A Look Into the "Thrive Diet" and the Story Behind It: A Guest Post by Jonathan Wolf

My brother being, well, my brother, Laguna Beach, August 2009.

This is a guest post by my little brother, Jonathan. I was going to write a really long introduction for him (basically doing the older-sister-lovingly-yet-playfully-describes-the-younger-brother thing), but I'd rather just take you to his post, because I think Jon's words speak for themselves. Through his Masters Program at Boston University, Jon just recently wrote a paper and gave a class presentation on his findings after reading Brendan Brazier's vegan nutritional book and guide for athletes, Thrive. Below his guest post, you will find excerpts from his paper, which I am so proud to be sharing with you. 

Jon with our mom, August 2008.

Jon has really grown into a remarkable writer, scholar, and person, and I find his take on food and nutrition really refreshing. Mostly, I love my brother because he is someone who always questions everything - never satisfied with the status quo, Jon remains curious and emboldened by the world around him (a vegan in the making I think!). Enjoy!

At Lindsay's wedding shower, September 2009.

From the beginning of my sister's voyage to become the "ultimate vegan" and my younger sister Whitney's not so clear path to her vegetarian lifestyle, I have been inundated with lectures, facts, opinions, and straight out arguments exploring why I am not adopting this lifestyle as well. The arguments were usually between Lindsay and me, as I would tease her about not eating meat at the beginning of her transition. I would play devil's advocate, introduce the "plants have feelings too argument", and even wave bacon in front of her face (seems borderline abusive, huh!). 

Lindsay, Whitney, and me in Laguna Beach, CA, August 2009.

As Lindsay became a more weathered vegetarian and ultimately vegan, the lecturing and "convincing" to become a plant-eater had stopped.

Lindsay and Whitney did not convince me to become a plant-eater. What they did accomplish though was opening my mind to reading books, watching movies/documentaries, and looking at the research associated with these lifestyles. I started realizing that the nutritional aspect of plant-based diets, in combination with the eye opening truths of our meat industry, was the persuasion I needed. 

I am not vegetarian nor vegan yet. I say yet with conviction. I do believe I am on a slow path, but it is still a path, to adopting this lifestyle. I have done the hardcore vegan cleanse found in Kelly Freston's book, Quantum Wellness (and am currently on a 30-day vegetarian pledge). My first step after the cleanse was permanently substituting milk with almond milk or soy milk. I now use the once "scary" tofu and tempeh in meals I never thought I would before. 

Getting the point across - that tofu and tempeh are not vegan or vegetarian foods, they are just foods - is an important distinction to make for those scared to dive into the world of unknown nutrition. How we think about food and define success in our lives is an important step in creating the direction and drive to accomplishing even the smallest step.
 Playing around with the brother-in-law 
at Lindsay and Steve's wedding, November 2009.

This is where I currently stand. I am in the process of cognitively restructuring what food means to me, how my body responds to it, and most importantly, what is success to Jonathan Wolf? 

Words of wisdom - do not let criticism stop you. Instead, let it intrigue you, question it, and see for yourself what the hype is all about.  

An excerpt from
Plant-Based Diets in Athletes:
A Look Into the "Thrive Diet" and the Story Behind It 

The debate of whether or not plant-based diets can be adopted by elite athletes is more pertinent in this "green" era than ever before. With heightened awareness of how our diet can affect our physical and emotional well-being, our nutritional choices are being put underneath the microscope. A population of people that heavily rely on nutrition as a way to enhance performance is professional athletes.  Like adopting any new lifestyle change, a little bit of convincing is required. Much of the media available to the public regarding plant-based diets attempt to influence people through the education of nutritional benefits or via fear tactics (the horrific meat.org videos). This is where the "Thrive Diet" stands out. Brendan Brazier, the creator of the "Thrive Diet" and professional Ironman triathlete, takes a cognitive approach to how we "think" about food.
When Brendan was fifteen, he decided he wanted to be a professional athlete, and so his intensive training to become an Ironman triathlete began. The Ironman challenge consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle, and a 26.2 mile run with no breaks. In order to design an effective training program, he decided to compare the top, moderate, and low performing Ironman athletes. In doing so, he saw very little variation in physical training. This forced him to do some research, and through this, he found that the one thing athletes varied most  was their diet. The process of ultimately becoming a vegan professional athlete did not come easy nor overnight and encouraged Brendan to redefine a very important aspect of sport, which is - what is success? Brendan was able to identify success as how quickly his body recovered from workouts, which could be directly linked to how effective his diet was. Instead of falling in line with many of the critiques associated with a plant-based diet, Brendan was intrigued and continued his research with doctors, literature, empirical studies, and other professional athletes. He designed the "thrive diet" on three main principles: first, you should attempt to reduce any unnecessary stress; second, eat only high "net gain" foods; third, follow the one-step nutrition rule (more below). Much of the nutritional literature available elicits ideas of adding or subtracting something to and from your diet to obtain a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, while the "thrive diet" simply states the three rules to follow, and if they are obeyed, you will just so happen to be adopting a plant-based diet. 

The "thrive diet" is living proof that it is possible for professional athletes to adopt a plant-based lifestyle and still perform well, and Brazier's ability to simplify a diet into three rules not only makes this diet achievable, but extremely influencing. With no mention of any type of meat within the first 65 pages, Brazier still gets the same point across - a plant-based diet is the new gold standard for humans let alone athletes.  

Closely examining the three rules is key in understanding how the "thrive diet" functions. First, Brazier speaks throughout his book of eliminating any unnecessary stress. Stress, according to Brazier, is located within three domains - physical, emotional, and nutritional. Doing your part to decrease stress can be your first step to living a high energy, disease free, healthy lifestyle. 

The second principle of the "thrive diet" is to eat high "net-gain" foods.  The "net-gain" principle states that the more energy it takes to digest food the less energy we are left with. Foods that are high in "net-gain" are those that take little energy or calories to digest. According to Brazier, if meat was a high "net-gain" food and helped reduce stress it would be part of the "thrive diet", but this simply is not the case. His influence is still not directed at cutting out meat or increasing plant-food intake, but at simply eating high "net-gain" food, whatever they may be (and they just happen to be fruits, vegetables, and legumes).
The third and final rule of the "thrive diet" is to follow "one-step" nutrition. If the foods you are eating take more than one-step to breakdown and absorb, it is not following "one-step" nutrition. Many North American diets consist of eating complex carbohydrates, protein, and fat (usually saturated and trans). Our body needs to break each of these down to their respective sources of nutrients in order to absorb and utilize the energy. "One-step" nutrition and the "thrive diet" encourage eating simple carbohydrates, amino acids, and fatty acids in their rawest form. Foods that follow "one-step" nutrition have high bioavailability (how quickly our body can break down the food in order to actually use it). Remember from the previous rules, if your body is putting in extra work and seeing no benefit, that is unnecessary stress. 

Brendan Brazier's message is clear - reduce stress and eat foods that your body can actually utilize. If you do this, you will find yourself surrounded by foods you never knew existed and just happen to be following a plant-based diet. Countless numbers of athletes ranging from power-lifters and football players, to 24 hour marathon runners and triathletes have adopted a plant-based lifestyle. It is a journey that requires persistence and the ability to question everything. Brazier did his own research to find answers, and so should you. If someone criticizes a plant-based diet, don't fall into line; be intrigued by their opinion but still have your own.  If nutrition can damage your body and also allow it to perform optimally, it is just as big a piece of the training puzzle as the physical training is. Play around with food, see what you like and dislike, but give the three rules of the "thrive diet" a stab, and see if you have it in you.   

Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life from Brendan Brazier on Vimeo.

A List of Vegan/Vegetarian Athletes:
    Iron Man/Triathlon/Running 

Brendan Brazier, Professional Ironman triathlete 
Ruth Heidrich, Six-time Ironwoman, USA track and field Master's champion 
Sixto Linares, World record holder, 24-hour triathlon 
Paavo Nurmi, Long-distance runner, winner of nine Olympic medals and 20 world records 
Dave Scott, Six-time winner of the Ironman triathlon 
Jane Wetzel, U.S. National marathon champion

Weight Lifters 

Andreas Cahling, Swedish champion bodybuilder, Olympic gold medalist in the ski jump
Keith Holmes, World-champion middleweight boxer

More Famous Athletes

Desmond Howard, Professional football star, Heisman trophy winner 
Martina Navratilova, Champion tennis player  
Carl Lewis, Track and Field Star 
Ricky Williams, NFL Running Back  
Salim Stoudamire, NBA Guard
Tony Gonzalez, NFL Star

Jonathan B. Wolf, Ed.M., currently lives in Boston, while just finishing a Master's Degree in Sport Psychology at Boston University. With a Bachelor's degree in Kinesiology, sports, nutrition, and mental conditioning have always been core values to him. He specializes in goal setting, establishing motivation, self-talk, cognitive restructuring, and mental imagery. He has worked with college and high school athletes, alongside non-athletes in a variety of settings.

If you would like to get in touch with Jonathan with any questions or interest in his services, feel free to email him at JonBWolf@gmail.com.


Myra Wolf said…
How could I feel prouder? Knowing Jonathan since conception, Jon has followed his own path in not only sports, but life in general and...on his own time frame and terms.
Sharing of the knowledge he has gained on his educational path, I have been very blessed to have had Jon share his learning with us. It has made my life more informed and more valuble to myself.
The story behind Thrive is remarkable and thank you so much for sharing your report of it Jon and thank you Lindsay for giving him the medium for other readers to learn from it. Wonderful!!
forever, and ever...xoxo (I am over the moon proud..but I will just whisper that :)
Thanks Jon for sharing this. I wish my body looked like yours but I cut a fine picture fully dressed.
I am finding my body again eating vegan-plant based foods. I am hoping that I can run beyond the end of the street very soon. All I can say is I have a much bigger energy level and feel much better after eating plant based foods. I don't even have cravings or a desire to eat anything I have now eliminated from my diet.

I am so proud of myself that I have learned all I have so far, thanks to Lindsay, you, Whitney and all the information I have read to lead me to a healthier way to live.

I am shocked to learn that we have stress based on nutrition. You just taught me something. I also did not know about eating foods with one step digestion. I just gained awhole lot of knowledge from just reading excerpts from your report. I wish the whole report had been posted and I am sure the author-athlete would be very pleased to see your report and how you have just used it to teach others about another path to a better life.
Way to go Jon! Keep up the great work! If I need a life coach you are it! Thank you for caring so much about others. PS: How did you get those abs? GO FOR IT!
Steven said…
Love it, BIL. So excited that you got all of this out of Thrive - it has influenced me a lot too. Just your excerpt alone is so well written and important for others to read - I'd love to get my hands on the whole thing at some point.

My favorite part of your whole post is when you talk about tofu and tempeh as just being FOODS. It's the labeling of diets, lifestyles, and foods that can really bring unnecessary negative connotations to them. I'm proud to be vegan, but I will definitely try to explain some of the foods I eat that way to others next time I get the "Ewwww, tofu? That's vegan food."

Great job again and, please, lend me some of your six-pack.
CurlyLocks said…

Your guest blog is well-written and interesting. Until now, I had no idea what the theoretical basis was for Thrive. Thanks for sharing.

Now, take that Master's and go get 'em!
Hi Jonathan. Great to meet you.

I like how you point out that it's not vegan or vegetarian "it's just food". Such an awesome mindset. I'm tweeting this article with an @vegateam.

My husband and I just started the thrive in 30. I joined the Vega community in Feb. In fact, today I'm finishing up reading Thrive and about to embark on the 12 weeks. Very exciting.

God Bless. Maybe I'll see you around the Vega Community.
Awesome guest blog! Lindsay, you and your family are so very well-spoken... I love and look forward to each new post :)

I am going to order that book, sounds like one that both men and women would get a lot out of. I am still gently trying to educate my fiancee on veganism, and I think that he would dig that book.

Thanks you guys!
Moo Something said…
Great post Lindsay and Jon!!
Jon - very impressive and interesting! I'm going to share this with my husband. Good luck with your goals. Lindsay -- perfect example here of your ripple effect!