on a local news show (he’s from Vancouver) where he explained how he reduced and repaired his own physiological stress with proper diet. This caught my attention because the stress that Chronic Fatigue Syndrome puts on the body is quite similar to the stress elite athletes put themselves through. I am talking about things like microscopic muscle tears, excessive lactic acid production, adrenal burnout, and immune system dysfunction, all of which are major problems for athletes as well as people with CFS. The causes of these stresses may be different, but even symptomatic relief would be, well, a relief.

Brazier became a vegan as a teenager and had to seek plant-based means to improve his athletic performance. Over the years he gradually developed a diet which greatly improved his ability to train and his race results. This diet was based on whole plant foods with some important (whole food) supplements, and he also developed an easily digested meal replacement blender drink that he could take while training and racing. The latter has been made commercially available as a powder (“Vega“), and I’ve been taking the delicious concoction for the last month or so. It is an extremely convenient way to get complete, digestible, whole food nutrients, which is very important for someone who often lacks the energy to cook (and digest!) proper food. It also has a better nutritional balance than “energy bars,” which are often packed with sugars and always lacking in good fats.

As far as the cost benefit analysis goes, Vega is about $4.50 a serving, which is two mugs full. Personally I find half a serving quite filling, but YMMV. And note, this is real food, a government approved meal replacement, not a supplement, so it shouldn’t be an extra cost. It makes a good (and tasty) replacement for those easy but expensive and un-nutritious snack foods we all rely on when too busy or tired to cook. Brazier also gives a recipe for making the drink yourself at home, though I don’t know if it would cost any less than the prepared version because some of the ingredients are expensive at the retail level.

Getting back to the book… Brazier briefly describes how the foods we eat can induce or repair different kinds of physiological stress, which foods to avoid, and which foods are especially good for repairing stress caused by work, athletic training, emotional stress, pollution, or the occasional slice of pizza. His conclusion is basically the same as that in the last health book I reviewed: eat whole plant foods, and not much else. His list of “must eats” (my phrase not his) is compact, so I will reproduce it here:

  • Whole Grains: High quality carbohydrates. Best choices are amaranth, quinoa, millet, wild rice, brown rice, and buckwheat (all are alkaline and gluten-free).
  • Dark leafy green vegetables: Alkalizing, reduce lactic acid buildup (and just generally good for you)
  • Legumes (especially yellow split peas): Rich source of protein, fibre, B vitamins
  • Soy & Tofu: High quality, digestible protein
  • Hemp foods: “Finest source of raw protein in nature.”
  • Raw nuts and seeds: Especially flax, best plant source of anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fatty acids; Sesame seeds, rich source of absorbable calcium (for muscle health); Pumpkin seeds, rich source of iron.
  • Berries (especially blueberries): Antioxidants.
  • Chlorella: Complete, digestible protein, detoxifier, rich source of vitamins (including B12) and minerals, almost a complete diet in itself (according to NASA).
  • Maca: Adrenal adaptogen (nourishes and balances adrenal glands, whether under- or over-active).
  • Ginger: Anti-inflammatory, digestive aid.
  • Enzymes & Probiotics (intestinal bacteria): Improve digestion and absorption of nutrients.
  • Stevia: Non-glycemic sweetener, blood sugar regulator.

As I learned from Nutritional Immunology, many of these foods also have other amazing qualities that make them practically medicinal. And of course a complete diet would include other vegetables (he didn’t even mention broccoli!). He leans towards eating raw foods, but from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective that isn’t going to be suitable for everyone’s digestive system (although taking enzymes and probiotics might help that). In fact one of the best traditional Chinese health tonics is a thin rice porridge that’s been cooked for several hours, called congee. I’m also not as much of a vegan as Brazier. Chicken broth is an easily digestible and very nourishing food that I sometimes take, especially in winter. And since I read that fish oil has been found to improve memory in people with CFS (about the only treatment of any kind that has been scientifically determined to consistently benefit people with CFS), I have been taking salmon oil capsules, which has indeed significantly improved my memory (though it’s still not 100%). I don’t see a problem with eating modest amounts of wild or humanely raised organic animal products for medical reasons, but I certainly respect Brazier’s commitment to competing at the elite level without resorting to animal foods.

I should note that I read the first edition of Thrive, which is the only one the library had. The second edition is apparently much expanded, and he will soon be publishing a cookbook. For a taste of his cooking (or non-cooking, as the case may be), here is his recipe for a “Nutrient-rich Shake” (and let’s hope I’m not violating copyright here):

3 cups water
1 banana (electrolytes)
1/2 cup blueberries (antioxidants)
1/2 pear (natural sugar, fibre)
1 tablespoon hemp oil (essential fatty acids)
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds (omega 3, fibre)
2 tablespoons hemp protein (complete protein)
1 teaspoon gelatinized maca powder (sterols, alkaloids, glucosinolates)
1 teaspoon chlorella powder (vitamin B12, chlorophyll, nucleic acids)
250mg dairy-free probiotics (good bacteria)
Optional: tablespoon of raw pumpkin or sunflower seeds; raw carob powder; tablespoon of pea protein concentrate; raw broccoli (ok, I made that one up, just checking to see if you’re still awake).

Just blenderize everything and enjoy the pleasantly smug feeling of eating super healthy food!

ChewbroccoliAnd while you’re sipping your shake, check out the Grocery Store Wars, where noble organic vegetables fight the evils of multinational genetically-engineered agribusiness. My favourite character? Chewbroccoli, of course!

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6 comments on “"Thrive" by Brendan Brazier

  1. Michelle says:

    Ah, I'm glad you mentioned Chinese Medicine! It's funny because it can often contradict vegan plans. More than one acupuncturist has told me to eat more red meat and avoid soy because it is a damp food (I'm now soy intolerant so it's a bit irrelvant). But I definitely do a lot of congee.
    Again, as someone living on a very fixed budget, $4.50 a meal is spendy! Which reminds me, there was a study that just came out showing how poor people have a difficult time getting access to good quality food that I was going to going to post…Eeep! I forgot to take my fish oil capsules! πŸ™‚
    Thanks for the cool posts. πŸ™‚

  2. Sylvia says:

    Ya, TCM isn't especially keen on pure vegetarianism, unless you are a monk doing tons of qigong on a mountaintop. On my to-read list are Healing with Whole Foods and The Tao of Healthy Eating. Hmm, maybe now would be a good time to get into them.
    You're right, $4.50 isn't exactly cheap, even in Canadian dollars. I cut back to half a serving a day for precisely that reason. But I've spent sooooo much money on treatments that haven't worked that I don't mind spending money on something that is, at the very least, good food. With a good diet it's not necessary (and may not be advisable) to take vitamin pills, so there is some savings there.
    They did a study here a while back and found that welfare didn't provide enough money to buy enough food to meet basic nutritional and caloric needs. Disgusting.
    Glad you like the posts. Thanks for visiting!

  3. deb says:

    Just heard today that one health agency in the U.S. government has assigned a $1.35 value per meal minimum, where as the welfare food stamp department only allows for $00.88 per meal. How do they expect people to eat healthy on that budget?
    The book looks like the perfect gift for my vegan and health conscious daughter [the one with the worm compost in her kitchen]. Thanks for the review!
    I would think that “microscopic muscle tears, excessive lactic acid production, adrenal burnout, and immune system dysfunction” are likely to increase due to aging. Thus, the diet would be more important as we age. Is this addressed? Or just sports stress.
    You don't say if you feel better [or same] after one month of the Vega.
    I've added flax seed [ground] into my daily homemade yogurt and I feel much better all around. I am addicted to flax–if it's possible.
    Does salmon or just salmon oil improve memory? I see that a new study out shows absorption of manganese from taking showers increases mental deterioration (possible “brain damage” they said, and very bad for the nervous system). [Dr John Spangler, from Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, New Carolina, led the study]

  4. Sylvia says:

    Yes, Brazier does describe his diet as being an “anti-aging” diet as well as a training and health maintenance diet. It would of course also be an anti-cancer diet because of veggies, fruits, and whole grains.
    It's hard to say whether I feel better on the Vega, which I guess means there hasn't been any dramatic change, however with my condition (which includes poor digestion) it is unrealistic to expect dramatic improvement in one month (or six, or twelve… sigh). I do benefit from the convenience of the drink; it means I can use energy for something other than cooking (like reading!), and that is very much appreciated.
    The study I read about used fish oil, but probably eating oily fish (salmon, herring) with all the fat would probably amount to the same thing. However I find a bottle of fish oil capsules that lasts for weeks costs about the same as a couple little cans of (wild) salmon. You can also get fish oil in bottles even cheaper (but then you have to taste it!).
    I had a persistent lung infection last year and as soon as I got a shower filter the infection went away. Poof! It was one of those “why didn't I do this sooner?” things. Strange that we must pay extra to protect ourselves from all the chemicals that other people work so hard to put in our food, water, and air.

  5. Michelle says:

    Healing with Whole Foods is a daunting tome but has tons of good info. Though his recipes always leave me a bit puzzled as they are very bland, but things like ginger or mint have medicinal value. I dunno. The Tao of Healthy Eating basically will tell you all the stuff you've already read BUT has a great list of foods and their energetic values in the back. A couple of others I've found handy have been Ancient Herbs, Modern Medicine, as well as Unleashing the Power of Food. Have some great, simple recipes.
    Wow deb, 88 cents per meal? That explains a lot when I think about how much my food stamps are each month. Insane!

  6. Sylvia says:

    Thanks for that, I'll have to look into those too.

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