Lance Armstrong In 2012: On Exercise, Diet And Why He Won't Go Into Politics
Lance Armstrong's name is synonymous with fitness, health, and more than anything else, success. His seven wins at Tour de France after beating testicular cancer set him on a path to philanthropy with the Lance Armstrong Foundation (better known as Livestrong), and he doesn't seem to have stopped during his "retirement." He's getting set to take part in his second Ironman event this year on April 1, in Texas, in order to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii in October.
Armstrong was in Toronto earlier this year to launch a new line of fitness equipment in partnership with Canadian Tire, and The Huffington Post Canada had a chance to sit down and talk candidly with the man who inspired 80 million yellow bracelets.
The Huffington Post Canada: This is the first line of fitness equipment you’ve ever done -- so why now?
Lance Armstrong: For whatever reason, maybe it’s because of my story, but people associate Livestrong with exercise and physical fitness, health and lifestyle choices like that. So to build on that, the question is, who’s your logical partner, who can make reliable, durable, trustworthy equipment, because you don’t want to have a piece of equipment that people are disappointed with if you’re putting a name or a brand on it.
HPC: How involved were you in the process of designing the equipment?
LA: Not that closely. Obviously, I come from one background, and the people that design fitness equipment have been doing it for years and years, and they know what works and doesn’t work.
HPC: And what's your own workout regimen?
LA: I exercise everyday. I swim, I bike, I run and I go to the gym. It’s anywhere from an hour to six hours a day.
It is difficult to do when you’re on the road. If I know I have a four, five day stretch travelling, then you build up to that and factor in a few recovery days, which essentially is what these end up being. I mean, I’ll fly home this afternoon and I’ll literally ride home from the airport, because my bike’s with us. So you just somehow fit it in.
SEE: 8 Things You Didn't Know About Lance Armstrong. Interview continues below:
He Has Five Kids ...
... currently ages 12, 10, 10, 2 and 1. For those who are old enough to do so, they were the last in their grades to start riding bikes. <i>Lance Armstrong waves to his one year-old son, Max, as his children, Isabelle, Luke and Grace look on, on July 20, 2010 in Pau, Southwestern France. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)</i>
He's On The Engine 2 Diet
The Engine 2 Diet, created by Rip Esselstyn (who just happens to be one of Armstrong's training partners), is a plant-based diet focused on natural, organic foods. According to Armstrong, he's less tired physically and sharper mentally than he's ever been.
He Drinks Wine
He may love his new Engine 2 diet, but Armstrong readily admits he's not prepared to go all the way with it yet, sticking to it for breakfast and lunch only. "I still want to have a glass of wine at dinner," he says. <i>Lance Armstrong drinks champagne during the 20th and last stage of the 91st Tour de France cycling race in Paris, 25 July 2004. (PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)</i>
He's Not Going Into Politics
Although there have been rumours that he's running for office, Armstrong has dismissed those, explaining that bipartisanship is far more beneficial for his organization. He also notes that it would be too difficult to drag his young kids through the "nasty nature of that world." <i>New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Lance Armstrong tour the Union Square Green Market October 30, 2009 .(TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)</i>
He Rides His Bike From The Airport
When he's travelling with his bike, he'll just hop on it and ride home. And you thought you were being good taking public transit? <i>Fans cheer on Tour de France seven-times winner, US Lance Armstrong, as he rides on July 11, 2010 in the 189 km and 8th stage of the 2010 Tour de France cycling race. (JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images)</i>
His Retirement Includes Ironman Competitions
Armstrong will be participating in his second Ironman event this year on April 1, in an attempt to qualify for the World Championships in October. <i>Lance Armstrong waits for the start of the Ironman Panama 70.3. triathlon in Panama City, Sunday Feb. 12, 2012. The race consists of a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run. (AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)</i>
He Isn't Only Concerned About Cancer
"If we don't somehow stem the tide of childhood obesity, we're going to have a huge problem," he says. "It's all about prevention. I mean, prevention is a key factor with so many types of cancer, so whether that's encouraging kids to exercise, or even encouraging adults to exercise, whether that's encouraging kids to not smoke, encouraging kids to stop smoking -- all these preventative measures have, I think, been ignored for the most part." <i>Lance Armstrong gives a speech during the Livestrong Global Cancer Campaign Launch visit to cancer survivors at Groote Schuur Hospital on March 11, 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Darren Stewart/Gallo Images/Getty Images)</i>
He Doesn't Support Helmet Laws ...
... but he does consider wearing them part of a prevention strategy. "I mean, people can do whatever they want," he explains. "Whether it's not smoking, whether it's wearing a helmet, putting on your seatbelt -- these are all simple measures that we know to save lives." <i>A man takes a cycle helmet in a new B'Twin bike shop in Lille, northern France, on the inauguration day of the 'B'Twin Village', a bike complex, on November 18, 2010. (DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images)</i>
HPC: For you, being involved with athletics as a child was very important. Is that something you’re stressing with your own kids?
LA: Yeah, I try. That’s a trickier scenario and proposition and dynamic, because they know that their dad was a professional athlete, so I don’t want to be that guy that’s like ‘you have to be the best at this and this.' I basically insist that they do something. They don’t have to necessarily love it, they certainly don’t have to be the best, but they have to do something to stay active. Otherwise, they’ll go crazy and I’ll go crazy.
HPC: In terms of the Livestrong mentality, obviously getting kids started early on a healthy lifestyle is important -- is that something that you advocate?
LA: Oh yeah. If we don’t somehow stem the tide of childhood obesity, we’re going to have a huge problem. If you just look at the rates of obesity and where they originate -- it always starts in the southeast [United States], and they eventually, almost like a cancer, kind of grow further to the northeast, and then it stretches out west.
And at the same time, we have this huge segment of our population that’s getting older, and as we know, cancer is a disease of the older population, so at some point these are going to cross, and we’ll be in a place where we can’t keep up with that. It’s all about prevention. I mean, prevention is a key factor with so many types of cancer, so whether that’s encouraging kids to exercise, or even encouraging adults to exercise, whether that’s encouraging kids to not smoke, encouraging kids to stop smoking -- all these preventative measures have, I think, been ignored for the most part.
HPC: Do you have a certain way you approach food?
LA: I didn’t for a long time until about a month ago until I started messing around with this new diet.
HPC: What changed?
LA: I started swimming again, and I swim with a guy [ed's note: former triathlete Rip Esselstyn] who started basically a food program called the Engine 2 Diet, which is a plant-based, 100% natural, organic diet. His dad was a famous cardiologist who did Forks Over Knives, and was President Clinton’s doctor. Clinton has gone to a completely vegan diet and he’s essentially erased his heart disease.
It’s basically whole grains, different types of beans, kale salad with creative alternatives for dressing. They’ll bring out something that looks like a brownie, but it’s not a brownie … though it tastes a bit like a brownie. So I did it for one day, then two days. Then I branched out and started doing it at breakfast and lunch. I still insist that I get to do whatever I want for dinner. But it’s made a significant difference in just in a month.
HPC: What kind of difference?
LA: Energy level. Even when you’re training really hard, it’s normal that you would have certain things for lunch or certain things for breakfast, and then have this dip, or almost like a food coma … I don’t experience that anymore. My energy level has never been this consistent, and not just consistent, but high. I’m a big napper -- I couldn’t even take a nap these days if I wanted to.
The other thing -- I expected to get rid of that dip, but I didn’t expect the mental side of it, and the sharpness and the focus that I’ve noticed. And I was the biggest non-believer, I was like ‘whatever man’, and I’m in. I’m not doing dinners yet, but breakfast and lunch, I’m in.
HPC: Do you think it’s pretty sustainable?
LA: If I were to stay in Austin, it’s very sustainable. It’s harder when you get on the road, of course -- I mean, you walk out that door and breakfast is sitting there. None of that [muffins, croissants, etc.] is on the Engine 2 diet. So it gets harder and harder. But you can even travel with stuff. Breakfast is not hard, you bring your cereal and then you go to the store and buy almond milk, you buy bananas to put on top of it. If you plan, then it’s possible.
HPC: On a different topic, there were rumours that you were thinking of running for political office, but you've refuted that. Why?
LA: Our job is to represent that community [of people with cancer]. And at the same time, we have to ask politicians for certain things, whether it’s funding or whether it’s to be a volunteer at an event. Politics are personal, so as soon as somebody picks a side, people get upset about that.
The other part is just the nasty nature of that world and the way that the media -- not to fault them, but the way that it’s just so hard on these people running for office. I mean,I could never put my kids through it. Even just having their dad being me and whatever’s gone on the last 20 years as an athlete … their world is different. You go into politics and it’s ruthless.
HPC: One last question. There's been a lot of discussion lately about helmet laws for bikes and general cyclist safety. Do you think biking should be a viable mode of transportation, not just for exercise?
LA: I definitely think it should be one of your options. But it’s a simple question with a deep answer, and the answer is that in order for it to get to that place, we have to provide the infrastructure for people to make that choice and say, ‘this is cool, I’ve got a protected way to work, and I’m not going to get buzzed by a car and it’s going to be safe, and when I get to work, I’m going to put my bike there and I’m going to take a shower and I’m here.’ But there’s not the infrastructure for that.
There are places that have done a better job. Portland, Oregon won’t build a mile of road without a mile of bike path. You can commute there, even with that weather, all the time. Even Lexington, Kentucky, Boston, Massachusetts, places that you would never think made it an initiative for their cities to do that.
I’m not sure that I totally support forcing or mandating [helmets]. I mean, people can do whatever they want. I look at it like ‘I’ve got five kids, I’ve got an organization to run.’ If I’m not here, or if I’m in a bad spot, then it wouldn’t be good. So that’s the choice that I make on a daily basis, which again, goes back to the prevention thing. Whether it’s not smoking, whether it’s wearing a helmet, putting on your seatbelt -- these are all simple measures that we know to save lives.