Photos by Rob Campbell

Former professional triathlete and two-time Canadian 50km ultramarathon champion, Brendan Brazier, knows a thing or two about thriving. He frequents Tony Horton’s home gym, helps mega-watt stars gear up for the big screen (remember Hugh Jackman in X-Men?), and has dedicated his life to raising awareness about plant-based eating.

When Brazier isn’t working with elite athletes (from the NFL, MLB, NHL, UFC, PGA, and even some Olympic competitors, too), he’s sharing his health knowledge to help people of all ages and fitness levels reach their goals. The Canada native is also the best selling author of the Thrive book series and free online program, and creator of Vega, plant-based nutritional products including smoothies, bars, and nutrition supplements.

Greatist caught up with the former Ironman to talk quinoa and sports performance. Find out how an average of 6-7 hours of sleep a night, plus hours of running, swimming, and biking, is the norm for this fitness fiend. Plus make one of his favorite smoothies by following the recipe below!

I think we all know the stereotype that’s out there: Vegetarians can’t build muscle or develop the same level of fitness as meat eaters. What are your thoughts on that claim?

I think it’s becoming less of a problem now because there are so many athletes who are doing [plant-based eating]. But it can be done, in my opinion, better. And that’s why I came up with the eating plan in the first place. I wanted to perform better. I was never trying to become a vegetarian or a vegan I just wanted to be a great athlete, so I was going to do whatever it took. A properly put-together plant-based diet is based on whole foods, nutrient-dense foods, and high net gain nutrition. Eating plant-based can really help speed recovery and that can allow you to train more and reduce inflammation, which makes your muscles more efficient. It can also reduce the energy it takes to digest food so you have more of it.

What’s your favorite way to work out, both when you were training and now that you’re not training full time?

I just really like getting out for long runs or bike rides. There are great hills where I live in the mountains and it’s just amazing cycling. I started doing this just because I like it, so I never had to push myself into training. It’s always just been something I wanted to do, so I guess that makes it easy.

Beyond nutrition, what did training for triathlons and ultramarathons entail for you? And what’s fitness like now that you still live an active lifestyle?

It was really just a lot of volume — a lot of swimming, biking, running. It meant getting up early to get to the pool, swimming a bunch, doing gym workouts, some core stuff. Then biking anywhere from 4-6 hours, and running right after cycling — just like in a race — anywhere from 75 to 90 minutes. I wouldn’t swim, bike, and run every day. Recently I started doing some plyo exercises and more strength work, which really improves my efficiency as well. It’s not just about the endurance … Strength training is efficient training, like P90X type stuff. I’ve gotten to know Tony Horton really well and he put together these great programs that I find really helps.

So are there any workouts you dread?

No, no. It’s just fun for me. Some people think that I’m going to be really motivational and tell them how they’re going to keep going and all that sort of stuff, and I really don’t. I mean, for me, I do it because I want to do it.

How do you motivate yourself? What mantras help get you out of bed when you were feeling sluggish?

I think really just reminding myself why I’m doing it in the first place. No one’s making me do this. There’s a reason that you’re running or you’re doing a triathlon. Presumably, it’s because you enjoy at least one aspect of it — whether it’s the actual training, or the race day, or even just the friends you train with. I feel really fortunate to be able to be healthy enough and to not be sick and that we’re actually able to do these things that are so much fun.

What are a few of your go-to foods.

I eat a lot of different leafy greens: spinach and kale and spring mix… I like hemp a lot. I eat a lot of chia, and things like buckwheat, and quinoa. I like macca root a lot, it can help nourish the adrenols so that when you’re training a lot, that helps lower cortisol, the stress hormone. When cortisol is lower it’s easier to build muscle; it’s easier to sleep deeply; and you don’t get as many sugar cravings. I also eat sprouted bread once in a while. Each slice of bread has six or seven grams of protein, which is the same as an egg.

Can you talk about your commitment to spreading the word about a plant-based diet?

It really did just start out as me trying to find a good nutrition plan that would help me recover more quickly so I could train more. There are a lot of benefits to [eating plant-based] and it’s not just sports performance. It helps you have more energy and feel better. I think it’s about getting the information out there and letting people know they have the power to control their lives. Things don’t just happen to you — you make decisions. That was one of the biggest motivating factors to help people. I tried to make good nutrition more accessible, and Vega came from that. And Thrive Forward, the web series, makes it even easier. People don’t even have to buy the book, they can just watch all of this for free.

So we’ve seen that plant-based diets may improve human health, but what do they mean for the environment?

It’s very important. When I was researching it some of the numbers were just amazing. I looked at land, water, fossil fuel, the future equivalent of emission created in food production then I compared that to the nutrients returned — vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants. I compared that to the standard American diet and a well-put-together plant-based diet and the resource difference is absolutely staggering. For example if someone swapped out the standard American breakfast every day for a year for a plant-based smoothie [they would] save the equivalent CO2 emissions of driving a midsize car (that gets around 26mpg) from Vancouver, B.C., to Tijuana, Mexico. Just one person, one meal, for one year. A lot of people don’t realize the impact food production has. With a car it’s easy. You put gas in it, you see the smog over the city … it’s very tangible. Whereas with food, you just go to the supermarket and buy it without knowing the implications.

Smoothie by Melanie Roy

At Greatist, we call anyone who makes healthier choices a “greatist.” What makes you a greatist?

Being consistent, doing something each day, being focused, really deciding what it is you want and not trying to do too much too soon. I learned that through my career with Ironman, I had to train for years literally before I could even do an Ironman so I had to have that big picture goal. It’s about coming up with a plan and chipping away at it each day.

Tried this smoothie recipe? What are your favorite plant-based foods? Let us know what you think in the comment section below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.