These High-Performance Vegan Meals Are An Athlete’s Secret Weapon

|Updated Aug 13, 2020

Brendan Brazier would be the kind of person you'd love to hate—or at least envy—if he weren't such a likable guy and hard-working good sport.

The former professional triathlete launched his first company, Vega, a plant-based protein powder back in 2004, that got purchased for $550 million eleven years later (it's now owned by Danone). Vega is now the official drink of Ironman races and events. He has since launched his next company, Pulp Culture, of anti-oxidant and adaptogen-infused beverages with a chaser of alcohol (or an alcoholic beverage with a chaser of antioxidants).

Despite checking all the boxes, Brazier is well-liked among athletes for his work ethic. His Instagram shows what training on a healthy plant-based diet can produce if we take care of our bodies as we age. (Oh, is THAT what 45 is supposed to look like? Who knew?)

Pulp culture comes in four flavors and was recently included in a story on "The 4 Best Canned Cocktails to Enjoy this Memorial Day Weekend" by Forbes. Its promise includes: Probiotics, adaptogens, zero added sugar, and great taste.

Yes, there's more.... In an interview with The Beet, Brazier let us know about Fire Road, his next venture that is a line of high-performance meals tailored to the athlete, or anyone who pays close attention to their macros.

The new meal delivery offers quality fuel to power your training. Fire Road promises to deliver high-energy, electrolyte-infused immune-boosting meals with "full-spectrum" protein–all derived from plants.

It also gives athletes and weekend warriors alike just the right blend of carbs and protein, gluten-free plant-based nutrients to fuel some serious training. These breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and shakes are exactly what the competitor needs to try to podium his or her age group at their next event (and God willing, there will be some races to enter in the fall or at some point).

Fire Road lets you click in, take a brief quiz to customize your offerings and tailor your food to what you're looking for, and then order away. Because after six hours on your century ride, even a fast cooker isn't fast enough. Pop one of these into the microwave and you're refueling with quality high octane grub in time to put your feet up and plan tomorrow's pain session, with a clear head.

For anyone who wants to know what makes Brendan Brazier tick, and understand just how driven one soul can be, read on. Here is The Beet's sit down with the guy who never sits.

Q: When did you go plant-based and what inspired you to take the leap? 

BB: I was around 15 years old. I was running track at the time and had no intention of going vegan. I was focussed on improving my running and found that nutrition is a main part of the process. I tried a variety of diets–high carb, low carb, you name it–and when I ate plant-based I started to see the correlation between eating and performance.

Some of the diets tried had a negative impact on my body. At first when I went plant-based I felt hungry and tired, so I started reading books and realized that I was lacking all sorts of essential vitamins like Omega, vitamin B12, and Iron. I found the right source for each of them and I started to feel good. I felt good and slept more deeply and felt great. So that's how I started eating vegan.

Q: How and Why did you start Vega? 

BB: It was 1990, and I made these shakes for myself, had no intention of making the blender drink. But I was trying these formulas and friends asked how to make it. By 2004, my partner and I decided to launch it. I had been making it for myself and it took me through my entire 7-year professional triathlon career. I was never going to be the number one athlete in the world but I had some sponsors and could do that [professionally] full time without having a regular day job, and as a pro, you just scrape by without making too much money.

Q: How did you shift into the role of a startup businessman? 

BB: The opportunity to create a product with Charles Chang made me question if I wanted to keep racing or do something new. It would mean I would have to stop being a pro athlete,  but my focus would shift and I really wanted to do one thing well. I shifted from Ironman to building a company. I worked hard at it. For me, if it seems challenging, it's probably worth doing.

Q: Was Vega a success right out of the gate? 

BB: I had written a book [Thrive, which has been recently updated and revised, and is in print] and went on tour. The thing with Vega is, when we started the company, it cost $75 for a tub and was only 15 servings and didn't taste very good. As expensive as that was, people were sold, because it worked. They recovered faster, and their skin cleared up, and they focused better.

Few folks would sit through my hour-long talk and then they would try Vega out after. People would say," Hey you look great!" But the whole process was slow.

We needed Whole Foods but they wouldn't let us sell Vega online if we were going to be in their stores. That's changed now. And once the momentum hit, it really took off.

BB: We saw success with the sport line: Pre-workout, Hydrator, and Recovery products. If a high-level athlete follows the protocol and feels better before, during, and after their session, then the word spreads. Many professional athletes from the NFL, NHL, and UFC started working out with Vega and shortly after, Hollywood stars did as well. That's when it took off.

Q: Which were the first stores Vega was sold in?

BB: Walmart and Costco wanted to sell our products in their stores. At first, we turned them down, because we weren't ready. When we finally came around, they were so happy to have us, and sales really took off in Costco.

Q: Who was the initial customer you wanted Vega to appeal to? 

BB: Vega became an aspirational product. The sports products are for people who wanted to be athletes and they didn't necessarily play in the NBA but they are aspirational. Folks who want to be athletes. they want to join the tribe.

Vega 1 became the base, for people who wanted to feel good and have a shake in the morning and not feel hungry later in the day or crave sugar and junk later. You're not overfed or undernourished, so when you eat nutrient-dense food your body responds. Those are the people who shop in Walmart.

Everyone wants to be able to focus and feel good, have energy and not be overweight, or depend on unhealthy foods. People realized that Vega is a great first step to feeling great.

Q: Did you intentionally make all Vega products vegan? 

BB: We never marketed directly to vegans. I wanted to make sure we got it to folks who are not vegan or vegetarian, but who want to be healthy. We wanted to market it as a way to get whole food, plant-based products to everyone.

Vega has a similar mission to Beyond Meat and that is to have a positive impact on the environment while also helping make a shift in the way people eat.

In 2004, Charles and I sold Vega to White Wave Foods, which was later acquired by the French company Danone. We still work with them closely and help develop new products.

We had sold it by the time the Ironman race was working with Vega. Hopefully, we will be at the Kona Ironman in October. It was amazing and to see plant-based Vega all over the place.

Q: Tell us about your latest launch Pulp Culture

BB: Pulp Culture is an alcoholic beverage made of fermented juice. Mark McTavish and I just released it in April. It's come such a long way but is such a simple drink. We let the juice sit in a big tank and fermentation eats all the sugar leaving organic acids and probiotics. We then add in adaptogens and blend them together. It's essentially a healthy, superfood, keto-friendly drink that just happens to have alcohol in it, 4.9 percent to be exact. I invested in 101 Cider House and joined together to launch this.  Its just juice and adaptogens in four formulas: Think, Hustle, Restore, and Relax.

Q: What else have you been up to? 

BB: David Brown and I started a meal delivery service called Fire Road, which caters to plant-based athletes, and those who aspire to perform better. The food is made NYC, and is available East of Chicago for now, and will be across the US as we continue to grow.

I was hands-on in the nutritional component of the business. I worked closely with our Chef Molly to build it out. Fire Road is still in the beginning stages but we're in talks of putting a store in Brooklyn. We've had positive feedback since it started. So far, Fire Road is available to people East of Chicago. But that will change as we grow.

We have no doubt. Until then, you'll find us sipping our Pulp Culture and contemplating our next workout and wondering if thinking about working counts for something.