Brendan Brazier: Vegan Athlete
I (Jeff) just got back from a talk by Brendan Brazier at a local Whole Foods store. He is the author of Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life and formulator of Vega nutritional products.
I went to this because I like to hear what some other authors are saying. Plus, I was curious on how he was spinning the vegan athlete thing. For those who are not sure what vegan is, it is a completely animal product free diet. No dairy, eggs, chicken, fish etc. Interestingly, about 11 years ago, I actually followed a vegan diet for a couple of years.
I looked over his book and listened to him speak for about 60 minutes. Regrettably, it was what I expected, mostly the same old stuff that most vegans and raw food advocates spew. Basically, get yourself alkaline, plant foods are the best, you will have more energy if you eat raw foods, animal products are not very good for us, and cooked/processed foods are stressful for the body because they have no enzymes. He also emphasized the importance of keeping cortisol levels down because this hormone will basically make you fat, sick, and tired.
There are so many things that I could say but don’t have the time to cover now. I will try to give you a couple of take home messages. First, I do agree that chronically elevated cortisol levels are not a good thing. But, a vegan and/or raw diet does not automatically bring this down. His book had no in-text citations, but there is a reference section in the back. Therefore, we don’t know if there is any good evidence (I did it and I feel great, lost weight, etc. is not good evidence) that a vegan diet does what he says. It is not likely that it would bring down cortisol any better than an omnivore diet (animal products and plant products). It seems that there is an important ratio of testosterone to cortisol. The increase in one tends to decrease the other (Volek et al) (this is an in-text citation). The Volek et al (1997) paper states “Vegetarians also consume less fat, SFA, and a higher PUFA/SFA ratio compared with omnivores, and vegetarians exhibit lower concentrations of T compared with omnivores” (p.51). This would typically mean that cortisol levels would be higher in the vegetarian.
Second, typically these types of books, vegan/vegetarian/raw, are based on strong philosophical and environmental views. This means that eating certain foods or food manufacturing processes are bad for animals and/or for the planet. There is a good amount of factual information that backs up some of these views. However, there is typically a lot of faulty logic and poor or no evidence to support their views on what certain foods do to people’s health or athletic ability.
There is a lot more to this issue but for now just realize that most of what he talks about is not supported with good evidence and is not likely useful.
Volek, J. et al (1997). Testosterone and cortisol in relationship to dietary nutrients and resistance exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 82(1): 49–54