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Elite professional triathlete, 27-year-old Canadian (North Vancouver) Brendan Brazier is a staunch vegan.

Brendan in his own words:

"When I first stopped eating meat in 1990 the only information I could find was in books written for the average person, not the athlete. Not knowing that athletes' requirements are vastly different form the average person, I followed the information from the books. After only a few months without animal products I was having trouble with energy levels. I did research for a couple of years. It, combined with conversations with athletes who used to be vegetarians, lead me to this conclusion: The typical vegan diet will not work for most athletes. It's too low in high-quality fat, protein, sodium and calcium. However, with a few adjustments, the vegan athlete can thrive. If implemented properly, a vegan diet can reduce recovery time, provide more energy and reduce post-workout stiffness. If done incorrectly, as is commonly the case, the athlete will likely experience four problems: constant hunger, poor muscle recovery, sugar cravings and lack of energy. This is most often due to a lack of dietary protein and fat. Without adequate protein, the carbohydrate consumed will enter the bloodstream faster, causing insulin levels to rise quickly (spike), then decline a short time later (crash). With protein and fat added to each meal and snack a "sugar crash" will not occur. Protein will complement the carbohydrate, allowing it to enter the bloodstream at a steady rate, by doing so delaying the onset of hunger while sustaining energy levels. A four-to-one carbohydrate to protein ratio has been shown to yield the best muscle glycogen recovery results. The small amount of protein (25%) combined with a high glycemic carbohydrate (sugar) has been shown to improve recover over the conventional "sugar only" approach. Sweetened soy drinks help provide this ratio. Animal products contain a lot of fat. Cutting all fat from the diet is not the goal, although saturated fat should be minimized for optimum performance. A very low-fat diet is okay for low to moderately active people. However, highly active people, especially endurance athletes who have adopted plant-based diets, will benefit by adding good quality fats to their meals. As with protein, fat helps slow the rate at which carbohydrates enter the bloodstream, providing sustained, consistent energy."

Brendan runs 130 kilometres a week, swims six or seven hours a week, cycles about 700 kilometres a week and says he loves every minute of his demanding training schedule! Last year, in just his third Ironman event, Brazier finished 14th in Penticton's Ironman Canada triathlon. He completed the course (3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42.2 km run) in nine minutes 13 seconds about an hour of swimming, five hours of cycling and just over three hours of running.

My idea of exercise is walking briskly to the fridge, grabbing whatever I can lay my hands on, then hurry back to my chair to watch Jerry Springer. But, Brendan has inspired me and I feel I may complete a circuit of my back garden before getting back to the TV. Onya Brendan!

Interview by June Bird, November 2002.

Photos: Neil Willman

June: Why are you vegan Brendan?
Brendan: I first became vegan for health reasons, which for me translates to performance gains. Soon after I stopped eating meat I realized that there were many more reasons other than just health to be vegan. Aside from the health, environmental and animal welfare concerns, I also began to dislike the way in witch society views meat consumption. The slick marketing and complete removal of any thought that the ground-up, plastic wrapped piece of meat bought in a supermarket was recently an animal walking around in a field, not to different from your dog. Society makes contributing to killing an animal completely acceptable and anonymous, others do all the messy work (breeding, raising, killing) all you as the consumer has to do is walk into a friendly, clean supermarket in the shopping mall and buy a piece of meat wrapped with a cartoon picture of a smiling cow on it.
June: Have you ever found it to be difficult?
Brendan: As far as wanting to eat animal products, no. As far as the convenient factor, sometimes. It can be hard to get a balanced meal away from home. If I'm out with friends at a restaurant it can be difficult sometimes but I usually plan ahead and eat at home first, then just order something light such as a salad. Some people think I'm a bit odd but I'm OK with that.
June: When did you go vegan?

I've been vegan for about 3 years (since about 1999) but I was 95% vegan since 1990. I stopped drinking milk at the same time I stopped eating meat, in 1990, but
I still had cheeses once in a while, mostly only when it was in things. Then about three years ago I decided to forego the convenience-factor and completely cut it out.

June: What about when you're touring what's the vegan food like for you?
Brendan: Touring can be tricky; it definitely takes a bit of planning. Since I try to maintain a healthy diet while on the road, I make sure to take soy protein powder with me it makes things much easier. I can just rely on local fruit, bread and rice pretty easy to get anywhere. I've also learned how to make oatmeal, rice, and instant black bean soup in a coffee maker, which are in most hotel rooms. Oatmeal with soy protein and local fruit for breakfast, then rice mixed with black bean soup and a can of beans for dinner fast, universally available, and cheap.
June: What about your friends and family are they vegan or vegetarian?
Brendan: I don't have many vegetarian friends and even fewer vegan ones. Most of my friends eat the 'conventional' way, it's a good lesson in tolerance for me, I appreciate that. My Dad is vegetarian, my Mom eats fish but calls herself vegetarian guess she doesn't consider a fish to be an animal.
June: What about wearing leather?
Brendan: I have one pair of leather shoes that I got in 1993. I wear them once in awhile, I figure it's more practical than buying a new pair of plastic ones. I certainly wouldn't buy any leather now. I recently found out about a company that makes faux leather shoes, jackets, belts, etc. that are really made from recycled car tires sounds pretty smart to me.
June: Have you found that you've developed a stronger affinity with animals since you became vegan?
Brendan: I've always liked animals, not to the point of having any pets, but I have a 'coexist attitude' towards them. I live on the North Shore of Vancouver, which has several mountains and forest parks where I run. I see many animals on a daily basis in their natural environment. Bears, cougars, deers, coyotes, all live near me it's like I have pets but don't have to feed them, bath them, or pay any Vet bills!
June: Jerry Springer will be back on any second so just quickly Brendan what are your plans for the future?
Brendan: I'm currently working on producing my own hemp clothing line with a Vancouver-based hemp clothing company. The first pieces will be out by November, just basic ones to start, t-shirt, polo shirt, and hooded sweatshirt. (The website should be up soon). Athletically, right now I'm just headed towards the off-season. For next year I plan to continue racing and improving, I'm 27 right now and athletes in my sport don't peak until their mid to late 30s. I'm headed in the right direction, so a well-planned, smart training program should put me in a good position over the next few years.
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