Peter Twist is, no doubt, an inspiration. The 53 year-old fitness guru is the former strength and conditioning legendary coach for the NHL. He coached over 700 professional athletes and authored 10 books and 400 papers on athlete development. After a personal health crisis and now a stage IV cancer crusher, he designed a forward thinking integrated facility with coaches of functional exercise, doctors of naturopathic medicine, holistic nutritionists, physiotherapists and massage therapists. All of this aims to cure, repair, restore, rebuild, and elevate people to their best self with passion and purpose.
In 2015, he was inducted into the USA Fitness Hall of Fame. The first time I heard Peter speaking was at London Wembley arena. He spoke about his fitness career, beating stage 4 head and neck cancer and shifting to a plant based diet from being a proud carnivore. I immediately wanted to ask him questions and to find out more about his incredible life.
I was also curious as to whether he considers his new nutritional habits a major contribution to his strength and fitness. A few weeks ago, we caught up in sunny California and over our green smoothies talked about the health industry, ethical nutrition, beating cancer against all odds and personal growth.
Do you believe that plant based diet helped you beat the disease?
Yes. My cancer was diagnosed at a very late stage, it was so close to my brain stem and I had tumours in multiple locations.
I respect my three oncologists, their level of sincere care and the narrow laser focus of their world-class expertise. However, cancer treatments are unforgiving, especially in the face, neck, mouth, in the ears and brain where radiation sensitive mucous membranes respond to radiation similar to tumours – meaning they get destroyed too.
The inside of my face, mouth and neck was like third degree burns from the inside. When doctors now assess my mouth, teeth, tongue, face and scope inside my body, they are not so much amazed by the fact that I survived cancer but more so because it doesn’t seem like I even had cancer at all.
I believe a plant-based diet, consuming real living whole, nutrient dense foods and drinking plant-based superfoods was instrumental in surviving the treatments, healing, restoring and then rebuilding back to my best.
Doctors tell me I look (not just appearance and muscle but internally as well) healthier than folks who never had cancer. I strongly believe in the medicinal properties of botanicals towards healing, restoring and thriving of our human systems.
What dietary changes in particular did you make?
I noticed the cancer agency fed patients packaged and sugary foods, two things I thought fed cancer and my goal was to starve it. Over the year, I reduced 90% of my meat intake. I added many plants I had never eaten. I Vitamixed what I called my Plant Mud (my friends called it Twister’s Jungle Juice due to its 27 ingredients of plants, herbs, fruits and naturopathic supplements) all meant to work to my advantage.
What are your diet staples now, is there something you make sure you eat every day?
I do have weekly staples although I do not think that is the best way. It is suggested that the average person who eats much healthier than the norm consumes a very narrow diet – sometimes as few as 10 food types, commonly 10-20.
We require a vast variety of nutrients and food sources for optimal health and peak performance. So, while eating avocados every day is better than eating Doritos every day, it is not optimal.
I DO eat avocados daily, along with lemons and grapefruit (in water or blended with organic raw coconut vinegar). My goal is to not have staples and instead consume more variety.
Fortunately, I travel a lot so I have the opportunity to eat healthy foods from a variety of locations and countries.
You admit you were a proud carnivore before, did you find the changes difficult?
I am an advocate for animal ethics, organic farming, ending factory farm torture, a plant based diet, holistic nutrition. I think the government’s food guide and what society is marketed to comply with and consume, has led to more people in modern society to be fat, sick and depressed than it has fit healthy and happy.
One must shift their mind-set, food intake, activity level and lifestyle if they hope to avoid such metrics and statistics like; 33% of women and 50% of men expected to get cancer.
I am passionate about sustainable practices and nourishing our earth and ourselves in alignment with health. I did not find the change too difficult. I was supposed to die and was on a short timeclock.
Motivation came easy – although, again not to disrespect others because when the odds are so daunting, fear is so high, and side effects are so relentlessly tortuous, it would be easy to relent. I’m of strong mind and character and I almost did.
To increase my odds, my approach was to optimize everything under my direct control. Diet was 100% my decision and I purposely shifted to a plant based diet to capitalize on the healthfulness and nutrient density.
Over the long haul, a plant centric diet felt more in line with my philosophies for a healthy environment that needs nutrient rich soil and clean air and water.
It’s been a joy to instil that in my kids who as teenagers chose independently to eat very healthily and keep in motion with sports, outdoor recreation or the gym.
Do you cook yourself? Or do you prefer to eat raw or order in?
I do cook. I am a single Dad of two teenage daughters – so I’ll use this moment to note there is very little drama and no negative energy in our house.
We live very differently, think very differently and so there is no sweating of small stuff and a projection of good energy. I think a plant based diet helps this as my mind is more at peace and by eating living versus dead or fake food.
You’re the official coach for the China Olympic representation. Do you coach your athletes to shift to plant based diet? What is your general dietary advice to athletes?
I am officially partnered with the China Government to head up Performance Training and Rehabilitation Therapy of their Olympic teams and athletes. Right now, we are focussed on Winter sports given the approaching 2018 Olympics. We are helping them achieve excellent medal wins at world events that exceed their winter sport expectations. So we are asked to consult them on further evolving their sport science program.
Nutrition is a big part of this next step. I really encourage folks to cooperate and collaborate – versus judge and hate – whether it’s with another country or a meat eating neighbour.
Want your grocer to sell more plants and merchandise less meat? Bring a creative opportunity to them and team up to collaborate on what bridges them from their current revenue source to a new way.
Back to my particular role with China Olympics, the food solutions I bring to them are a mix of sport nutrition which is performance based and holistic nutrition which is health based. Clearly, the healthiest cellular landscape is the best base to build performance and stays in alignment with care of the athlete and environment.
It’s a challenging, interesting and rewarding time because we are getting great athlete results implementing very forward thinking innovative exercise methods amidst resources and facilities that are somewhat old school. That means there is much to change and advance in terms of nutrition and food sourcing let alone specific strategies in the type and timing of foods.
You’re a holistic coach. Please share top 5 fitness tips from you to live a healthy balanced life.1. Move & Lift. Mobilize the body, expand its abilities, make it stronger.
2. Get grounded in nature. Peace and perspective.
3. Be present – notice the small beauty of each day, give your present and authenticity to each person you meet on your daily path – they will likely reciprocate with good energy for you.
4. Eat real nutrient dense superfoods.
5. Permit yourself chapters of imbalance – I’ve never known someone with an Olympic gold medal who had balance, but many of the people watching him win- did.
The point is- do special things, give yourself permission to not always be balanced. This permission extends to point # 5 – don’t be too hard on yourself. “Do the best you can with what you have and how things are” and feel great about that!! After all, feeling great is the goal!
Tell us about Bruno, your rescue dog. Has he changed the way you view animals?
A dog is a great companion. But he is more than that. Bruno the dog was rescued along with 146 dogs from LA high kill shelters and flown to Vancouver. In my volunteer role, I unloaded the whole plane – wow what an honour to welcome these scared beings to their new life – and that’s when I met Bruno. While he seemed very sad, he also seemed very solid and could tell he was an old soul. I did not plan to adopt but went home with him, immediately recognizing our rich connection and perceiving him to be a majestic soul. It was an incredible experience to see his spirit re-emerge and how he immediately became like a third leg. We rarely use a leash except around traffic and I could not shake him if I tried.
I already loved animals but yes my experience with Bruno and meeting many tremendous friends who are knowledgeable and passionate about animals and the environment have progressively opened me to view all animals as one in the same.
That suggests our messages and conversations do matter – it’s not happening fast enough but feel good that people do hear and over time people shift. I believe there is an emerging shift in consciousness.
If you had to sum up your life in one line, what would that be?
Dazed and Confused. Ha-ha! No not at all – but that is a great movie!! For real now. Better Every Day – please don’t misperceive that as egotistical. I remember wearing such a shirt when fighting to return from cancer and someone told me I was egotistical. OMG. I was a sick person striving to get better. The Better Every Day reflects my life mission to help people reach their goals and my curious mind and intent to always strive to get better, in all ways.
Of course, I fail and stumble or take steps backwards sometimes, but it’s a mind-set. It is essentially about how I coach and encourage others and what I’ve achieved as a lifelong multi-sport athlete, academically, and with my team in business.
Interview by Pola Pospieszalska.