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Interview with Joe De Sena

Joe De Sena’s mission is to get 100 million people off their couch and start living mindfully and physically. His new book, The Spartan Way, aims to guide us in this direction.
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Author and endurance athlete Joe De Sena teaches that to experience positive changes in life, you must be willing to feel uncomfortable.

Author and endurance athlete Joe De Sena teaches that to experience positive changes in life, you must be willing to feel uncomfortable.

“I’m a big believer that if you follow some age-old principles—knowing your True North or your purpose in life, finding your commitment, delaying gratification—and really learn them and make them part of your ethos as an individual, you’re going to be more likely to be in tune with yourself, your family, friends, environment, and just start to get it,” says Spartan Race CEO and founder Joe De Sena, who is also a best-selling author, endurance athlete, and public speaker.

Joe De Sena’s mission is to get 100 million people off their couch and start living mindfully and physically. His new book, The Spartan Way, aims to guide us in this direction.

If life is an obstacle-filled endurance race, The Spartan Way’s lessons on embracing, and even creating, adversity—via diet, fitness, and otherwise—might well help us navigate any challenge. “Deliberately manufacturing adversity in your life is going to get you comfortable with being uncomfortable. Then you start to build an immunity toward the obstacles that come your way that aren’t manufactured. By practicing really tough stuff, like 300 burpees in the morning or an ice cold shower, you now have a frame of reference to measure against. It helps trick your mind into not flipping out over silly stuff.”

Why is the Spartan Diet primarily plant-based?

The principles we base everything on (come) from the book The China Study, written by Dr. Colin Campbell from Cornell University. He did a 30-year study with China, Oxford University, and Cornell. They found that animal-based protein causes lots of diseases, and that we’re better off eating a plant-based diet, which, in many cases, can actually reverse cancer and many of these modern-day diseases.

The reality is we actually need a lot less protein than we think. You can get a lot of protein from plants. You’re not necessarily going to become a bodybuilder, but you also don’t want to be the biggest, most muscular person in the cemetery. So if the goal is to live a long time, not put a bunch of pressure on your body, be really fast, have tons of endurance, feel full of energy, and sleep well, that’s your diet. I’ve tested it myself. I’ve raced thousands and thousands of miles. I’ve gone through 30-below temperatures as well as 135-degree temperatures on all different kinds of diets. And I will tell you there is nothing like a plant-based diet for the results I just described.

How does changing from a calorie-dense to nutrient-dense diet help develop our “delayed gratification muscles”?

Somebody said to me the other day, “Most people eat cake for breakfast, cake for lunch, and cake for dinner.” Pancakes for breakfast is basically cake. Some really unhealthy sandwich at lunch is basically cake. And then people have cake after or at dinner. It’s just one big cake. If you go to a nutrient-dense diet—if you eat a giant carrot versus a cake or a sugary cereal—your body is more likely to feel satiated.

And your body is seeking nutrition. It’s not seeking junk food on its most basic level. But we’ve become addicted to that junk food. So if you can eat some raw fruit or vegetables maybe 10 minutes before a meal and get your body the nutrients it needs, you’re less likely to chase the nutrients through foods that don’t have nutrients. That helps you delay gratification.

What other key nutrition habits support the Spartan lifestyle?

First thing in the morning—before I brush my teeth—I try to drink 10–12 ounces of warm water as fast as I can. I want to flush out my filtering system. All night long you’ve been sleeping and your body’s been filtering. Then ask yourself, can you not eat past 6 p.m. and before 10 a.m.? Can you fast one or two days a month? Can you eat your heavier meals in the morning and your lighter meals at night? Can you restrict the coffee and dessert and (other) low-nutrient foods? Can you stay away from the alcohol? A little black coffee is probably okay, but when I’m going past a Starbucks at the airport, people aren’t getting black coffee. They’re ordering giant, 16-oz. whipped-cream-laden drinks. It’s like another cake.

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