Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book Review: The Thrive Diet

A few weeks ago I read The Thrive Diet by Brendan Brazier. It took me all of 3 hours. Not to say I read fast. The time spent reading just flew by because so much of what the book talks about, I've believed for some time. I just wasn't implementing it all. So for the last 2 weeks I've been applying what I learned from the book and implementing what I already knew and have to say I'm hooked. At first I only committed to eat this way until after IMAZ. But as I write this blog I realize I'm probably going to eat this way from now on. Bottom line is not only do I feel better, but my training has gotten better as well.

The book in a nutshell is Brazier's contribution to the nutrition side of training, racing and recovery. Normally when I read books about nutrition, especially about training related nutrition, I come away more than a little disappointed. Having been a vegetarian for more than 20 years, I get a little disturbed with what I consider largely as misinformation about athletes choosing a completely vegetable based diet. Unfortunately, it is its vegetable based nature that is probably why Brazier's book isn't discussed and considered as a serious option for optimal eating, training, and racing more.

Brazier takes time to explain that eating in the majority of North American culture is not for function but other emotional and social reasons. This is why the typical diet is one of excess in quantity and lacking in actual nutrition. He points out that eating less is an option when the body has the proper nutrition to fuel its activity and recovery. Brazier explains a lower caloric intake is actually beneficial to an endurance athlete in particular because when higher nutrient sources are used in easily digestible forms, the body has more energy available for recovery and performance. It is his opinion that it is because of improper nutrition that people find themselves craving things like sugar and fat in excess which then throws the body out of balance. Over time the accumulated stresses of training and racing loads along with suboptimal eating patterns combine to set up a vicious cycle of poor eating, impaired or interrupted training and recovery, and a lower overall quality of life that many simply call burn out. Prolonged, the state of imbalance caused by faulty eating and the resultant stresses sets up a cycle leading to illness, premature aging and increased body fat. The accumulated stresses Brazier links to poor eating become more and more noticeable to the athlete as they begin limit the ability to train consistently and recover adequately. Though personally I find his tendency to lump the myriad of consequences of poor eating under the singular umbrella he refers to as "stress," I found his knowledge on the subject of nutrition and its effects on health and athletic recovery very sound.

Essentially Brazier looks at food as fuel, some fuels burning cleaner and more efficiently in the body than others and thus take less energy to digest fully while creating less waste, or in Braziers language, stress in the body. He is careful to state that training and racing are also forms of stress placed on the body noting that some stresses are beneficial for growth and development. What Brazier attempts to do with the Thrive Diet is to have our food support that growth by taking the wasteful and stressful aspects food can have on our bodies out of the equation of nutrition and performance. This in his words leads to not only a stronger, leaner body capable of racing better, but a person who is healthier and happier overall and more likely to reach and experience their true potential.

While the Thrive Diet in practice is not complex, it is vegan and largely raw, and it does run counter to what most Americans would consider a balanced meal. And overall it is probably lower in calories. But after following just a couple of the guidelines in the diet closely for the last couple of weeks a few things stand out.

The cover of Brazier's book claims by following this way of eating you will be leaner (have a lower body fat percentage), while increasing lean muscle mass, sleep more restfully, experience increased energy, and have a stronger immune system. From my experience over the last few weeks, I can honestly say Brazier's claims have all been on the mark. I have lost about 5 pounds and definitely look more muscular. But what is most amazing to me has been the recovery time I've seen. Workouts that would have left me using the railing in my house to get up and down the stairs for about 24 hours because my legs were so trashed are now a thing of the past. I am also getting by on far less sleep and still feeling rested. Daily runs are also looking more and more possible which would be a huge boost to my future overall fitness I'm sure. And all I'm doing is adhering more strongly to the notion that the more nutrients in my diet the better. I'm drinking several glasses of organic fruit and vegetable juice a day along with a protein smoothie. I have also lowered the consumption of Soy where possible. I have found I need to be more conscious of the quality and amount of beneficial fat in my diet and I'm looking into sources to include this. But to say I've seen a dramatic transformation in just 3 weeks would be an understatement. If you are serious about your triathlon performance, and just the overall quality of you experience of your life in general, I highly suggest you give Thrive a look.


Dave said...

Great reveiw. I'm nowhere close to a vegetarian, but have recently wondered what it may mean to my being an endurance athlete. I'll be sure to pick up a copy and give it a read. I just might learn something! Not to mention, I think we could all benefit from eating and recovering better!

Keith said...

Very interesting! I've been thinking I need to take a good look at my diet. This sounds like something worth checking out!

Fred (aka ace) said...

One thing I'd add to this blog now that you mention it is it is probably possible to do a "hybrid" version where you aren't actually vegetarian but during the day and during heavy training you eat mostly as the book suggests - large quantities of fruits and veggies in juice or as smoothies with some of the protein sources he suggests (like pea and rice protein) then have your evening meal be whatever you would normally eat. I think the key for me has been consistently stuffing my body with nutrients from fruit and vegetable sources that have been quickly accessible.

Brazier is quick to point out his approach may not be something immediately accessible for some, but suggests trying the parts of the diet you are comfortable with and seeing how that works for you. I did the same thing just eating mostly vegan and raw during the day and reverting to my more normal patterns at night. That lasted about a week. Long enough for me to see the difference and commit further. I liked the results so I tried other suggestions.