Eating and Running on a Plant-based diet

Running and specifically trail running is a big part of my life. I thought it would be really helpful to explore how switching to a plant-based diet has really benefited not just my general health but also my running. I want to look into some questions and worries that you may have, and how I’ve experienced and overcome them.

First though I want to explain something to you that I’ve heard a lot of people mention and is something that I personally have dealt with. It is this – no matter how amazing you feel, no matter how much energy you have and no matter what you have achieved on a plant-based diet as soon as something tiny goes wrong like an injury, or you get sick or you feel randomly tired one day – you instantly think shit it must be the diet. This is completely natural and maybe not everyone experiences it but if it happens just stop and think ‘hey I’m only human – no matter what I’m eating or how I’m exercising sometimes life just happens. Living a plant-based life style is incredible but it still doesn’t make you superman or woman, sorry.

That doesn’t mean you can’t feel like superman or woman – I surely do. Here are some of the things I’ve experienced and you might be curious about.

Worried you aren’t going to have enough energy? I’ve certainly been asked this question before, and transitioning to plant-based foods away from the conventional, I can understand why this could be a concern. Let me be honest with you, filling my plate with more juicy and luscious fruits, vegetables, hearty grains, nuts, seed and legumes than I can shake a stick at (whatever that means) three times a day has me literally bouncing of the walls or more specifically trails. I’m “pinging” as drug users would say, but guess what there’s no crash or illicit drug use. Just a constant clean, light floaty feeling of endless energy. This means I can wake up for my early runs, get back home from a long day and still have energy to smash out a run, and most importantly I can run for a long time and feel great. So if running is something you want to do or any sport for that matter I believe having the energy to do it is the first step. Dragging yourself out the door through sheer will power when you just don’t want to has its place but in the long run it’s not sustainable. But actually having the energy and wanting to get out there, now that’s magic.
Now what, I hear you ask are the reasons for this? Two things – just through eating this way the amount of nutrients entering your body skyrockets. Phyto-nutrients, minerals, vitamins – you name it plants have it, but with no side effects. Also due to the amount of fibre in your diet, food speeds through your gut supplying you with quick clean burning energy, rather than your body putting all its energy into digesting tough foods.

I’m exercising a lot, how and where am I going to get enough protein? This question would have to be the most common question about a plant-based diet. I want to go over it in-depth eventually but for now I’ll give a general overview. First of all it is important to remember that we don’t need nearly as protein to survive as we are lead to believe, New Zealand guidelines recommend 65g for men and 46g for woman and we far exceed this in our protein crazed society. As a matter of fact the only way to be deficient in protein is if you aren’t consuming enough calories. To be specific though I really don’t think about getting enough protein now at all. I just eat plenty of vegetables and my meals always consist of some type of grain or legume and that works for me, and lately I’ve been eating more and more fruit meals. So please, consider this a non issue, as a matter of fact there is a greater risk from too much protein than not enough. If you love your numbers though aim for around 10-15% protein. Which also happens to be the amount of protein in most vegetables and fruit. So just eat the whole-foods that nature provides us, it’s perfectly designed to be just right for us, easy. Works for me if I can come 3rd in a 85km ultra!

Depending on how much you’re running you might be thinking about the type of food you will want to eat on your longer runs. Now you will find that conventional running foods like gels are mostly plant-based. But going with the whole foods theme you could also consider foods like bananas, dates, potatoes and nut butters. Personally I find these foods provide me with long sustainable and steady bouts of energy. Unlike gels and chews which have me fluctuating all over the place. Most important though is to give things a try to find what works for you. The biggest thing to remember though as an endurance athlete is that plants fill your stomach up faster than a conventional diet. This means you can eat the same amount of food and feel full but actually be consuming fewer calories. This has been a big thing for me recently – I exercise a lot but I’ve realised that I simply wasn’t eating enough I think this was holding me back from making strength gains. So over the last few weeks I’ve upped my calories and carbohydrates and I’m feeling even faster and stronger. Another example of this journey, there is always something new to learn and that’s the most exciting part!

Like all running and exercising we are always trying to find the optimal diet to maximise results. For me this has been a plant-based diet, and a highly recommend it but always remember to take things slow and ease into it. You may be really excited about it and want to dive in but you need to give youre body and mind time to adapt, I can’t stress this enough. Find what works for you and slowly move towards what will become the perfect diet for you. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.

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