Food as Medicine: How to THRIVE

Brendan Brazier discovered that he wasn’t built for speed. As a teen, he was determined – even dogged – about becoming an elite athlete, and his understanding and acceptance of his capacity for endurance led him to a professional career as a champion triathlete and ultra-marathoner. Then, suddenly, he was forced to contemplate his capacity for performance again when on a training ride, he was hit by a car.

Experiencing adult life as a non-athlete for the first time, Brazier began to understand the challenges of recovery. For all intents and purposes, he got better-acquainted with the experience of starting over, and even more comfortable with the perpetual effort of lifelong mastery. “The closest you can get to perfection is constant improvement,” he says.

And it’s not just a determined attitude – it’s acceptance and curiosity, applied. He observes that starting a new regimen is “an opportunity for growth and improvement. Whatever you do, it’s an investment in yourself and your standard of living. Find what you enjoy, because if you’re doing a program you really don’t like, you won’t get the full benefit.” In fact, a routine you don’t like can undermine your efforts with production of the stress-response hormone cortisol – he says partly why people who do the same routine see different results.


In building his athletic career, Brazier’s methodical curiosity led him to examine plant-based nutrition. “I just tried a lot of different diets —high-carb, low-fat, high-protein, and so on. Then I tried plant-based eating and it worked, but not right away. I felt better; I had more energy; I slept better; but it took many months for me to experience these benefits. I kept a training and nutrition log so I could follow when I trained and raced well, all the way back to what I ate during that time period — back to nutrition. I saw unmistakable patterns.”

Brazier wanted people to learn from his mistakes – “mistakes” leading to his own experience that optimization of nutrition and exercise created more efficient performance and recovery. (Brazier even sleeps more efficiently, waking up well-rested after less than seven or eight hours of shut-eye.) “Thrive Fitness” was published in 2009, and Brazier launched the highly successful Vega line of plant-based nutrition.

Now, with the second edition of “Thrive Fitness,” Brazier combines an easier-to-follow program design with new nutrition insights. For example, the benefits of human growth hormone (HGH) are highly sought-after, from helping to maintain a leaner physique and more youthful appearance, to better sleep quality. Less well-understood are how nutrition and exercise can support HGH release naturally, which Brazier explains as an alternative to dangerous supplementation. Here, exclusively for 24Life readers, he offers that excerpt from the new edition of “Thrive Fitness,” due out in February 2016.


I’ve come to learn that there’s much more to becoming a successful athlete than simply eating and exercising—calories in, calories out. There has to be purpose with both. There also needs to be an appreciation and understanding of how training and food impact the hormonal system, and the significant value that comes with working this system to our advantage.

In my first book, “Thrive,” I write extensively about the destructive nature of chronically elevated cortisol levels, caused by stress. The first onset of elevated cortisol actually provides a surge of energy, and even increased strength. However, soon after, if cortisol becomes chronically elevated, it turns catabolic, meaning that it will eat away at muscle and cause body fat to be stored. Clearly this needs to be understood when building a program. Natural hormone manipulation can have a significant impact on results, and we can use that understanding to our advantage. Of course, we want to encourage our bodies to make less cortisol and more human growth hormone (HGH). After about the age of 30, our bodies naturally slow their production of HGH, which can lead to lean muscle loss, stored body fat, weaker bones, hair loss, reduced elasticity of skin, and other general signs of aging, including slower recovery between workouts, greater inflammation, decreased range of motion and reduced flexibility.

Fortunately, there are ways to help increase our HGH production, by way of properly designed workouts and well-timed, purposeful eating. The Thrive Fitness program of course takes this into consideration. Here are eight natural ways we can ensure our workout and nutrition results are maximized by boosting HGH production.


Training above anaerobic threshold for short bursts, which engages fast-twitch muscles, helps to produce HGH. Known as VO2 max training, this strategy is put into practice starting on page 113. Using your largest muscles, such as glutes and quads, to lift heavy weight will also release HGH. Squats and one-legged pistol squats—included in the max strength / build / afterburn workouts—are an integral part of the hormonal manipulation utilized by Thrive Fitness.


Consuming carbs on their own will cause the hormone somatostatin to be released,
which directly inhibits HGH from being produced and therefore slows recovery rate. Within about 20 minutes of completing a workout, drinking a mixture that is made up of a 4:1 carb to protein ratio will help restock glycogen stores, and the protein in the mixture will prevent insulin from spiking. This will result in HGH being produced, which will significantly speed recovery by quickly bringing the body to an anabolic state. (See pages 163–166 for recovery drink recipe.)


Eating foods rich in the amino acid glutamine soon after a workout and before bed will also assist your body’s HGH production. Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning the body can generate an adequate amount; however, glutamine stores become depleted when the body is under stress. Whether the stress is mental, emotional, or a result of the physical strain of exercise, glutamine levels are likely to be lower than ideal unless stress-supporting foods are a regular part of your diet. Pea protein and spinach are good sources of glutamine.


Vitamin D that comes primarily from the sun helps the body produce more HGH. Even getting 30 minutes of sun exposure a day can have a clearly positive impact. Direct sunlight is best, but even if the sky is overcast, there’s still vitamin D reaching you. Having your arms and legs exposed will turn your body into a vitamin D–harnessing machine.


Increased melatonin levels have been shown to boost HGH levels. The best way to elevate melatonin production is to limit the amount of light that enters your eyes, starting about an hour before bed. Avoiding the TV, computer, and phone for an hour before you go to sleep can significantly increase melatonin production, and in turn HGH production. Melatonin is naturally produced in readying your body for a deep sleep, but if there is too much light entering your eyes, its production won’t ramp up.


Consuming high-quality, complete protein before bed will boost HGH. Plant-based, alkaline-forming protein in liquid form is ideal, as it’s easier to digest and keeps inflammation down. Also, foods such as almonds, lentils and pea protein have been shown to help the body naturally produce gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps the body relax before bed and increases HGH production. (below, see HGH-releasing pre-bedtime smoothie recipe.)


Eating foods that are rich in the essential amino acids L-arginine and L- lysine before bed, as well as before longer, less-intense workouts, will help produce HGH. L-arginine will also enhance nitrogen oxide production, which will dilate blood vessels and therefore allow more blood to be pumped throughout your body with less strain placed on the heart. This will improve performance, as well as sleep quality, in turn allowing more HGH to be produced. Walnuts and pine nuts are an excellent source of these amino acids.


It’s commonly said that we need eight hours of sleep a night to be in peak form. But I believe that quality is much more important than quantity. A person who sleeps only six hours may well be better rested than someone who sleeps a full eight, simply because the phase of the sleep is deeper. As I write about extensively in “Thrive,” reducing cortisol levels has a dramatically positive effect on enabling the body to sleep more efficiently. The deep, desirable delta phase of sleep that the body is able to reach when cortisol levels are low directly increases HGH production.


This smoothie is low in starch and sugar, has plenty of high-quality fat and complete protein, and is rich in L-glutamine (from pea protein), L-arginine, and L-lysine (from walnuts and pine nuts). Because of this, it will enable the body to relax before bed as well as educe the production of HGH, which will speed the recovery process, help build lean muscle, and reduce body fat.

1 handful spinach

1⁄4 cup pine nuts

1⁄4 cup walnuts

1 (2-inch) piece cucumber

1 (2-inch) piece celery

Juice from 1⁄2 lemon

1⁄2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 scoop Vega Protein & Greens (natural flavor) (or pea protein)

3⁄4 cup water

Blend all ingredients together in a blender.



Standing on one leg, extend the other straight out in front of you. Grab your ex-tended foot with the same-side hand, if you can. If your flexibility doesn’t allow you to grab your foot, hold your calf. Using the wall for balance and assistance, if needed, slowly lower yourself down until you are hovering just above your grounded foot. Pause for 1 second. Slowly lift yourself straight up, back to starting position. Perform 20 reps. As your leg fatigues, use the wall for greater assistance. Repeat with the other leg. Once complete, do 30 air squats (see page 102).

Make It Easier: Instead of straightening the extended, non-working leg, bend it at a 45-degree angle and only lower yourself to a 90-degree angle, then stand up.

Excerpted from “Thrive Fitness: The Program for Peak Mental and Physical Strength – Fueled by Clean, Plant-based, Whole Food Recipes.”