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:
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.