Chia energy bars

Chia seeds are all over the health blogosphere these days, so much so that I was beginning to think they were a fad superfood.  But then Brendan Brazier included them in Thrive Fitness, and with all the research he does for his books and career, I tend to trust ol’ B-squared when it comes to nutrition.

The problem, for me, is that chia gels in liquid.  I’ve tried it in chia fresca, or iskiate, and then in some Thrive Fitness sports drinks.  And it’s fine; I can tolerate it, but I just don’t really enjoy drinking those little globs of chia snot.  So I was really excited to find that Thrive Fitness includes some energy bar recipes with chia, and Erin and I tried one out yesterday while we were snowed in.  (You’ll see that the recipe calls for salba, which is white chia, the heirloom variety of chia seed that Brendan recommends.)

As I was gathering the ingredients, I couldn’t resist taking a photo; it’s not often so much nutrition gathers in one place.  It’s kind of like a nerdy All-Star game:

Starting from the bottom and going clockwise, that’s white chia, sunflower seeds, raw cacao (substituted for carob powder), dates, toasted buckwheat flour (substituted for soaked or sprouted buckwheat, so mine isn’t quite raw), ground flaxseed, and hemp protein powder in the middle. (By the way, you can get all of this stuff at and get five dollars off your first purchase if you use my coupon code, RAZ652.)

Here’s the recipe.

Carob Strawberry Chia Energy Bar

(from Thrive Fitness, reprinted with permission)

  • 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 (white chia seeds)
  • 1/4 cup strawberries
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup sprouted buckwheat (or substitute cooked) (optional)
  • 1/2 cup frozen strawberries

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.

Brendan gives the warning that the moisture of your dates and berries will vary, so you might need to add more of the dry ingredients or the wet ingredients to get the right texture.  We doubled the amount of ground flaxseed to make the mixture easier to work with, and as I wrote above, I toasted some buckwheat flour since I didn’t have whole buckwheat to sprout or cook.

The best part about these bars: They’re completely raw and vegan, and they’re loaded with nutrients and omega-3’s.  The worst part: They need to be frozen if you don’t want them to be mushy, so they’re not really suitable for bringing on runs.  Once you’ve taken the mixture out of the food processor, you can just put them in a pan lined with parchment paper and freeze it, then cut into bars later.

The flavor is okay—since the point is the nutrition, I don’t really care about the taste as long as it’s minimally palatable.  You could probably improve it by adding some agave nectar or cutting back on the hemp protein, but then you’re either adding sugar or losing protein.

Enjoy the snotless chia!  Let me know if you come up with any flavor improvements, or a way to give them a firmer texture, unfrozen.

For more posts (and recipes) on natural sports nutrition, check out the Running Fuel page.



Tarahumara Pinole and Chia

In case you’re one of the six remaining runners on the planet who have yet to read Born to Run, allow me to explain.  The Tarahumara are “the running people” on which most of the book is based, a Mexican tribe of superathletes who run 50 or 100 miles at a time for pure enjoyment, seemingly without effort.

The Tarahumara diet is described in some small detail in the book, with repeated mention of two staples — pinole and chia seeds.  The author relates a few stories that ascribe almost magical, endurance-enhancing qualities to these simple foods.

Below are two basic recipes I experimented with.  

Pinole recipe

Pinole seems to describe any of a variety of forms of parched or roasted corn, ground into a flour and combined with water and some spices or sugar.  It can be made into a drink, an oatmeal-like paste, or baked to form a more-portable “cake.”  Here’s a recipe I made using regular cornmeal; you can change the proportions and spices to suit your taste.  If you don’t want to toast your own corn, you can get pinole at  (Note: Masa harina is probably more authentic than cornmeal, since that corn has been treated with lime, the way the Tarahumara maize is.)


  • 1/2 cup cornmeal, ground as fine as possible
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar, honey, or agave nectar
  • chia seeds (optional)

Toast the cornmeal in a skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until it turns light brown, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl, mix in cinnamon, and sweetener or other spices, and desired amount of water (see below).

[raw cornmeal photo]

[toasted cornmeal photo]

You can add a lot of water to make a drink of it, but I found this kind of weird because the corn didn’t dissolve.  If you add just a few tablespoons of water instead and mix, you get an oatmeal-like consistency that can be eaten with a spoon, or even out of the palm of your hand on a run:

[pinole photo]

Alternatively, you can bake the paste at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-15 minutes until it has the texture of a brownie.  This more portable form is better for carrying on a long run, and a good alternative to sugary energy gels.

[baked pinole photo]

Pinole, in the form of energy bars, waffles, and more

This tasted ok (not great), but I found it pretty inconvenient to actually bring along on a run. It was hard to keep the biscuit from crumbling, and really, who is going to make a paste in the palm of their hand on a run?

To make pinole more convenient (and the type of thing you could actually bring on a run without making a mess), I worked with a baker to come up with 15 new pinole and chia recipes, so that we could get pinole in the form of energy bars, waffles, muffins, hand pies, and other running food. The recipes turned out really well, and all of them tasted way better than these initial experiments with plain pinole did.

Click here to learn more about the project, Fuel Your Run with Pinole and Chia.

Chia fresca (iskiate) recipe

[chia seeds photo]

Chia seeds (yep, the same ones used in Chia Pets) have enjoyed a surge in popularity recently among health-foodies.   There are many purported benefits of chia seeds, and legends abound about chia seeds reviving struggling athletes or warriors, with small amounts sustaining men for long periods of time.

As for buying chia seeds, I usually get these, but sometimes I’ll get white chia.  White chia seeds, also called salba, are an heirloom variety, so they’re the closest thing you’ll get to what the runners and warriors in the all chia legends were eating.

Chia seeds have the interesting property that when they’re left in water for a few minutes, the water begins to gel.  Supposedly this is helpful in digestion.  Here’s a a recipe for chia fresca (also called iskiate), a popular drink made with chia seeds, water, and lemon or lime.


  • about 10 oz of water
  • 1 Tbsp dry chia seeds
  • a few teaspoons lemon or lime juice
  • honey or agave nectar, to taste (optional)

Stir the chia seeds into the water; let them sit for about five minutes.  Stir again, and let sit for as long as you like.  The more it sits, the more gel-like the seeds and water become.  Add citrus juice and sweetener to taste.

[chia fresca photo]

I found chia fresca to be a refreshing drink for the morning, and I swear I felt an energy boost from it.  (But the placebo effect can be strong with me, so try for yourself.) But I really don’t like the gel consistency in the drink. I now choose to get my chia in smoothies, like the strawberry-iskiate smoothie from Fuel Your Run with Pinole and Chia.


Note: Links to are affiliate links.




Happy Sweet-Tooth Friday!  It’s Christine here with your healthy dessert recipe of the week.  With all the sugary Halloween candy going around, I thought it would be nice to explore an alternative sweetener like stevia!

Is stevia safe?

After a not-so-great first experience with stevia and pumpkin, I vowed to do some more research on stevia to get it right!  I didn’t just find out about cooking with stevia, I also learned about the crazy controversies surrounding the sweetener.

Stevia: still scary for the FDA

Stevia: still scary for the FDA

The sweet leaves of the stevia plant are originally from South America, and have been sweetening Yerba Mate in Paraguay for centuries.  Japan has been using stevia as a sweetener since the 70’s and now it makes up 40% of all sweeteners used.  So how come it’s 2009 and stevia is just showing up at my grocery store?

Stevia had quite the journey coming here: there were a handful of very dated and poorly executed studies on stevia that showed dangerous results, which scared the FDA and fueled sugar lobbyists.  Two of these old studies found stevia to be a contraceptive.  The data methods have been seriously questioned and the results have never been able to be reproduced (ha!) since.  One study from 1985 made it seem that very high doses of stevia were mutagenic in rats.  It has been shown now that the data was handled incorrectly- even water would appear mutagenic — but in 1991 the FDA decided that stevia was an unsafe food additive.

There was a lot of fuss about the FDA’s ruling because it was made on the idea that stevia hadn’t been proven safe.  This contradicts the FDA policy to rule unfavorably only if a food has been proven unsafe.  The ruling also conflicted with trade laws, and in 1995 the decision was reversed and stevia was allowed as a “dietary supplement” but not a “food additive.”

What does this distinction mean?  It says that stevia is safe to include into a food because of its health benefits, but cannot officially be listed as a “sweetener.”  Silly, right?

In 2006 the World Health Organization declared that stevia is safe.  Just last year in 2008 the FDA finally decided that Rebiana, one extracted part of stevia, is generally regarded as safe.  For some reason, they haven’t ok’d the entire leaf yet.  Rebiana is the main ingredient in Truvia, owned by Coca-Cola, and PureVia, owned by Pepsi.  My impression is that when the two big sweetener-guzzling companies got interested in stevia, their influence overpowered the aspartame and sugar lobbyists’ impact on the FDA.

[stevia in palm photo]So now that stevia is here, what good is it?  Well for starters, our bodies don’t metabolize the glycosides, so we can enjoy the sweetness calorie-free.  I feel much better about eating a natural no-calorie sweetener than a synthetic one.  Stevia also doesn’t effect glucose levels, which makes it safe for diabetics.   It doesn’t cause cavities in teeth, either.

As for baking, stevia is heat stable so it won’t break down like synthetic sweeteners under high heat, and it also can handle being frozen.  Because of this, it doesn’t caramelize so it is unsuitable for, well, making caramel, and also things like meringue where you would need the sugar to brown.  Stevia can’t ferment either- sometimes in bread recipes you’ll see sugar being used to feed the yeast.  With stevia the bread will not rise as much

Stevia as a substitute

When substituting with stevia, it’s important to compensate not just for sweetness but also for bulk.  You only need to use about 1/2 a teaspoon of stevia extract for 1 cup of sugar, so you need to make up for that loss.  But remember that sugar melts in the oven, so for every cup of sugar you take out, you only need 1/3 to 1/2 a cup of filler.  Refer back to my post on healthier baking to find some great replacements; pumpkin, mashed bananas and applesauce all work well.

Stevia extracts aren’t standardized yet, so the strength of different brands will differ.  Start with a very small amount like an 1/8 teaspoon and taste as you go.  Stevia can very quickly have a bitter aftertaste.  Try adding a tablespoon of maple syrup to “warm up” the taste.

Vegan Orange-Currant Brunch Cake

I modified this recipe from one posted on several different stevia websites, including  It’s a small batch, so you may want to double it for a taller presentation.

[brunch cake photo 2]


  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp stevia
  • 1 tbs egg replacer
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 3 tbs walnut oil
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup dried currants

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and stevia, then set aside.  Mix together the egg replacer with 1/4 cup warm water and stir until thick.  Add juice and oil.  Stir the wet ingredients into the dry.  Fold in zest and currants.  Spread into a greased and floured tubed pan.  Bake for about 25 minutes, turning around halfway through.  A knife should come out clean when it’s finished.  Let cool for 20 minutes before unmolding.

[brunch cake in pan photo]

I was nervous about the simplicity of this recipe, but the results were delicious!  It is not too sweet at all- it reminded me of a good muffin.  The currants add nice bursts of flavor too.  I think the success here relied on using the stevia to play up the sweetness of the orange juice, instead of using the stevia as the main event.

Hope you learned something new about stevia and enjoy this yummy vegan cake!  If you have a good dessert recipe that uses stevia, I’d be pleased as punch if you sent it my way.

Have a sweet and safe Halloween!
xoxo Christine



What to Eat the Week Before A Marathon or Half Marathon

A lot of people make the same mistake in how they eat before a marathon — they wait until the night before the race to eat their big meal.  If you’re only going to eat one big meal before the race, make it lunch instead.  This gives your body more time to process the nutrients, lowers the chance of stomach troubles, and might help you sleep more soundly.

Better still, don’t wait until the day before the race to fuel up.  Start topping off your body’s energy stores by eating a few extra calories in the days leading up to your marathon or half.

What You Should Eat the Week Before A Marathon or Half

So what should you be eating to maximize the energy you’ll have available on the big day?  According to Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s coach, carbohydrates are most important, followed by protein, followed by fat, which is of little use before a race.

Carbohydrates – There’s some truth to the “pasta party” idea, just not the night before the big day.  Starting a race with full stores of carbs has been shown to improve performance and endurance.  So fill up on those grains, starchy vegetables, and fruits the week before the race.

Protein –  Since you’ll be eating more food during this time, your protein levels should increase naturally as you increase portion sizes.

Fat – The nutrient you need least in the week prior to the race is fat.  It just doesn’t do much to help you on race day, so it’s not worth filling up on fat calories.  True, your goal in training is to get your body to burn fat stores before it has to burn carbohydrates, but you have plenty of fat for this in your body, regardless of how skinny you are.  I sincerely hope you’re not still stuck in the low-fat diet craze, but this is one time when slightly reducing intake of even healthy fats is beneficial.

What you eat the day of the race is equally important as what you’re eating the week before.  See my post about race day eating for more.

For more posts (and recipes) on natural sports nutrition, check out the Running Fuel page.



Chickpea Granola Bars

Hello my healthy Sweet-Toothers!  Friday has finally arrived, so it’s Christine here with another STF!  This week I’ve got a great recipe for you that I wasn’t quite sure what to call.  I was leaning towards Everything-But-the-Kitchen-Sink bars, or Anything-Goes bars, but I think my boyfriend Greg summed it up nicely by calling them (with his mouth full) “delicious peanut butter granola bars.”

[christine granola photo]

This idea started at the grocery store when I picked up a box of Quaker chewy oatmeal bars that I was on sale.  I guess Quaker has a good marketing team because I felt totally betrayed when I checked out the back of the box…high fructose corn syrup…partially hydrogenated oil…what?!  I put the bars back on the shelf, determined to make my own better version.

I’ve baked granola bars before, but they always come out rock hard—never chewy.  With a little investigating, it seems the word on the (baker’s) street is that to get chewy bars, you just MAKE granola bars, not BAKE them.

Without baking the bars, the challenge is getting all the elements to hold together.  This called for something sticky!  I was leaning toward maple syrup, but the home-style combo of peanut butter and honey was calling my name.

[chickpea granola photo]As for the chickpeas I threw in the bars, I got that idea from The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine.  After my Blueberry Crumble Bar post from Deceptively Delicious, I thought it was only fair I give the competition a try too.  The concepts indeed are similar, but Missy has an interesting recipe for roasted cinnamon sugar chickpeas called “Rattlesnacks.”  She bakes them for an hour to really get them crunchy like soy nuts.  I cut that time in half to make them more suitable for a chewy bar.  I also tossed them in sucanat instead of sugar.  Thanks to Clare in the comments section for introducing me to that sweetener!

Here’s the recipe I developed, but don’t follow it too closely- use any kind of beans, cereal, or dried fruit that you’d like!

Healthy Granola Bar Recipe

[granola bar ingredients photo]1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp sucanat or natural sugar
1 1/2 cup oatmeal
1 cup whole grain cereal (like brown rice krispies)
1 cup dried fruit (I used Sunmaid’s variety pack of “Fruit bits”)

1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/4 cup honey
3 tbs canola oil
1 tbs ground flax seed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Mix the ground flax seed with 1/4 cup warm water, set aside to thicken.

Toss the chickpeas in the sucanat and 1 tsp of the cinnamon.  Bake for 10 minutes, stir around in the pan, then back for 10 more minutes.  Add the oatmeal to the pan and bake for 5 more minutes, stirring the oatmeal once.
Stir together the peanut butter, honey, canola oil, and flax paste.
Combine the chickpeas, oatmeal, cereal, dried fruits, and remaining tsp of cinnamon.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir to combine.
Press the mixture into a greased pan.  My 9×13 casserole dish was just a little too big, so go for an 8×8 if you have it.  Really PRESS and PACK IN the mixture as hard as you can.  Refrigerate until firm, then cut into 24 bars.

[granola bar close photo]

Hope you enjoy these chewy granola bars!  There is a decent amount of protein in them too from the chickpeas and the peanut butter.  The chickpeas are a surprisingly nice addition to the bar- they don’t taste out of place at all.  My boyfriend and I devoured our tray in no time!

That’s it for this week.  By the time you read this post, I’ll be on an airplane on my way to Destin, Florida!  Finally my sweet, sweet summer vacation has arrived!  Cross your fingers for no hurricanes!

See you next Sweet-Tooth Friday!
xoxo Christine

For more natural sports nutrition posts and recipes, check out the Running Fuel page.



Natural Sports Drink from Thrive

Whew!  I just got back from my 20-miler this morning, that which was postponed due to my feeling like crap when I woke up yesterday.  All better today though!

I did it in 2:38:54, a 7:56 minute-per-mile pace.  This is a little slower than the 7:45 I was shooting for.  My temptation is to list a million excuses about why it was slow, but I’m resisting the urge and just leaving it at that.  No excuses.  Hopefully I’ll be faster next time.

I brought along a Thrive raw energy gel, which worked well again, and a lemon-lime Thrive sports drink as well.  I’m really starting to love making my own sports drinks and gels.  If I don’t eat processed food normally, then why would I eat it when I’m running? Since my Thrive 30-Day Challenge is over and I don’t want to abuse the privilege of posting recipes that Brendan has so nicely granted me, I’m going to make this the last one I share on the blog for a while. Smoothies, sports drinks, energy puddings, energy gels, recovery drinks, vegan pizzas, energy pancakes, crackers and dips, salads, desserts… all vegan, high-raw, and energy-dense.

Ok, here you go.

Thrive Homemade Sports Drink Recipe (raw)

  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Juice of 1/4 lime
  • 3 dates
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Tbsp agave nectar
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • sea salt to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth.  This makes about 16 ounces, so I usually make a double recipe to fill up my Nalgene bottle.

Alright, I’m out!  You’ll get a double-serving of me tomorrow, since I’ll be guest-posting on another blog as well.

For more posts (and recipes) on natural sports nutrition, check out the Running Fuel page.



Raw Pineapple Papaya Smoothie

I’ve been drinking a new smoothie all weekend, one that I’ll call “inspired by” a recipe from Thrive, since I’ve made some changes to the recipe.  This smoothie is supposed to deliver lots of quick energy, something I can live with.  And it’s fun because it uses lots of tropical fruits, so at least we can pretend this sweltering heat is part of some island vacation we’re on.  If only I had a live steel-drum band in my house…

The main ingredients in the smoothie are pineapple and papaya, both of which are a little bit scary to prepare if you’ve never done it before.  In fact, this was my first time ever cooking with papaya.  Thanks to my sister (you know, the Sweet-Tooth Friday healthy-baking fiend) for bringing me some papayas from an Indian foods store she frequents.  (“Frequents” is not an exaggeration; she lives for finding strange ingredients to put into her creations.)

Anyway, I made another video (3:41 in length) to help ease some of that tropical-fruit anxiety you might be feeling.  Please accept my sincere apologies for the weird hair and being half asleep—it was early.  I’m just thankful that all my digits survived my little knife-honing demo!

Here’s the recipe.  If you make it, let me know what you think and how it might be improved.  I’m still looking for that one magic ingredient to make it perfect. (Is it bad that I’m thinking it’s rum?)

Tropical Smoothie Recipe

  • 1 banana
  • 2 fresh or dried dates
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 ice cubes
  • 1/2 papaya
  • 1 cup pineapple
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1 Tbsp unflavored protein powder (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • Blend ingredients together.  If possible, call in sick to work.  Makes 2 large smoothies.

Erin looks like she might have gotten the with-rum version.

[pineapple papaya smoothie]

Alright, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my Sunday and (of course) do some cookin’. Enjoy the rest of yours!  I have 20-miler planned for tomorrow and again, it would be optimal if I didn’t die.  So I’m going to run early to beat the heat, meaning I’ll post a little later than usual.

For more natural sports nutrition posts and recipes, check out the Running Fuel page.



Brendan Brazier Interview!

Alright guys and gals, exciting post today.  On Tuesday I talked to Brendan Brazier, vegan professional Ironman triathlete and author of Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life.  If you’ve read my blog at all during the past month or two, then you know how much I love this book and the recipes that Brendan has been kind enough to let me share with you.

We talked for about 25 minutes, and Brendan gave me so much good information that I decided not to edit out any of it!  To make it easy for you to skip around to what you’re most interested in, I’ve boldfaced the key words in each question.  Be inspired and enjoy!

No Meat Athlete: Hey Brendan! I first want to tell you just how much I loved reading Thrive. I thought it was a completely inspiring book and I’m not even a vegan.  I love that it’s not about adding up a bunch of numbers; it’s about eating normal foods. I’ve told my readers a lot about it, but would you explain in your own words what Thrive is about?

[Thrive cover photo]Brendan Brazier: I guess the best way to describe it, and I think the reason that it ended up doing fairly well—originally I thought it would just be popular with athletes, especially vegetarian athletes, but not really much beyond that—was that I talked about stress a lot. And of course, anyone and everyone can relate to stress; we all have some form of it. I really focused on reducing stress through better nutrition. And when stress goes up, it doesn’t matter where it comes from, whether it’s traditional stress like working too much with not enough downtime, or breathing polluted air, or worrying about things you have no control over, or eating low quality food that requires a lot of energy to digest and assimilate but gives you very little energy in return.

So I really focused on reducing stress through better nutrition, which of course, then brought down all the symptoms of stress, like low quality sleep, fatigue, sugar and starch cravings, things like that which are pretty common to most North Americans.  I guess if I had to describe it really concisely, it’s about reducing stress and therefore all of its symptoms through better nutrition.

NMA: Going off that just a little bit, one of the interesting things for me was the idea of energy from nourishment versus energy from stimulation; I think that’s something that a lot of people confuse. It seems like a such a crucial issue, that and the idea about digestion and how much energy it takes up, but those issues aren’t addressed by almost any other popular books. Any idea why that would be ignored by so many people?

BB: Well, I’m not totally sure; I was definitely having problems with that myself back when I starting out. I read in a lot of conventional sports nutrition books that calories are what it’s all about. If you’re hungry and you feel you need more, you need to take in more calories; if you burn a certain number of calories you’ve gotta take in that number to maintain your weight. And because a calorie is a measure of food energy, you would assume that the more calories you ate, the more energy you would have, but that’s not the case. Otherwise, people who ate tons of fast food that’s really high in calories would have more energy than everyone else, and of course they don’t. So there was obviously a problem there.

So yeah, I just looked into why that might be, and I was really surprised when I found how much energy digestion and assimilation actually took. If you’re eating a lot of those processed foods, foods that don’t have the enzymes and aren’t easy to digest, then it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of energy. And of course if you’re spending energy, you no longer have it, so it’s just a really simple concept: gaining energy through conservation, as opposed to consumption, so just conserving the energy you have by making better food choices that give you more nutrients while taking less energy to actually get them.

So yeah, seems like a pretty simple, straightforward concept, but I think that people just went off on the calorie tangent and just stuck to it. But I think also, short-term gain, obviously stimulation, when you drink coffee or eat sugary foods it’s going to give you energy right away. Whereas nourishment doesn’t give you energy right away. It nourishes your body, which helps nourish the adrenal glands, which helps bring down cortisol level (the stress hormone), and then you sleep better. You get into a deeper phase of sleep called “delta”; you wake up, you feel fresh, you feel rested. But it takes a few weeks to kick in, so it’s not a quick fix. But the great thing is it’s treating the cause of problem, not just the symptoms, whereas stimulation treats the symptom, not the cause. But stimulation is instant, and of course we’re an “instant” society, so that’s a big reason that stimulation is so popular.

NMA: When I found out the diet in the book was vegan, I was thinking I’d just read it and take what I could from it, since I’m not a vegan. But as I was reading it, I just kept forgetting that it was vegan; that was something I really liked about it. I felt like I was reading a book on how to gain energy, not a book on how to avoid animal foods while gaining energy. What I want to know, though, is why did you become vegan? Was that for purely nutritional reasons, or is it partly ethical?

BB: It started off as purely nutrition, purely performance. When I was 15, I decided I wanted to try and become a professional triathlete and live that lifestyle. I tried a whole bunch of different diets, because I knew that if I could recover faster from training, I could schedule workouts closer together and train more and improve quicker. So my goal was really just to be a great athlete; I didn’t really care what I ate at the time to make that happen. I tried high-carb diets, low-carb diets, high-protein, low-protein, all different types of things and nothing really worked great. And then I tried a completely plant-based diet as just basically the next one on the list and at first it actually didn’t work well either. I was hungry a lot of the time and was tired and not recovering well.

My track coach asked me what I was doing different and I told him I was trying this different way of eating. He was very good; he’s had great success, but because of that he’s somewhat closed-minded, so he wasn’t really into trying to boost performance through better nutrition. So he kind of just brushed it aside. But I think when I look back on that, that probably spurred me on even more, to see if it could actually make a difference.

And then I just figured out what I was lacking in my diet: complete protein, Vitamin B-12, iron, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids. Then I found plant-based sources, blended them together and had a blender drink every day after my workout and it made a big difference. And eventually that turned into Vega years later, but that’s how it started—just trying to find what I was lacking.
So it sent me off on the whole plant-based thing, without really trying to be, but just finding that it really did improve my performance. And that’s really—as I’m sure you’ve found–the way I wrote the book, from that perspective. It’s not about trying to be vegan, but just trying to feel and perform as well as possible. And for me it just happens to be a plant-based diet. And for a lot of others too—I think when they transition properly and know how to do it properly, in my opinion, it’s the best nutrition program for energy, for mental clarity, for physical performance, mental performance, everything really. And less sleep—you simply don’t need to sleep as much, which of course leads to greater productivity; you’ve got more waking time. Things like that are valuable to anyone, really.

NMA: Yeah, I’ve noticed that too; I’ve needed a lot less sleep since I became vegetarian six months ago. But with the vegan thing, since it sounds like it started out entirely for performance, would you say there are no circumstances at all where having animal products, even meat, would be beneficial to an endurance athlete?

BB: I really don’t think there are, you know, people can get everything they need from plant sources. And really, you know, the animal gets its nutrition from plants. The plant passes on its nutrition to the animal, and it gets passed on again, but everything comes from the soil originally. The plant is really just the medium for the nutrition that’s in the soil. And a lot of these factory-farm cows now have next to no nutrition in them, because they eat food that’s grown on over-farmed fields because the demand for it is just so high, there’s nothing in it anymore. If you just eat the high-quality plant that’s grown in good soil, you’re going to get all you need.

And also too, when I did become vegan, I started being asked by environmental groups and some animal rights groups if I would give talks at their conferences, and I have. So I’ve learned a lot of the other benefits of being vegan too; of course there’s a huge environmental benefit too. Simply making better food choices, eating food that requires less energy to produce, is going to have the biggest impact on reducing anyone’s carbon footprint, more so than driving or anything else they do.

NMA: You mention in Thrive that you think soy is fine, as long as it’s not overly processed. But then I didn’t see it in many recipes; do you just prefer not to eat it much?

BB: Yeah, I actually used to eat a lot of tofu. And I never felt bad eating it, but I did feel better when I cut it out, or down significantly. I do have soy maybe a couple times a month out somewhere; I don’t avoid it but I don’t seek it out, for sure. But yeah, tempeh or edamame once in a while I think is good, the less processed soy. I wouldn’t have soy protein isolate; I used to until I realized it was really acid-forming. Because it’s an isolate, it’s no longer a whole food.

But I think soy is great in that it’s a really good transitional food, helping people transition off the standard American diet to a plant-based diet, because there are tofu hot dogs, tofu hamburgers, soy ice cream, all kinds of things like that. Of course, soy milk. Those options are way better than the animal versions, so it’s a great transition food. Those types of foods are quite processed, so I think transitioning to a more whole food diet after you’ve transitioned away from animal products is a great use for those types of foods, but just not basing your diet on it.

The reason I don’t have recipes for soy in my book is that there are so many great tofu recipes and soy recipes that I just didn’t feel that I’d be contributing much by putting more out. I wanted to do something a little different, a little unique, because I know my book doesn’t exist in a vacuum and I’m sure people have good tofu recipes already because those are easy to come by. I wanted to add something a little different and not too redundant.

NMA: Speaking of the recipes, how did you develop them? They just seem so different from what you find in normal cookbooks. And of course, that’s partly because they have different goals. But did you develop them on your own, just by trial and error? Did you work with chefs or anything?

BB: No, the recipes are just ones that I’ve developed on my own over the years, that I’ve been making for myself for years and years. I actually don’t make quite as many of them as I used to because I’m on the road so much so I’m not around the kitchen. But the salads I still make on a regular basis, and I really like the pizzas a lot so I make those whenever I get a chance. But yeah, I just found what worked really well; it was just a really good high-quality, high-nutrition plan for an athlete. Or even a non-athlete—of course, if you’re not an athlete you don’t need to eat as much, but it really doesn’t change much. I think a healthy diet is a healthy diet; it’s just the quantity that would change based on your activity level.

Vega Whole Food Smoothie Infusion
NMA: I’ve tried your Vega Smoothie Infusion, and I really liked it. And I appreciated that your book wasn’t just a vehicle for promoting your products. But if I want to add it to any of the smoothies in the book (which are all really good, by the way), would I just replace the hemp protein with Smoothie Infusion?

BB: Yeah, you could replace the hemp protein and the ground flax as well. You could cut both of those out, just basically a 1:1 ratio. You’re getting the sprouted flax in the Smoothie Infusion, you’re getting the hemp protein, pea protein, rice protein in there as well, and some greens too. So basically substituting out the flax and the hemp on a 1:1 ratio will do it.

NMA: Great. Because I’m a marathoner, I especially enjoyed the parts of the book about eating before, during, and after exercise. It was a really eye-opening thing for me, because I eat so few processed foods normally, but then once I was exercising I’d start eating these commercial gels and Gatorades, and my diet principles went out the window while I was training. So I really like that you give all these natural methods for getting the fuel you need. So what’s a typical race-day diet for Brendan Brazier?

BB: Well, for a marathon, about two hours before, I would have a Vega bar. Sometimes I’ll put a bit of coconut oil on it, because it’s a medium chain triglyceride, which is a good type of energy. And then about 30 minutes before, I would have some Vega Sport, which is a sport drink that I developed. It’s actually really new; it just came out in Canada recently and will be out in the states in September. I’ll be sure to send you some once it’s out in the states. It’s like a really healthy version of Gatorade basically. It’s got organic sprouted-grain brown rice and pom nectar as a carbohydrate source, so it’s pretty much in line with what I make in the book.

And then during the run, if it’s a standard marathon or a really long training run or bike ride, I’ll make the energy gels that are in the book (the lemon-lime ones usually) and then have some coconut water with lemon and lime juice mixed in. So yeah, just keep sipping on that every 15 or 20 minutes, depending on how warm it is out and how much I’m sweating. And then after, I would have a big smoothie that has the protein, the essential fats, the fiber, the greens…basically Vega, blended in with fruits to help recover and reduce inflammation right away.

NMA: Ok, time for my selfish question. I’m trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon this year, which I’ve never done before. I’ve picked a fast course, I don’t have any injuries or anything, and I’ve lost some weight since I went vegetarian, so I’ve gotten a lot faster because of that and the energy gains. Any suggestions for taking about 10 more minutes off my time?

BB: What time do you need to run it in, 3:10?

NMA: Yeah I need a 3:10, and I’ve done 3:20 before. I feel like I’m faster now, but any ideas just to push it over the edge?

BB: Well, picking the right marathon to qualify at, for sure, can make a big difference. As I’m sure you know, there’s lots of variety in marathon courses; some are pretty slow and some are pretty fast, and some even have a drop, which is still legal to qualify for Boston. I believe Sacramento is one of those faster marathons.

But also, I find doing the speedwork, even stuff that seems way too short for marathon training, makes a big difference. Because it’s about efficiency; just get your body used to running at a faster pace and then when you run your marathon pace it feels really quite easy. So I always find that when I want to run better, just doing some of those track workouts…they don’t have to be anything crazy, but like 6 x 1 mile, I like doing. Just do each mile at about 20 seconds faster than your marathon goal pace, and have a minute and a half to two minutes rest in between. I find that’s really helpful, and even some strides, where you stride for about 80 meters pretty quick. Just do about six of those before and six of those after. Yeah, just get your muscles used to moving quicker and going that efficiency. And of course strength work too, some good gym work with squats and things like that will help you improve.

NMA: And do you do the gym stuff during the racing season as well, or is that only during the off-season for you?

BB: I used to do it during as well, but lately I haven’t been doing it as much, just because I’ve been cycling more. I really like feeling fresh on the track, and I find that sometimes when I do weights I don’t feel as fresh. You get a good sense of how strong you are, and I know that for me, I have a better chance of running a good marathon if I’m well-rested, even if I’m a little bit weaker. You know, so I would rather just feel fresh and feel good than push it too much and feel burned out or have heavy legs.

NMA: Have you run Boston yourself?

BB: No, I never have. It’s something that I may do one day; it’s just never really worked with my schedule. So you’re planning to do it next year, for April?

NMA: Well, assuming I qualify, yeah. That’s my goal. And after that I’d really like to get into triathlons.

BB: Which marathon are you going to try and qualify at?

NMA: The one I’ve chosen is the Wineglass Marathon, in New York. My wife has always wanted to run that one, and I looked at a list of popular qualifying marathons and it was in the top 10 in terms of percentage of finishers who qualify for Boston. It’s not a huge drop; it’s like 250 feet or so, but it just seems to be a popular qualifier, for whatever reason.

BB: Is that in upstate New York?

NMA: Yes, it is.

BB: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of that one. When is that, in October?

NMA: Yeah, October 4th. Ok, this has reminded me of one last question. Do you have any advice for runners looking to make the transition to triathlons? Because I know for me, the swimming is kind of the stumbling block.

BB: Yeah, swimming was definitely my weakness too; I didn’t have a swimming background. Find a good group you can get in with, and focus on technique. With swimming, you can be really fit, but if you’re technique’s not good, you’re not going to swim well. So make sure that someone can give you good stroke advice, right away, before you start pounding out the workouts, so that you don’t ingrain the wrong movements into your brain and get stuck with that. So definitely get someone who knows what he or she is doing to watch you swim, and just give you tips on stroke.

Sometimes it’s really hard to know what you’re actually doing; even videotaping is good so you can watch it after and see exactly what it is you’re doing, like if your legs are moving around too much and slowing you down. So I would suggest that for sure, just making sure your stroke is good and getting help with that. And then getting in with a good group that is doing workouts that suit what you need and not training so hard in the pool that you completely drain yourself. I know some triathletes make that mistake; they spend way too much time training in the pool just because you can push yourself so hard. But really, it can take away from the other training, which is probably going to give you greater return in terms of getting to the finish line quicker.

So, dividing your time up wisely is important, for sure, because it’s tough to fit everything in.

NMA: Alright, well then, that’s all that I have. Thank you so much for your time; I really appreciate it.

BB: Yeah, no problem; I’m glad you like that book and I’m glad that it’s working for you. That’s good to hear.

Nice guy and great information, huh?  If you’re interested in more information, check out my Thrive review (with sample recipes!).