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25 May, 2015

Nico PfitZENmaier – Lean, Mean and Green

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At 42, Nico Pfitzenmaier is still competitive against mountain bikers 20 years his junior. Photograph by Rika Joubert/Cycle Nation

Aside from the occasional episode of House or Grey’s Anatomy, I don’t recall hearing the word haemoglobin. Recently, in the space of 24 hours, I heard it mentioned twice.

The first time was on a Thursday when Nico Pfitzenmaier, an elite mountain biker and vegan athlete, explained how to fix haemoglobin levels. The second time was on the Friday morning when my doctor, in her review of my blood results, explained that my haemoglobin levels were - to use the loose medical taxonomy - busted.

Maybe that was a bit dramatic. Truth be told, my haemoglobin levels were not busted but rather of the low level kind attributable to a number of things with genetics being the primary suspect. The discussion with my doctor and my quest to raise my haemoglobin levels encouraged me to review my notes from Nico’s presentation. The gem, I soon found, was embedded on page three of my notes:

“Chlorofyl is to plants as haemoglobin is to humans. They help with oxygen absorption. Get that right and you’re onto natural doping.”

My ears perked up. “Natural doping you say. Haemoglobin. Haemo-mojo-globin,” I muttered to no-one in particular, and soaked up the words like a sponge.

Nico Pfitzenmaier’s talk took place before a group of elite cyclists, journalists and enthusiasts at 45 on Chester. This is the sort of place frequented by hipsters sporting lumbersexual beards. It is perhaps best described as a commune containing companies involved with cycling.

Nico’s German accent was enchanting. He prefaced his talk by confirming that he was not a monk and then proceeded to inform us that he had recently returned from a 10-day no-talking retreat. Ten days. No talking. Immediately an image appeared in my head of a monk on a mountain bike triggered by use of the words ‘retreat’ and ‘silence’ and by Nico’s affirmation that he wasn’t one.

Nico does not pretend to be a scientist or food expert, but rather a walking experiment with an inquisitive nature to unravel food’s secrets to help his sporting endeavours. His athletic prowess certainly confirms that he has stumbled onto something powerful. Last year at the tender age of 42, he podiumed in 26 consecutive races.

His quest led him to researching the inherent powers of foods and the foibles of our varied diets powered by Big Industry.

The Western diet with its spiked acidity levels, he continued, is partially responsible for the decline in our health due to a few culprits including animal protein, wheat, refined carbohydrates, sugar, sweeteners, trans fats and oils, coffee and alcohol. In his pursuit of a healthier option and finding the best possible nutrients for his body, he moved to a diet comprised of raw food. Ninety percent of everything Nico eats is raw with a reliance on plants, nuts and seeds. He uses raw food in his training and races, sometimes multiple day events. It is the catalyst for a stronger immune system and wards off acidity, toxicity and disease from the body.

I had heard of some of the super foods. I sometimes see them in pharmacies or from those little mall-shops where people dressed in hemp buy their camomile teas. Goji berries (dried red berries), chia seeds (little black seeds) and raw cocoa (for people weaning themselves off chocolate) appear on his list of superfoods. If you’ve read “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall or “Eat and Run” by Scott Jurek, these will ring a bell.

But it was Spirulina (green-blue algae found in lakes) that roused my attention. Used by the Aztecs as a food source, this is what makes smoothies green and scares the bejesus out of the kids. It comes in pill form or a powder the colour of Absinthe. This is the super compound that Nico swears by as it helps in increasing haemoglobin levels (Bingo!) and putting more oxygen into the tank. Current experiments are underway at Chez Riccardi to verify this finding.

It was while knocking back another raw-coconut-chocolate-ball and ingesting a shot of a brown substance that I suspected Nico may be preaching to the converted. It was intriguing that a Zen athlete would share quite openly what seemed to be revolutionary, although it certainly seems a hard path to follow for most citizens. His aversion to Big Industry and his trial-and-error approach resonated with me. It inspires the challenge to dig a bit deeper, to ask questions, and to improve health on a daily basis.

Roberto Riccardi

Roberto Riccardi

Journalist |

Journalist