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Plant Based Diet For Runners. The Pros And Cons

So is a plant-based diet for runners?

Before we go any further, let me put my cards on the table so you can decide even if this is the right article for you to read on the subject of a plant-based diet for runners.

I have not eaten meat for over 7 years now. I have done much running; before that, I was a fully paid-up carnivore, so I feel Iam in a good position to give my point of view.

However, I do not approach my running diet like a religion, `I am pretty pragmatic; I don’t look at diet as absolutes.

My daughter often asks if Iam vegan, and my reply is Iam Lee-gan

What’s that, she asks?

That means I can eat what I want 🙂

And so can you.

If you don’t eat meat for ethical or plant savings reasons, that’s fine; however, the bulk of this article will look at the pros and cons of a plant-based diet for running.

As I often say … It’s a way, not the way.

So with that out the way, let’s get into the meat of the subject… sorry, the plant of the subject…

Is A Plant-Based Diet Good For Runners?

Eating plant-based is not a guarantee that it will be a good choice as a runner.

My personal experience has been very positive.

The key factor is that I think it starts you looking more closely at what you eat and working for you as a runner.

Personally, I have found my recovery has been quicker utilising plant-based eating, and we will come to that in more detail later in the article.

Will You Get Enough Protein As A Plant-Based Runner.

Wow, the question I get asked the most when I say I don’t eat meat…

Where do you get your protein from?

Whilst it is true that plant-based proteins take longer to assimilate into the body than meat or dairy.

It’s not accurate to say that long as you eat a varied plant-based diet, you will get plenty of protein.

Plus, you have the option to use a plant-based protein supplement post-run as well, which will boost your protein levels.

Some Examples Of Plant-Based Protein-Rich Foods.

So below are some plant-based foods that contain protein. I have included even a banana in the list to show protein pops up in many foods.

Of course, we have been spoon-fed the idea that the only viable source of protein is meat or dairy.

This has to be balanced out because these industries have tremendous lobbying power; however if you look at how much protein is in…

Meat-26.5 grams

Eggs- 13.Grams

Fish- 22 Grams

Milk-3.4 Grams

Per 100 Grams

Now, look at the list below.

Food-Per 100 GramsCaloriesProtein
Sourdough bread16212 grams
Spinach232.9 grams
Peanut Butter58826 grams
Hemp seeds11133 grams
Oats38916.9 grams
Peas815 grams
White Rice1302.7 grams
Bananas891.1 Grams
Bagels25010 Grams
Tofu768 Grams
Soya Beans17316.6 Grams

What can be seen is there are many sources of protein that can be gained from eating plant-based foods. The list above is purposely done to include broad foods and even the odd processed bagel. Not everyone can source everything fresh .So I thought this was a pretty realistic list

What Do Plant-Based Runners Eat?

After the question around protein, the next most popular question I get asked is what do you eat as a runner if you don’t eat meat?

I remember this very question buzzing around my head when I went plant-based. It seemed so daunting that once you removed the meat from the plate, what would there be left to eat.

Well, quite a lot, as it turns out.

I have to say I am not a foodie or a great cook, so sorry if that’s what you are looking for on this page.

However, I have managed to fuel myself quite happily for over 7 years, and I do that by keeping it simple and looking for convenience but not junk food.

Breakfast.

I am a great fan of oats with some nut milk and either some bananas or blueberries. Scrambled tofu is a great high protein alternative to eggs in the morning and tastes great.

Snacks.

I am a great fan of a fruit bowl, especially at work. It has some bananas and apples in, easy to grab but not the sugar crash you get with snacks

I also have a blender at home and work and often blend some bananas, nut butter, nuts, and seeds with plant-based protein powder.

Lunch

I work in my hair salon, so this is the most challenging meal of the day for me. I tend to use a meal supplement called Huel to get the plant-based food in me quickly; however, this comes down more to my working environment than being plant-based.

I love cold pasta with a salad too. Iam a real fan of the benefits of red beets, and I happen to love the taste of beetroot.

Dinner.

As mentioned, I am no chef, and I work long hours, so quite often, I have sourced some delicious pre-cooked meals from companies and specialise in plant-based meals.

They contain whole foods and great combinations of carbs, fats and proteins.

Just check out the ingredients to make sure the sugar content isn’t too eye-watering.

Can You Lose Weight On A Plant-Based Diet?

This might seem a bit off-topic. However, I know a lot of runners look at running on a plant-based diet to lose weight.

All I would point out is you can eat just as healthy or unhealthy on any diet.

As I have mentioned earlier, I think one of the keys to the success of running on a plant-based diet is that of awareness of what you are eating.

However, if weight is an issue for you, then I cant tell you non-meat diets deliver the magic wand when it comes to weight loss.

Whole Foods Eating As A Plant Based Runner.

One factor to consider is how used we get to not eating real food or whole food.

What I mean by this is foods that actually exist without being made or processed.

Though the thought of meat as real, many meat products are actually processed in that they are not taken directly from the animal and cooked and eaten.

These processed foods have ingredients added to them to make them last longer, or be more more-ish.

To be clear here, there are plenty of plant based foods that you can now buy that are processed.

My main point here is whatever diet you choose. If you can clearly identify between real and processed foods, you will be well on your way to a better diet as a runner.

This is not to say you never enjoy a pizza again or whatever your pleasure is, just that you eat more consciously.

I really feel this is one of the prime benefits of eating plant based, the actual awareness you have of your food.

What To Eat During Your Run.

Now this will only really apply to runs of over 60 minutes. And it’s more than likely even if you have not been a plant-based runner, most of your running fuel was more than likely plant-based.

The reason for this that plant-based foods are tremendous sources of carbs which is the glycogen stores you need to replenish when you run for longer periods of time.

Many running gels are animal-free. All I would point out is though you want something that has carbs in it, I am always aware of getting sugar crashes, so personally, I like products that use natural real foods.

For example, I have often cut up bits of dates and found them a great snack while running.

If running with a gel, one of my personal favourites is 33Fuel Chia Energy gel, I top it up with water, and you have like a paste that is pleasant enough taste but isn’t overly sweet but has the benefit of the slow release of the chia seeds that are renowned for a great blend of carbs, proteins, good fats and antioxidants.

What Do You Eat Post Run

I am a big fan of getting a quick mix of carbs and protein in me post-run, normally within the first 60 minutes.

This helps replenish Glycogen stores, and the protein helps with muscle repair.

So my go-to post-run is… a smoothie, which contains some nut milk, some bananas, a tablespoon of nut butter and a scoop of plant-based protein powder.

I have also played with greens smoothies post run which I feel have often helped with recovery. Often used ingredients have been spinach, beetroot, lemon juice and a dash of organic apple juice.

Do You Recover Quicker From Running On A Plant-Based Diet?

For me, the unscientific reply is since I have been plant-based, my recovery from running has been quicker, and I have had fewer aches and pains the day after.

When you consider that I went plant-based in my 50s, that’s actually quite a statement as we tend to recover less well as we get older.

So is there any science in the above statement?

Well, once you get into the world of diets, things can get murky. However, the one fact that does seem to shine through is if you are eating more real foods and less processed foods and some of those foods are fruits and vegetables, then the anti-inflammatory properties of those foods will more than likely speed up your recovery.

So what is Inflammation? Well, this was taken from an article I wrote recently…

inflammation is basically when your body is fighting against things that harm it. So that could be that you’re injured or have a toxin in the body or certain infections. So it’s your body’s mechanism of defence, and it releases these chemicals into the body to protect your body. This, in essence, is not a bad thing; you need inflammation in your body for the reasons that I’ve mentioned.

However, if the process doesn’t stop over a couple of hours, this is deemed more chronic inflammation. So, the response that you have actually carries on. Leaving your body in almost like a fight or flight state all the time. And this can harm the body.

Taken from the article Running Recovery Over 50.How To Out Run Aging For Longer.

So you can see why reducing inflammation will have a positive impact on the speed of your recovery from running.

Supplement Certain Vitamins And Minerals.

If you run as a plant-based runner, you might have heard that you will have to supplement your diet.

This is not entirely true if you are eating whole foods.

However, I do have some recommendations that can help.

Vitamin B12

This is found in meat, it actually comes from the soil, but most people obviously do not eat soil:) so we tend to gain it secondarily via meat.

Of course, that is not an option if you are plant based. So taking a vitamin B12 supplement is a cheap and easy alternative.

Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is actually a hormone that we gain from the sun. However, most of us do not spend much time outdoors, and if we do, we have clothes on!

So to keep bone strength and immunity system strong, it’s worth taking some vitamin D supplementation.

Are There Any Downsides To A Plant-Based Diet For Runners?

So what are the cons of actually eating plant based?

Well, I think when you first start, the main problem is you’re starting something new. So that requires some preparation, some thinking. And you’ve probably got into habits over many years, eating meat, and suddenly you have a totally new way of doing something. So that can take time actually to get used to.

I have mentioned earlier about protein. So this is one of the cons that sometimes comes up, not enough protein.

However, I will say that the protein levels in most literature are probably much higher than most of us need. And if you do need a top-up of protein, you can always utilise something like a protein powder.

As I’ve also mentioned in the article, there are some nutritional deficiencies, not many.

Mainly B12, also there is some argument around that there is a lack of iron, and this is something that some vegans do find that they lack iron.

However, if you’re eating plenty of greens, you should find that your iron levels are excellent.

I think for me personally, it’s more about not getting too dogmatic. I think with anything that moves to an extreme, be plant-based diet or carnivore diet. It can tend to make you slightly dogmatic; I think it’s wise to be pragmatic with your food, especially when you’re a runner, to see what works for you and adapt to your own needs.

So, for example, many people who are plant based aren’t totally plant based; they may have some eggs in their diet. Now that’s totally fine if that works for you.

Don’t be bullied by people who decide that they want to be completely plant based.

If you need or want to eat eggs and work well with your diet, do it.

But I feel that one of the cons of actually taking on a plant-based diet is that it seems like you’re joining a club, which I’ve never really felt comfortable with.

I’ve really done it initially because I wanted to look at it as a diet to work for me in my life. And that’s what I’ve continued with.

If you want to do it from a perspective of the planet, or ecological reasons, then that’s another article, completely, and probably goes totally beyond the remit of a running blog, such as my own.

But I think, to finish that something like going plant-based, has many, many benefits. And even if you don’t go totally plant-based, if you start to increase the number of real foods in your diet, reduce the number of processed foods in your diet and increase the number of greens and fruit that you eat, then generally you’re going to find a massive uptick in your health, wellbeing, and recovery from your running.

is runners high a myth

I am a 57-year-old runner that is determined to give ageing a good run for its money :)
Running has given so much, from running 10Ks, marathons, and ten marathons in 10 days.
In this blog, I want to help other runners get better and get the secondary benefits of running: more energy, improved mood and functional fitness.

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