Endorsed by many celebrities and professional athletes alike, the vegan diet has risen in popularity in recent years, leaving many meat-eaters questioning whether their diet is allowing them to reach their full athletic potential. If you're at all familiar with the world of endurance running, chances are you will have heard of the 'living legend' that is Scott Jurek. Heralded as one of the greatest distance runners in history, many are dying to know - what is his secret? You guessed it, he's vegan.
And here's why you should be too...
1. It's good for you!
Plant-based foods are not only rich in antioxidants, but you'll be glad to know that the high-fiber consumption also promotes healthy bowel movement. 'But what about protein?' I hear you cry. Contrary to popular belief, vegans can easily get enough protein, iron and calcium. In fact, the average meat-eater eats far over the recommended amount of protein and far under the recommendations for fiber. These can be found in natural foods like veggies, beans, lentils and non-dairy milks. The only supplement you'll need is b12, which can be found in tablets and nutritional yeast. Your vitamin consumption will be through the roof, you'll feel more energised and find that those hard workouts are suddenly much easier and you'll have more in the tank for longer runs.
2. Dairy is unhealthy
Some suggest that dairy may not be as healthy as the consumer may think. Evidence is contradictory as to the extent that it benefits bone health and prevents osteoporosis. It is full of trans fat and studies suggest that it may raise the risk of cancer. Those worried about calcium deficiency without dairy are misinformed. Vegan sources of calcium are not only found in a much healthier format, but exist in an array of foods, such as: dark leafy vegetables, calcium-fortified soy milk and tofu, to name a few. Trans fats are only found in animal products and take more energy to breakdown, often stored as fat rather than converted to useable energy, leaving less energy for running. Unencumbered by this, vegans benefit from more instant energy that is ideal for tempo (HIIT) or strength training.
3. Cut out the junk
While there is vegan junk food, it is harder to come by and generally more pricey. Thus, you are much less likely to eat those familiar unhealthy junk foods like chocolate, ice cream, sweets, biscuits and fast foods. That's not to say that the vegan diet is completely strict and joy-less - lots of foods like dark chocolate and flapjacks can still be eaten, along with a few 'accidentally vegan' consumer favorites like oreos and skittles. Vegan options make ideal race fuel, choices like bananas, nut butter, potatoes and energy gels mean that it is still possible to achieve a burst of energy while eating smart.
4. Keep in shape
Have you lost all hope of losing those last few pounds, with ideal race weight seeming a million miles away? A vegan diet will make it easier to lean-up and speed-up, eliminating the extra body fat weighing you down. Swapping saturated fats for healthy alternatives like avocados and nuts, while upping your intake of veg will undoubtedly reap rewards. A plant-based diet is proven to reduce the risk of diabetes and improve cardiovascular health. Hence, a vegan diet can sharpen your PBs and power up those running muscles.
5. Save money
Evidently, your weekly grocery list will start to be dominated by veg and fruit. Since you will be spending significantly less money on food, you can dedicate more cash to better running gear and race entries. Great for you and your pocket! Picture yourself speeding along those trails in the latest high-tec trail shoe, sipping on your new swanky hydration pack and with a pair of trendy sunglasses perched on your nose. Heaven.
A word of warning - like all diets, veganism can be done wrong and make you unhealthy. It is essential that the vegan diet is tackled with an awareness of the importance of a balanced diet and individual caloric needs.
If you'd like to learn more about vegan running then check out The Vegan Society's article here, or discover Vegan Runners Uk's growing community. Interested in the bigger picture? Read here how being vegan reduces carbon footprint.
Written by Kate Milsom, a bona fide vegan runner.