Monday, March 29, 2010

"Thriving" beyond raw cupcakes

You may think this body's built from raw cupcakes, but that's not really the case. Sure I love to indulge a bit here and there, however, I "Thrive" on so much more.

I love fresh produce, brightly colored fruits and veggies. I eat them everyday in salads, puddings and smoothies, and of course, I enjoy them in their perfect unaltered state. I start every morning off with some fruit fuel to charge up for my workout, which I follow with a yummy green shake.

Most of what I eat is inspired by none-other-than vegan triathlete Brendan Brazier, who I had the pleasure of conducting an interview with recently. I have to confess that it wasn't the most professional session (can you believe my phone died at the end?), but one I will remember for a long time (thanks Brendan).

As you know, I've been a long time fan of his books, fitness tips and recipes. All of these things have helped me bounce back after having my second baby (I was back in my size 0 jeans within the first week postpartum) and keep me going through my busy days (up early, taking care of the kiddies, still breastfeeding Hayden, trying to work from home and just in general, "holding down the fort").

For those of you not familiar with Brendan, grab yourself a Vega bar (I'm digging the Vibrancy bars lately; I formed this natural flavored one into a cupcake shape and topped it with an optimizer paste/frosting) or shake, and continue to read this post. Usually I'd do a word-for-word Q&A, but since this was a live interview (without a tape recorder; it's been a while since I've used one of those), I jotted down the basics and just a few direct quotes. Enjoy!

Adopting a plant-based diet

Brendan's story starts off in high school, when he fell in love with running (later he added swimming and biking). Like most athletes, he tried a bunch of popular diets: high carb, low carb, high protein. He also experimented with a plant-based approach, but it didn’t work at first, as it left him feeling tired.

Although his coach (at the time) was, in fact, "a good coach," he didn’t see the value of diet in terms of performance. So, Brendan decided to take it upon himself to reevaluate what he was eating and its effects.

"I became very curious," he said. "The reason I was feeling tired all the time was because of five major things that were missing (from my diet): those being complete protein, vitamin B-12, iron, calcium and omega fatty acids."

Once he started to add those missing pieces to the puzzle (blending them into his smoothies, discussed later in this post), he saw a huge improvement in just a matter of weeks, and he was able to recover at a faster rate.

Pre-workout and recovery foods

"A lot of people don't realize that it's not just what you eat, but when you eat it," explained Brendan, who addresses more about pre-workout and recovery foods in his books, "The Thrive Diet" and "Thrive Fitness."

The type and duration of your workout will determine what your body needs nutritionally before you begin, but in most cases, "carbohydrates are your prime fuel for before a workout," he said, although endurance athletes may benefit more from a combination of the three: carbohydrates, protein and fat.

"When fueling up for longer workouts, make sure to consume a small amount of protein, soluble fiber and fat. This will help slow the rate at which carbohydrate will be released into the bloodstream, thereby allowing its energy to spread over a longer period of time," he stated in his "Thrive Fitness" book, which contains recipes for pre-workout snacks and drinks, as well as those for recovery. "Simply put, this approach will increase endurance."

When it comes to recovery, he advises having protein to rebuild. "Breaking down muscle tissue on a regular basis and then consuming, without fail, the right nutritional building blocks after a workout is the basis for a stronger, more vibrant, biologically younger body. What is consumed after the workout is vital for cellular reconstruction," he explained in "The Thrive Diet," where you can find even more recipes and ideas for both post exercise snacks and heartier recovery meals.

"... Once an hour has passed since eating your post-exercise snack, it's time for a complete, nutrient-rich meal. Ideally this meal will consist of high-quality, easily digestible raw protein such as hemp, omega-3 fatty acids (also from hemp and flaxseed), and vitamins and minerals from natural whole-food sources."

As for his day as a whole, Brendan said he gets most of his carbohydrates in the morning from fruit. He also consumes pseudograins, which are actually seeds, although often referred to as "grains." For instance, sprouted buckwheat can be found in a variety of his recipes and even in that Vibrancy bar I mentioned at the beginning of this post.

Later in the evening, he eats more veggies. "I have a big salad for dinner, usually with avocado or sprouts," he said.

Shaking it Vega-style

Did you know Vega's shake formula is based on one Brendan has been whipping up in his own kitchen for years? Thank goodness he did a lot of the testing himself before making it public.

"It evolved quite a bit over the years," he said. "... I just started putting prime sources of these things (the protein, vitamin B-12, iron, calcium and omega fatty acids, mentioned earlier in this post) into a blender. At first, it didn't taste too good at all."

He experimented with soy, until he did some more research. Then, he switched to hemp, added pea protein, rice protein, etc., eventually ending up with a complete broad spectrum plant-based protein blend, now referred to as "ProVega."

In 2004, he partnered with Charles Chang of Sequels Naturals, and soon after, Vega was born.

According to the Sequels Naturals site, "After a year of product formulation and testing, Vega is a replica of Brendan's favorite shake. All the ingredients in Vega were chosen by Brendan to work synergistically to nourish the body and reduce nutritional stress. And now Brendan doesn't have to lug his old blender with him when he travels anymore."

And, neither do the rest of us, as it is becoming more widely available throughout both Canada and the United States (It's finally in my area Whole Foods. Hurray!) Although Vega was formulated for the vegetarian/vegan athlete, people consuming it are also comprised of just busy health conscious people of all walks of life.

He really does "Thrive" on these recipes

When I asked Brendan if he really is responsible for all those "Thrive" recipes in his books, his response was, "Actually I came up with all the recipes over the years. It took a long time compiling them," referring to his 15 years of experimenting in his own kitchen.

"I really like the energy bars," he said. "I have them on a regular bases ..." although he usually has the pre-made Vega kind, known as the Whole Food Energy Bars. The recipes are in the books, but you can buy them, too.

He also really enjoys the pizzas from the book, which are really easy to make. "The crusts usually have about three ingredients you just blend up in a food processor and spread it out. Put a little marinara (also from the book) and some veggies on top, and bake in the oven," he explained, adding that they can even be prepared in a dehydrator for a raw version.

"These pizzas are different in that the crust is where the protein is," he said.

My personal favorite is the one with the beet and sunflower seed crust. Lucky for all you readers, he is allowing me to share this recipe with you:

Sunflower Seed Beet Pizza
The crust of this pizza is lighter tasting, with a distinct beet flavor. Beets are alkaline-forming, so this is a good one to make when your stress level is high.

2 cups ground sunflower seeds
1 cup grated beet
1/4 cup coconut oil, hemp oil or EFA Blend
1/2 tsp. parsley
sea salt, to taste


1 tomato, sliced
1/2 Spanish onion, diced
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Preheat oven to 300 degrees (skip this step if using a dehydrator). In a food processor, process all crust ingredients until the mixture starts to ball up. Lightly oil the baking tray with coconut oil. Spread the mixture on the tray to about 1/4-inch thick (it can be thicker or thinner if you prefer).

Spread Spicy Sun-Dried Tomato Marinara Sauce (1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, 1 clove garlic, 1 cup chopped tomatoes, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup grated cucumber, 3 Tbsp. hemp oil, 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. oregano, 1 tsp. rosemary, 1/4 tsp. thyme and sea salt to taste) or Sweet Pepper Hemp Pesto (process together 2 cloves garlic, 2 red peppers, cored and seeded, 1/2 cup fresh basil, 3 Tbsp, nutritional yeast ground with sesame seeds, 2 Tbsp. hemp seeds, 2 Tbsp. hemp oil and sea salt to taste) on crust; add topping.

Bake for 45 minutes (This will vary slightly depending on the moisture content of the vegetables and the desired crispness of the pizza) or use a dehydrator instead.

There are other meal ideas in the books, as well as sports drinks, smoothies, energy gels, puddings and bars, and some of these recipes are updated from one book to the next.
"The recipes keep evolving; as I learn more, I experiment more," he said.

For example, salba (a variety of white chia) is used quite frequently in his "Thrive Fitness" book. Brendan mentioned using it in his energy gels, which also contain coconut oil and dates. "Coconut oil is a great source of energy," he said.

Eating and exercising
on the road

"I'm actually pretty fortunate since my work has me going to health food stores. I'm around a lot of good food," said Brendan, who is lucky to have access to fresh fruits and veggies while on the road. He usually manages to find a good salad, and of course, he always travels with his Vega products.

As for exercise, "I find it quite easy; I just get up early and go for a run," he said, adding that he also tries to get to a gym when he can. "Running is good everywhere ... In a hotel, I might run the stairs; it really gets you fit."

Thrive diet/fitness
not just for athletes

Obviously, I'm not a professional athlete, and perhaps you (who's reading this now) are not either. Can the rest of us still benefit from the "Thrive" approach to diet and fitness?

"Well, it's about getting healthy," Brendan said, adding that it can help you reach your ideal body weight, improve your sleep patterns, deal with stress better, etc.

"I don't follow meal plans, as I don't like that much structure," he said, but for those who need it, he provides sample menus and workout plans in his books. These are just guidelines that can be adjusted to suit your lifestyle and needs.

"Just don't try everything at once," he advised, as your body may need time get through the transition period, based on your current lifestyle. You don't want to dive into a regime of three whole plant-based meals a day, if you are not used to eating this way. You might want to just start with one a day, and then go from there.

"Change is stress. Even positive change is stress," he said.
"This should be enjoyable. You never want to force yourself to do something."

Raw cupcakes?

Can you believe Brendan was not in on my raw cupcake craze? I had to tell him what was in them (no surprise there, ha ha), before he could comment about whether or not he'd consider indulging in one. Then, I asked him if they'd be okay as part of my diet/fitness plan.

"For sure, agave and dates are good sources for fuel," he replied. "The nuts are fine, too, before a workout, as long as (the cupcakes) are not too (nut-)heavy."

So, does he give into his cravings, too?

"I eat whatever I want. I just really enjoy healthy food.," he said. "I don't force myself to eat this way."

The same can be true for the rest of us, too. If you start just by adding whole foods to your diet everyday, "your palate will change. Overprocessed food won't taste as good anymore," he said.

If you still need some encouragement, here is one of my favorite recipes from Brendan's "Thrive Fitness" book. It is meant to be a bar, but I, of course, formed it into a cupcake shape, topping it with lemon zest "sprinkles" and a small strawberry on top. If you like this one, consider picking up a copy of the book to test out more of his bar recipes.

Carob Strawberry Energy Bar
From "Thrive Fitness" by Brendan Brazier

1 cup fresh dates (or substitute soaked dried dates)
1/4 cup raw carob powder (or substitute roasted carob powder)
1/4 cup hemp protein
1/4 cup salba
1/4 cup strawberries
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
seas salt, to taste
1/2 cup sprouted buckwheat (or substitute cooked) (optional)
1/2 cup frozen srawberries

Process everything except buckwheat and frozen strawberries in a food processor. After processing, work in buckwheat and frozen strawberries with your hands, then shape and cut into bars (I, of course, like to make cupcakes out of mine).

Vegan footwear

So does this vegan athlete continue being animal-free when it comes to his feet? Does he wear vegan shoes?

"I actually do," Brendan said. "My shoes are from a company called Mizuno ... Vegan Essentials also sells good vegan shoes, and then there's Moo Shoes in New York."

I asked him about running barefoot and a particular product worn to protect the feet in the process (I'll probably mention more about it in a future post). He had never used this product himself, but had heard some good reviews from other people.

Being flatfooted, as well as still dealing with the aftereffects of a foot injury, I'm always looking for advice on what to wear on my feet and tips to make getting back into running safer/easier for me.

Brendan said he's been pretty fortunate to avoid any injuries that would require him to used a particular shoe, although he's known other runners that have switched to alternate footwear and felt better. "I think if there is a problem, find an alternative. If not, stick with it," he said.

On another note, he advised that I check with a physiologist about how to safely train with my post-injuries, although gave me hope for getting back into my running shoes.

"Exercise helps pump blood through the body. It can actually speed healing," he said. "It is really important to remain active to speed recovery."

However, everyone's injuries are a little different, so definitely consult with your doctor first.

Future plans

Before my phone died, Brendan started telling me about his new book in the works that will focus on food issues. It will look at how we use resources, such as oil, land and water, to create food, and why it makes sense to eat foods that are less resource intensive.

I wish I could've heard more, as this book sounded like an excellent read. I also would've liked to hear more about his future projects, not to mention get a chance to thank him again for his time (Thank you so much Brendan).

If you'd like to learn more, check out Brendan's website, Sequel's Naturals Vega site, join the Vega Community or sign up for Thrive in 30.