Thrive by Brendan Brazier

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Thrive by Brendan Brazier

Food and productivity. A topic that isn’t discussed much, but that’s something we are going to change here at Asian Efficiency. We think it’s such an important topic because of the major role food plays in how productive you are. There is not a lot of information out there on this topic and that’s why we want to address it.

We’ll start by first introducing you to a book that specializes on this topic. In Thrive, Brendan Brazier educates you about how food and productivity are linked together, and how you can implement some of his core ideas to make you more effective and productive. I’ll outline some of the major concepts of the book here.

To give the book some context, it’s written by a professional Ironman triathlete who saw a need for performing better. Brendan Brazier discovered how certain foods helped him perform better and as a result created a diet around it (the Thrive diet).

You have to realize that a triathlon is a very intensive race. It consists of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and a marathon run (26.2 miles) all done with no breaks in between. Obviously you need a lot of energy to do this (average time to finish a Ironman triathlon is 12 hours and 35 minutes!) and more importantly you need to efficiently use your energy.

You might be thinking, “Thanh, that’s nice and all but why do I need to know this? I’m not a professional athlete. I just sit behind my computer most of the day and just want to be more productive!” I hear you. I sit behind a screen most of the day too. In order to increase your productivity you need to understand how to manage your energy. The book The Power of Full Engagement (review) does a great job explaining it but it doesn’t delve into in the ins and out of how foods affect your energy level.

That’s where Thrive really shines. It explains in detail how the body works, how it processes food and how foods are linked with your productivity levels. Below is my summary of some of the concepts in the book.

Stress

In order to understand what role foods play in your productivity, you first have to understand what (nutritional) stress is and how this plays a role in your body (and your productivity).

Whenever you eat something, your body has to digest the food to turn it into energy. This process requires a lot of energy. In fact, your digestive system is one of the biggest energy suckers in your body.

Have you ever had a meal where you felt tired and sluggish after eating? Do you remember being super productive after that big meal? Of course not. This is a very common problem and a form of stress on the body that tempers your thinking and focus abilities.

What happens is when you eat poorly digestible foods it will cost your body a lot of energy to digest it. Blood is drawn to parts of the body where it is needed the most. Thus, when you eat a heavy meal, blood is drawn to the stomach to help the digestion process. When there is not enough blood in the head, that means not enough nutrients will go to the brain. In other words, heavy meals deprive your brain from glucose and oxygen it needs to function at its best.

Another form of stress is the lack of nutrients in your foods. Your body wants to extract all nutrients from food in the most efficient way. Whenever the body doesn’t get enough nutrients, it causes a stress response. Stress is a state where the body thinks it’s in danger and it will give you a temporary boost to ensure your survival.

Nutritional stress, as Brendan calls it, is the body’s response to food that is void of nutrition. What happens then is that your body’s adrenal glands will produce a stress hormone, cortisol, to make up for the lack of energy it got from digestion. It’s a temporary fix to give you some extra energy. The problem is, too much (pertained) cortisol in your body is not a good thing. It eats away muscle tissue, causes hormonal imbalance, makes sleeping more difficult, and it burns fuel inefficiently.

The problem with most foods today is that they cause this stress response because they contain very few nutrients. This is not just the case for junk food. Take white bread for example. It’s a staple in most Western diets and we wouldn’t consider this junk food. However, white bread contains very little nutrients and thus causes a stress response as your body tries to digest it.

Ideally you want to eat as much nutrient-dense food as possible so you avoid this stress response. When the body is stressed, it can’t be productive nor perform at its best. It’s that simple.

Cravings

cupcake

Cravings are another form of stress caused by poor diets. A craving is a uncontrollable thought that occupies a perceived need for something. Just think of the times you had a sweet tooth – that strong desire for something really sweet and sugary.

Imagine having that thought for a couple hours. Do you really think you can get work done when you’re constantly thinking about desserts? Of course not. You have this mental clutter that prevents you from focusing and being creative. When you have a craving, you simply can’t stop thinking about it. It’s like trying to study for an exam while the radio is playing at full blast on the background.

Interesting note: Stressed reversed is desserts.

The chemical serotonin plays an important role here. It’s found in the brain’s pituitary gland and it has a elevating effect on your mood. Basically, a regular release of serotonin in your body makes you feel good and as a result more productive.

As stress arises, your serotonin levels drop. Your body wants to address this as soon as possible and when you eat sugary foods it releases serotonin in the body. A craving is essentially your body’s way of saying “pass me some of that sugar” to restore your serotonin levels.

The best way to address cravings, and to prevent them, is by having a good diet. When stress goes up, so does your need for nutritious foods. Back in the cavemen days, that’s what fruits were for. Nowadays, it’s desserts but that puts you in a negative loop: it’s a short-term fix, the nutrition-less foods cause a stress response, and as a result you eat more sugary foods.

When you lower your stress (your cortisol levels go down) your body will naturally produce more serotonin. Less stress equals to more serotonin.

One of the best ways to reduce a lot of stress is by eating the right foods. That’s where the Thrive diet comes in.

The Thrive Diet

vegetables

The Thrive diet is mainly about ensuring you eat nutritious foods that are high in net-gain (explained below) and don’t cost a lot of energy to digest. This diet was developed as the author saw a need to perform better at his triathlons.

Remember, this guy was swimming, running and cycling for his Ironman triathlons (without any breaks in between) and his body needed to be very efficient in the ways it conserved and used energy.

While training obviously plays an important role, so does the diet. The cornerstone idea behind the Thrive diet is that has a lot of high net-gain foods. What this means is that the foods are efficiently digested when taken in. When the body doesn’t have to expend a lot of energy digesting, it can conserve energy for other functions. When the body must expend energy to digest, assimilate and utilize the nutrients, the less energy you are left with. In other words, high net-gain foods eliminate excess work for the body and provide more energy.

Nowadays, most foods cost as much energy to digest as they contain. They are low in net-gain and need to be avoided as much as possible. This goes especially for processed foods and of course junk food.

So you might be wondering what some of the characteristics are of high net-gain foods. Here are some:

  • raw or cooked at low temperature foods
  • naturally alkaline-forming foods
  • high in nutrients the body can use without having to convert them
  • non-stimulating

As the subtitle of the book, The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life, might give away, it’s mostly (raw) vegan food. Does this mean you have to be vegan to be more productive?

No.

The book contains a lot of useful information on how foods can make you more productive. You don’t have to be a (raw) vegan for that. Neither am I. Although I have adapted more raw vegan foods and I’ve eliminated meats from my diet, I wouldn’t consider myself vegan (I still love cooked foods and fried stuff once a while). I just took the best parts of the diet and applied it to my own diet.

The Thrive diet, or I should almost say lifestyle, has a lot of recipes that are quick and easy to make. The book goes more in depth on the diet and it’s very easy to follow. Just taking parts of it and incorporating it in my own life made me lose weight while at the same time made me more energized. Plus the foods taste great. It’s a win situation all around.

Recommendation

Thrive by Brendan Brazier

What I liked about the book is that the author doesn’t try to persuade you to become a vegan or stop eating meat. The points made throughout the book are done through the “productivity lens”. He just shows you the performance benefits of mostly vegan food and it’s really up to you to decide what you want to incorporate. If you just incorporate a couple things and you are more aware of what you eat, you’ll notice better energy levels, more times you’re focused and overall a more productive life.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about how foods and productivity are linked, Thrive is an excellent book. I remember reading it the first time, highlighting like a madmen and having my mind blown. It was the information I was looking for on the topic of food and productivity. What I’ve discussed here just scratches the surface, but get yourself a copy if you want to learn more about this topic.

You can get it here from Amazon.

Photos by Cillian Storm and the bridge.

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About

I grew up in The Netherlands, went to university in Los Angeles and now I'm living in different places every couple months. When I'm not writing about personal productivity or time management, I'm probably trying out a new restaurant in the city I'm in (I love food!). One of my specialties is time management for organizations, executives and employees. The reason I started this blog with Aaron is that I love sharing my knowledge with people and helping them become a better person. This blog is a footprint I want to leave behind and I hope you get a lot of value out of my articles. Feel free to get in touch with me anytime!

14 Comments

Posted by Nicole  | October 3, 2012 at 10:37AM | Reply

>Although I have adapted more vegan foods and I’ve eliminated meats from my diet, I wouldn’t consider myself vegan (I still love cooked foods and fried stuff once a while)

Whether or not something is cooked, and how, has nothing to do with whether or not it’s vegan. Broccoli is “vegan” whether it’s raw, steamed, or fried–unless it’s cooked in animal fat.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 3, 2012 at 11:18AM

Hi Nicole,

You’re right. I should have written “raw vegan”, that’s what I meant. I’ve corrected it.

Posted by Tom  | October 3, 2012 at 2:09PM | Reply

All this talk about what to eat but not when to eat it? I know you guys are probably getting tired of being hounded by me on twitter about fasting … add this to your someday/maybe list and I promise you’ll thank me later: leangains.com and reddit.com/r/leangains

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 4, 2012 at 1:31PM

Thanks for sharing Tom. That’s an interesting take on timing. I’ll have to look into this.

Posted by Aaron Lynn  | October 4, 2012 at 11:53PM

Hey Tom,

Will check it out.

I know that Thanh and I have (somewhat) conflicting views on nutrition, what to eat, when to eat it etc. But we’re both still well alive and kicking so we’re probably both right =)

The problem I’ve found with a lot of data out there on nutrition and health in general is that a lot of it is broscience – some people get results with it, some don’t, some of it has become so “common knowledge” that it’s accepted without scientific evidence etc.

We’ve got some pieces on health and nutrition coming up, but in general my thinking goes along the lines of “do what is healthy and easy to implement”. That may not be the most efficient for say building muscle or trimming fat, but I would say that health is more about consistency than forcing irregular habits.

For example, I’m pretty OK with eating 6-7 smaller meals a day, but I know for most people this just isn’t possible with their work schedules. The thing with irregular meal timings or workout schedules is that it’s usually quite difficult for people to move other parts of their life around to stick with them. Sometimes it’s better to sacrifice a little bit of efficiency for long term consistency.

– Aaron

Posted by Mike  | October 4, 2012 at 9:57PM | Reply

I’ve been adhering to this diet for a little over a month and the results have been amazing. My energy level is way up, I’m sleeping better, losing weight, don’t need an afternoon coffee, etc.

Just wanted to point out that Brendan Brazier has a food delivery service called Thrive Foods Direct that is perfect for someone like me who has no time (or inclination) to consistently shop and cook as thoughtfully as I should. All meals for the week are delivered on Monday morning. (I’m not affiliated with this service in any way; just am really happy with it so far.) There are coupon codes all over the web for 20% off.

http://www.thrivefoodsdirect.com

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 4, 2012 at 10:07PM

I didn’t know this existed. That’s pretty cool! I am going to try this out. Thanks for sharing Mike!

Posted by Kevin  | October 5, 2012 at 12:54AM | Reply

- To have an efficient car doesn’t one need to bear in mind the fuel and the design of the car? Now, please carry the above question over to the human body. =)

– For every difference between humans there are 1,000,000 similarities.

– Every single species known to man, has a species specific diet, and they eat their food in a raw, fresh, whole, organic state. (Except those animals in captivity; dogs, cats, etc)

– Disease (and inefficiency), is nearly unheard of in all know species, except man (and those either in captivity or exposed to excess human influence; cats, dogs, etc)

Drawing from the above points, humans also have a species specific diet (and lifestyle), that when adhered to raises the energy levels, efficiency of the mind and body, and the diet/lifestyle fits in synergistically with the environment and ecology of the planet. Disease can also be expected to be near non existent, as the body can more easily succeed in doing it’s job of vectoring towards and preserving health.

Would not the only foods man is capable of eating in a realistic, energy efficient manner, be fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds? Any other food in its whole, fresh, raw state would be truly unpalatable.

In conclusion, I have tested the above hypothesis and come to the conclusion that fruits need to predominate in a raw vegan diet and then energy/efficiency levels reach peak performance. To put it in perspective, I went from couch potato, with hernias and out of shape, working at a burger joint, —> to running 50+ mile ultra marathons, working at a job I love, and expanding my own enterprise.

I work with the doctor who wrote the book, The 80/10/10 Diet, and this is the approach I follow.

In health and happiness,

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 5, 2012 at 2:05PM

Thanks Kevin for the insights. I have heard a lot about the 80/10/10 diet from fellow raw vegans but I haven’t had a chance yet to delve into it.

I like the fuel analogy which is so true. This is something I’ll be writing about in the future and in depth.

Posted by Daniel  | October 5, 2012 at 12:56PM | Reply

Nothing said in the book above is wrong–in fact it’s quite useful information. However; most diet books miss an important part of the picture: micro-nutrients. It’s not just fat/protein/carbs that effect your energy and performance, it’s also little things like potassium, sodium, chlorine, and other minerals (vitamins fall in this category too).

There’s a great book about this called “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration” written by Weston A. Price. He did quite a few studies of remarkably healthy indigenous cultures (world-wide) to see the differences between them. Oddly enough, some cultures were almost completely vegetarian and some heavily consumed animal products–but both cultures were just as healthy.

He sums up his conclusions in his book. I’d recommend reading it; it’s quite interesting. (Note: I am not affiliated with them blah blah etc.).

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 5, 2012 at 2:09PM | Reply

Hi Daniel you bring up a good point. In this post I didn’t mention it but Thrive does discuss it.

Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ve added it to my list. It’s unfortunate it’s not available in Kindle format. I’ll share it with some of my raw vegan friends too as I’m sure they’ll love it too.

Posted by Marcos W.  | October 7, 2012 at 6:18PM | Reply

Im wondering what you guys think about cofee? I rely on it a lot, be to wake up or give little boosts in my mental state. That said, I find that I frequently feel irritated when I consume large ammounts of caffeine and sometimes think that would be wise to stop consuming it (I have tried but could not stay without it for more than a few days)

Posted by Thanh Pham  | October 8, 2012 at 1:02AM

Coffee in itself is not bad but I wouldn’t want to rely on it. It’s a short-term fix but it has its negative consequences too. Brendan also talks about it in the book on how you’re “borrowing energy” that you eventually have to pay off at some point (think: crash).

I’m also not a coffee drinker, but I am a green tea and since recently a yerba mate tea drinker. Both have caffeine, just like coffee, but without the crash. I only drink it once a day, maybe 3-4 days a week. That way I avoid relying on it and I drink it before noon so I avoid any sleeping problems (it has a half life of 5-6 hours so it takes a while to get rid of it).

Try substituting coffee with the teas I mentioned. I assume you drink coffee because of the caffeine. Try to substitute it and slowly drink less and less. If you drink 3x/day, cut back slowly to once a day. Once that’s consistent, then scale back to 3-4 days a week. Going full force might not work for you and your body, so slowly cutting back should be the way to go.

Posted by Jessica Zurik  | April 21, 2014 at 10:51AM | Reply

I will read it!

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