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Natural Food Athlete 11/22/11

He's been in the top 10 of the Xterra Wold Championships four times, he's won the Cape Epic Twice and he only eats plants. Meet super athlete Nico Pfitzenmaier. By Vivienne Cannan.

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I recently attended a talk by a top vegan tri-athlete, Nico Pfitzenmaier, hosted by Rawlicious. Unsure what to expect, I packed a few friends in the car and headed off to Erin Hall in Rondebosch – despite the cold and wet evening. When we arrived, we had some delicious raw pizza for dinner (created by the folks at Earthshine) and indulged in a green smoothie on sale.

With the dinner box ticked off our to-do list for the night, we settled into our seats for the presentation.

“I am looking out at future tri-athletes”

That was Nico’s opening line – and what an inspiring one too! There is something wonderful about a stranger seeing your potential and Nico’s opening line definitely hit the right spot. On this note we were out of the starting blocks and onto Nico’s track record, which is impressive to put it mildly.

Born in Germany, Nico has lived in South Africa since 2007. Nico learnt to swim at the age of 33 and made the decision to become a professional tri-athlete at 34. Clearly not a man to shy away from adversity, Nico went on to set some impressive records proving that when someone (no matter what their age) puts their mind and heart into something, they can accomplish it.

Nico’s wall of fame reads something like this:

  • Qualified for the Ironman World Championships in 2004
  • 4 times top 10 @ Xterra World Championships
  • 5 times Xterra European Champion – at the age of 38
  • 2 times winner in the mixed category at the Cape Epic Mountain Bike race
  • 3 times winner at Totalsports Challenge (Terra Firma)

His talk for the evening was themed around two main concepts:

  • To enhance performance, reduce stress and live the most optimum life a plant based raw and whole food diet is ideal.
  • Alkaline is key!

By eliminating wheat products, dairy and meat from his diet Nico discovered four nutritional principles:

  • Ensure that the body’s acid/ alkaline balance is maintained

The Western diet consists of about 70% acidity, based on the foods that are consumed. These high levels of acidity have been proven to increase the chance of disease due to the pressure that these levels place on the body when having to break down and process such food types. Nico believes that a diet with 80% alkalinity is ideal to help the body not only to recover quicker but equally to stay healthy.

  • Eat nutrient dense food

Nico explained the importance of both minerals and enzymes in the diet and how, as a result of certain agricultural processes and food processing, nutrients are destroyed. He strongly believes that by including a spectrum of raw and whole foods into your diet,nutritional and mineral levels can be maintained . This in turn helps to restore cells and put back what is taken out through exercise and day-to-day living. Nico also emphasises the importance of vitamins, phytonutrients and antioxidants to help you stay healthy.

  • Eat food that still contain digestive enzymes

To make sure that digestive enzymes are not destroyed , food cannot be heated over 46 degrees Celcius. Eating a diet that includes more raw food will ensure that the food’s enzymes remain intact when eaten. Also, as raw food is digested much faster than cooked food, it puts less stress on the body, helps to promote deeper sleep – which helps athletes recover faster – and helps create a higher level of wellbeing.

  • Eat food that increases energy

Sugar addiction is always a hot topic and Nico explained the importance of detoxing when it comes to eliminating sugar cravings from the body – permanently. He strongly suggests that people look for food with low GI levels and commit to a detox which will help natural energy levels to be restored.

The final part of Nico’s talk covered food myths and suggestions on how to include superfoods (things like raw cacao, maca, goji berries, Spirulina etc) into your diet to maintain the critical levels of protein, calcium and vitamins that the body needs to stay fit and healthy.

Without listing all of the myths discussed, the two that stood out the most for me were:

Myth 1: Meat is important for endurance and no meal is complete without it

Nico’s own track record is testimony to the fact that it is possible to be a professional tri-athlete and still not eat meat. He quotedevidence (from books like: The China Study) that point strongly towards the connection between animal protein/dairy and certain cancers and encouraged the audience to find out more about these topics.

Myth 2: You can’t get enough protein in your diet just through eating vegetables

Nico made a critical distinction here by explaining that it is not about the protein, but rather about the amino acids that the body needs in order to live and function healthily.

He explained that most essential amino acids are found in plants provided you eat a variety of whole and natural plant foods. Nico also explained that good sources of protein can be found in: lentils, peas, buckwheat, brown rice, quinoa and chia seeds to name a few.

Some interesting stats emerged from the myths discussion and are not ones that are commonly advertised.

100ml of milk = 119mg of calcium whereas 100g of sesame seeds contain 975mg of calcium

100g of orange juice = 56mg of Vitamin C whereas 100g of red pepper contains 184mg of Vitamin C

A fascinating revelation by Nico was that as a tri-athlete, he does not believe in carbo-loading before a big race. Instead, he focuses on taking in a variety of fruit and vegetable before a race which then maintains alkalinity throughout.

Foods he includes before a race are: brown rice, sweet potatoes, seeds and quinoa.

  • The final questions that Nico asked the audience to consider were:
  • What do you think it would be like to recover quicker after exercise?
  • What if you were able to find ways to improve resistance to illness?
  • What would it be like for you to get a better quality of sleep?
  • What if you could have less body fat and leaner muscles?
  • How would it feel to have fewer cravings and less hunger?

Earlier on in the talk, a great quote came up for us to think about: “If you hear and say something often enough it may become a set of beliefs which you just accept and act upon without questioning any more.”

Nico’s message was clear: now is the time to question and challenge your conditioned beliefs based around food and dispel the myths that hold you back from finding optimum health.

He encourages all to tune into the body and intuitively discover your own ideal food path thus allowing nature to truly work its magic.

About Vivienne Cannan: Vivienne believes very much in variety, as her working life indicates.  Vivienne is part owner of a successful PR business as well as a life facilitator, business coach and spiritual development facilitator.

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