Runners talk about a lot of things from the latest gadgets, best way to train, personal bests, but lately, the conversation is turning to that of food, in particular, plant-based foods. The popularity of plant-based foods and its effects on performance is bringing change to the world of running.
There was an article that caught my eye as I was browsing the internet, and as I began to read it further, I was surprised how it mentioned that vegans have limited options when it comes to plant-based protein. Although it may be difficult to imagine consuming protein without eating animal products, there are plant-based options to meet performance needs of runners and other athletes. Let’s look at these options further.
A common question asked by many is what do eat and how much? First of all, the term plant-based means that you are omitting all animal products including meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, and dairy products. I take it a step further and consume as many whole foods as possible. The definition of a whole food is “a food that has been processed or refined as little as possible and is free from additives or other artificial substances.” This means that I eat little or no processed foods, refined sugar, and oil. This ensures that I get the sufficient nutrients possible to fuel my body to run and there are no wasted nutrients.
So how much protein does our body really need? It is almost impossible to have a protein deficiency if you are consuming a wide variety of whole and plant-based foods. The protein requirements for humans, is about 5-10% of our daily total caloric intake. Based on research and facts provided to us by the World Health Organization, this number tells us that most people are consuming way more than enough protein than what our body requires. The question we should be asking is, are we getting enough dietary fiber? Our population is consuming too much processed food which contains no dietary fiber. As you increase the amount of whole and plant-based foods, you are increasing your dietary fiber intake. The whole complete protein myth (a myth stating that plant foods are deficient in some of the essential amino acids) has been disproved long ago. Any combination of unrefined plant-based foods even if eaten within the course of a day, will provide you more than enough of all of the essential amino acids that your body requires.
If you are running and especially long distance, you need to center your caloric intake around calorie dense plant-based foods like beans, lentils, brown rice, whole grains, oats, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and squash. You cannot fuel a body with leafy greens alone as they are low in calories even though very high in nutrients. Fruit is an excellent way to fuel the body especially before a training run or workout as it’s easily digestible. You can add nuts and seeds to the mix but consume these foods in lower amounts as they are much higher in calories. When you combine all of these foods, you are not only meeting your macronutrient requirements (protein, carbohydrates, fat, water), but you are consuming a large variety of minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients that our bodies require to help fight illness and aid in prevention of disease.
Just about every plant-based food contains a variety of all protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Somehow, people still feed the need to consume more protein even though our bodies don’t require it. So here is a list of some of the plant-based foods that contain protein.
|Broccoli||White Mushrooms||Sweet Corn||Artichokes|
|Brussel Sprouts||Beet Greens||Squash||Asparagus|
|Pistachios||Almonds||Sunflower seeds||Sesame seeds|
|Macadamia nuts||Dried coconut||Quinoa||Brown rice|
|Kidney beans||Pinto beans||Bulgur||Amaranth|
The list above is just a sample of plant-based foods that contain protein. There are many other foods than contain this macronutrient but what’s more important is that we consume these foods for the sum of all of their nutrients and not just in isolation for carbs, fats, or protein.
‘Carb-loading’ a term that many long-distances runners are familiar with, can actually be thrown out of ‘the rule book’ for distance athletes as when you consume a large volume of whole and plant-based foods, you automatically increase your carbohydrate intake. This eliminates any issues of having to increase carbs days before a long-distance race. The feeling of having more energy all the time is one of the many benefits of consuming more plant-based foods.
When we place animal products or highly processed foods into our bodies, we are not only taking on large amounts of saturated fat but also foods that are low in nutrients and high in calories. Whole and plant-based foods provide us with all the energy our bodies require to not only survive but thrive in physical activity and activities such as running.
So how has moving to a whole foods and plant-based lifestyle changed my running? Simply, I recover faster, I run faster, and I feel great all the time.
Eat Clean & Live Green!
Your Compassionate Coach,