Eating a plant-based, wholefoods diet is something that is getting more attention in recent years, in terms of gaining optimum health through eating lots of grains, fruit and vegetables and little or no animal products.
However, there is still scepticism when a sportsperson involves this diet in their life. But I have found this way of eating to be greatly beneficial to my training, giving me more energy and fuel to actually WANT to work harder.
Common questions that may occur when talking about a plant-based diet are: “How will you get enough protein?” Or queries on getting enough of a certain mineral, such as calcium. Yet, when you're eating an abundance of fruit and vegetables, which is hard not to do when eating in this way, it is difficult to be deficient in most minerals. This is proven with iron, as iron deficiency is no more prevalent in vegans than it is in meat eaters.
The preferable and primary source of energy for the body is glycogen. Carbohydrates are slowly broken down into glucose, and then glycogen, which is stored in the muscles. Through a plant-based diet you can include lots of wholegrain carbohydrates, such as wholegrain rice and pasta, which will give the muscles plenty of glycogen to use during training. This energy is slow releasing, so fuels you for further distances.
Any meal that includes a bean or pulse alongside a grain, such as baked beans or lentils with rice, will give you the full set of amino acids that you need.
As a runner, your bones are experiencing high impacts on a regular basis. For this reason, you need to ensure that your bones are strong and that you are not losing any calcium, and getting enough vitamin D for calcium absorption.
The body works best in an alkaline environment (PH of over 7), yet dairy products are quite acidic, with milk having a PH of around 6. Consuming too much dairy can cause calcium to leach out of the bones in an attempt to restore an alkaline environment. This is why a plant-based diet could benefit you as a runner.
Countries that consume the highest amount of animal protein, such as the US and England, have the highest rates of osteoporosis. The countries that consume the least animal protein, such as African and Asian countries, have the lowest rates of osteoporosis, according to www.runningvegan.com.
An elite runner from Kenya would typically have a meal consisting of corn meal, collard greens, stewed mung beans and chapatti bread. All plant-based and all wonderful running fuel. Foods that contain high levels of calcium are broccoli, kale, collard greens and soy beans. Vitamin D is also key in the absorption of calcium.
Avoiding processed foods with ‘empty’ calories
Just the simple decision to try eating a more plant-based diet will allow you to be more self aware in terms of what you choose to fuel your runs. Often this will result in you choosing more wholefoods such as nuts, potatoes and fruits instead of processed foods such as biscuits, refined flour bread or cereal bars. These foods require more digesting than wholefoods for their energy, but contain few nutrients. Nutrient dense foods such as rice and porridge will leave you feeling satisfied for longer and give you slow-releasing energy for your training.
B12 and Vitamin D
You can get B12 from certain seaweeds, such as nori; also from nutritional yeast and yeast extracts such as marmite. Nearly all plant milks such as soy milk or almond milk are fortified with vitamin D and B12, so you can get these vitamins this way.
However, taking a supplement could also be an option to ensure you get enough of each nutrient, as many people actually struggle to get enough of these vitamins whether they eat meat and dairy products or are on a plant based diet.
Scott Jurek, author of Eat and Run speaks of his experience with transitioning to a plant-based diet as fuel for his ultra running in this quote:
"Muscles I didn't even know had popped out. My blood pressure and triglyceride levels dropped to all-time lows... I had virtually no joint inflammation, even after miles of pounding trails and roads, and on the rare occasion I sprained my ankle or fell... the soreness left faster than it had before."
So, you can see that a vegan diet has worked for Scott Jurek. I myself have definitely found this diet to be beneficial to my training, as my energy levels have noticeably increased.
If you want to test this for yourself, try including more fruits and vegetables into your diet, or perhaps using less animal products per week. To start with, you could see what plant-based milk alternatives you like in place of dairy, or add more pulses into meals instead of an animal source of protein.
See what suits you best, and hopefully you will begin to see the benefits for yourself.
This is nutritional information that we found very useful and want to share with our customers. But we're not nutrition specialists. The nutritional information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or sports nutrition.