Optimal fueling for athletes and runners is a highly debated issue. Some swear by following a Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet, while others still carbo load with abandon the night before a big race. It’s therefore hardly surprising that many athletes find the subject of fueling extremely confusing. Are carbs really taboo? Is fat good? And is animal protein necessary?
But before you get ready to defend your preferred way of eating, rest assured. This article is not aimed at identifying a ‘one-size-fits-all’ fueling strategy for athletes. That is, if something like that even exists! Instead, it simply aims at exploring a new generation of runners and athletes who prefer to power their performances purely through plant-based foods.
But is that even possible, you ask? Surely their performance and long-term state of health will suffer as a result? Based on the stories of three incredible plant-powered pros, the answer is a definite”no”. Prepare to throw all your preconceived judgments out the door, because their stories will amaze you!
What Exactly Is a Plant-Powered Diet?
But before we meet these inspiring individuals, let’s just clarify what is meant by a “plant-powered diet”. French fries and white bread also originate from plants, and surely a diet existing mainly of these can’t be good? Sorry, French fry fans, but it isn’t. And while the term “plant-based” means different things to different people, it basically boils down to one thing. It’s a diet comprised mostly of whole foods in plant form, including vegetables, whole grains, seeds, legumes, nuts and fruits.
Individuals preferring to fuel themselves in this way therefore stay away from or minimize their consumption of processed foods and animal products, mostly for health reasons.
The Plant-Powered Running Pros
So are you doubtful that a long-distance runner can survive and excel on a diet like that? While it definitely defies convention, the following stories might change your mind.
Ultra running legend, Scott Jurek, has a list of running accomplishments that literally is as long as it is impressive:
- Winner of the Hardrock 100 Mile Endurance Run in 2007
- Winner of the Spartathlon, a 152 mile race from Athens to Sparta for three consecutive years (2006 to 2009)
- Champion of the infamous Badwater Ultramarathon in 2005 and 2006
- Seven-time consecutive winner of the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (1999 to 2005)
- Record holder of the US record for a 24-hour road run: 165.7 miles (2010)
- Holder of the Appalachian Trail Speed Record: 2 189 miles in 46 days, 8 hours and 7 minutes (2015)
Jurek was also included in Runner’s World‘s list of Top 10 Runners of All Time, and Men’s Health‘s 100 Fittest Men of All Times, two very well-deserved accolades.
But surely a runner of his caliber can’t only be fueled by plants? But you know what? He is. Jurek follows a 100% plant-based diet and credits this for his impressive 20-year racing career. He believes that his plant-based diet helps access his body’s innate ability to heal, thereby contributing to both his recovery and endurance.
Echoing Jurek’s sentiments that a whole food, plant-based diet enhances and speeds up recovery, former pro Canadian triathlete Brendan Brazier eliminated all animal products from his diet in 1999. While he does admit to a plant-based diet being inconvenient at times, he adds that it’s a small price to pay for the advantages that it delivers. And it has definitely served him well. Brazier’s list of accomplishments includes the following:
- Third finisher in the Canadian Ironman Championships in 2001
- 11th finisher in Ironman Canada (2001)
- 8th finisher in Ironman Utah (2002)
- Winner of the Canadian Ultra Marathon Championships (2003)
In 2007, Brazier self-published a book on his experience with training and nutrition, namely The Thrive Diet. After receiving a very positive response from readers worldwide, he followed it up with Thrive Fitness in 2009.
As a professional free runner, Tim Shieff spends most of his time running, jumping over obstacles and leaping between buildings. And he’s pretty darn good at it too. Winner of the 2009 World Freerunning Championships and the Ninja Warrior TV show, Shieff also tackled his first 100 mile ultra in 2015. Yes, and he did it all on a plant-based diet.
Originally turning to a vegan diet for animal rights reasons, Shieff quickly noted how a plant-based diet provided him with heaps of energy and enthusiasm for training. In addition, the tendonitis that he had suffered from previously was a thing of the past. Shieff attributes this to the abundance of anti-inflammatory micro-nutrients in his diet, and feels that his body now has ample energy for healing and re-building itself after tough workouts.
Easy Ways to Add More Veggies to Your Diet
So does the success of these three plant-powered individuals mean that we all need to jump on the plant-based wagon in order to become better athletes? Not necessarily. But one thing we definitely all can benefit from, is including more whole-food veggies in our diets. Here’s Scott Jurek’s recommendations for doing just that:
- Explore more. Challenge yourself to trying one new plant-based food every week. You’ll increase your nutrient uptake in the process and, who knows, you might just find a new favorite!
- Mix and match. Combine a wide variety of plant-based foods in order to meet your protein quota. Think quinoa and beans, three-bean chili and more.
- Join the Meatless Monday movement. One purely plant-based dinner per week will both boost your micro-nutrient intake and lighten your impact on Mother Earth.
- Go vegan when dining out. Stuck for plant-based cooking inspiration? Order vegan meals when dining out and get inspired!
- Plan ahead. Yes, cleaning, cutting and cooking veggies from scratch can be time consuming. Be prepared and use 30 minutes of your weekend to pre-prep your veggies for the week ahead.
- Be sneaky. If you or some of your family members aren’t veggie lovers, add it to your family meals in sneaky ways. Smoothies and freshly pressed juices are a great way to ingest more dark, leafy greens, while one-pot meals like chilies are ideal for hiding grated carrot, courgette and butternut pumpkin.
Go on – what have you got to lose?!
- Running on plants: Tim Shieff, Online publication, Jul 04, 2016 ,
- There’s A Big Difference Between A Plant-Based Diet And A Vegan Diet, Online publication, Jun 22, 2017 ,
- About Scott Jurek, Online publication, ,
- 7 Ways to Add More Vegetables to Your Diet, Online publication, Mar 17, 2017 ,
- Brendan Brazier - Triathlon, Online publication, Apr 07, 2004 ,
- Where are they now: Brendan Brazier, Online publication, Jan 08, 2013 ,
- Ten of the best plant-powered athletes, Online publication, Oct 02, 2015 ,