Ever since I finished reading vegan professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier’s Thrive two weeks ago, I’ve been completely inspired to transform the way I think about food. I’ve made the meals and smoothies from it almost every day, posting many of them on this blog (with Brendan’s permission, of course). But amidst all my excitement, something occurred to me. I haven’t yet written a review to let you know what it’s all about! Enter this post.
Eating to Maximize Energy
Perhaps the most astounding thing about this book, subtitled “The Vegan Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life,” is that you forget it’s vegan. When I first picked it up, the v-word scared me. But just a few pages in, I forgot all about that. The focus isn’t on avoiding animal products—it’s on eating the foods that your body can break down most efficiently and turn into as much energy as possible. And those foods just happen to not come from animals.
In addition to the choosing plant-based foods that pack the most energy in the smallest space, Thrive places a lot of emphasis on preparation. Brazier promotes a high-raw diet, meaning (of course) that most of the food is either raw or cooked at relatively low temperature, 300 degrees or lower. The point here is to make digestion easy—when we cook foods at very high temperatures, we destroy the digestive enzymes present in them, placing a bigger burden on our systems at the cost of precious energy.
Still, none of this is what I like the most about Thrive. For me, the best part is the way this food makes me feel. Perhaps even above maximizing energy, the diet is about reducing stress on the body and mind—and 40 percent of such stress, according to Brazier, comes directly from the foods that we put into our bodies. Thrive is about eliminating the causes of unhealthy stimulation (refined sugar and caffeine come to mind) and choosing alkaline-forming foods to promote cellular regeneration and energy production and to create an environment in which viruses and bacteria cannot survive. (Cancer can’t develop in an alkaline environment, either. Bonus.)
The Thrive Diet Plan
The actual diet “plan” doesn’t involve any kind of calorie-counting, even for athletes. No protein or carb numbers to hit, no “phases,” or even foods that are off-limits. It’s much more about creating a lifestyle, a way of eating that, the more you can do it, the better you’ll feel and perform. But for those who like to be told exactly what to eat, Brendan does provide a 12-week meal plan, for which all six meals of each day are specified exactly.
Instead of following the 12-week plan—I like more flexibility than that—I’ve been eating about half of my meals directly from the Thrive recipes section. And this includes the sports drinks, recovery drinks, energy bars and even energy gels that Brendan uses during his training and races. In only two weeks, I’ve added so many new energy-dense and alkalizing foods to my diet. Coconut oil, hemp protein (better than whey or soy), hemp seeds and oil, raw almonds, ground flaxseed, sunflower seeds, acai juice, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, dates, mangos, rooibos tea, agave nectar, adzuki beans, black-eyed peas, and of course, loads of “normal,” fresh, raw fruits and vegetables.
If I have one complaint about the Thrive diet, it’s this: I miss cooking. The recipes are for the most part simple to prepare (and they should be, since this book isn’t a cookbook, it’s a book about maximizing energy). They make frequent use of the blender and food processor, and since a lot of the food is raw, there’s not too much cranking up the heat and getting a nice sear and carmelization on my foods. But if you’re not much of a cook anyway, all the better!
Thrive Diet Recipes
Ok, this post is getting way long, but I want to quickly share two great Thrive recipes with you. The first is a raw veggie burger that Erin and I had for lunch yesterday, one of our first totally raw meals, and so surprisingly tasty and filling. The other is an awesome immune-booster mango jalapeno smoothie (weird, right?) that we made this morning and are absolutely making again tomorrow.
Almond Flaxseed Burger Recipe (from Thrive)
Ingredients (for two burgers, each very filling)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 cup raw almonds (Brendan recommends soaking almonds to improve their nutrition)
- 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
- 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (one of few alkalizing types of vinegar)
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil, hemp oil, or EFA oil blend
- Sea salt to taste
Process all ingredients in a food processor until well blended. Form into two patties.
Erin and I were so surprised at the flavor of these burgers. And it’s been that way with a lot of raw foods; it’s hard to believe they have such incredible flavor without any cooking. These burgers we so filling that neither of us could finish them, with only a salad on the side. Warning!!! — I reduced the garlic amount to 1.5 cloves, and though the flavor was incredible, we were both tasting raw garlic for the rest of the day. Next time we’ll use even less, or maybe even no garlic.
Mango Lime Hot Pepper Smoothie Recipe (from Thrive)
Ingredients (for two smoothies):
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 banana
- 1 mango, peeled and pit removed
- 1/2 jalapeno
- 1.5 cups water and 1 cup ice
- 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed
- 1 Tbsp hemp protein
- 1 Tbsp agave nectar
- 1 Tbsp hemp oil or EFA oil blend
Mix it all in a blender.
We loved this smoothie! I removed the seeds and ribs from the jalapeno and there was still quite a kick!
Thrive is loaded with recipes like these, plus lots of sport-specific recipes.
Last thing, I have some exciting news… I’ll be interviewing Brendan Brazier on this blog sometime in the near future. Look for the post soon!
For more natural sports nutrition posts and recipes, check out the Running Fuel page.