I’ve been a runner for over 35 years give or take, coached many runners from the couch to becoming marathon addicts, and helped people find themselves again through a simple activity called running. I can’t think of a better way to get away from it all and to get lost in the moment than being out running on a trail or in a quiet place. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a person that I’ve trained who has told me that running is ok. It’s an activity that you either like or dislike. So for those of you who like running, continue to read.
Before I injured my foot four years ago, I was running high. I was coaching several beginner runners, I was overseeing running clinics, I organized a running club in my area, and I was at the top of my racing game. Then it all ended with a foot injury. I had to stop my passion completely as I could no longer train those who were inspired to run. As I got back on the road to run again, I was hit with the same running injury on the other foot. Currently I’m running again, but I’m taking it slow as I’m still working through my injury.
I’m a big believer that you are what you eat. When I was training for marathons back in my 20’s, I was particularly observant with what I ate. I consumed very little fat, lots of carbs, and the right amount of protein. In fact even back then, I wasn’t overly obsessed with consuming a large intake of protein. I’ve always felt that my diet had the right amount of protein and I never felt the need to take protein powders to make up for any food deficit in that area. To be honest, I never really understood what the protein craze was all about. The gas that fuels my body is carbohydrates and now that I’m on a whole food/plant base lifestyle, I consume about 80% of carbs on a daily basis.
I can see how protein has become an obsession with many people and it’s really not our fault. We are brainwashed at a very early age to eat protein and lots of it. Everywhere you look whether it’s on television ads, magazine articles, or radio commercials, we are told to eat lots of protein. So why listen to me when I tell you that you don’t need to consume a large amount of protein? Well, you don’t have to listen to me, but I do want to let people know that they have choices and getting on the protein ‘band-wagon’ is not the answer for performance.
The Skinny on Carbs
If you run long distances and have been for a long time, you are very familiar with the term ‘carb load’. Carb it up the night or day before a long race so that you have plenty enough fuel to get you through the race. So why do we need carbohydrates? Carbohydrates are a source of glucose (a form of sugar) that is required for the central nervous system, the kidneys, the brain, and our muscles (including the heart) to function properly. What’s important other than consuming carbs, is that you consume the right type of carbohydrates.
So there are two different types of carbohydrates; simple and complex. The simple carbohydrates consist of sugar, sweets, and refined foods which you want to eliminate altogether. Complex carbohydrates which consist of whole grains, brown rice, whole wheat pastas, and beans are high in fiber and will keep you full longer. Then you have your fibrous complex carbohydrates which consist of plants and are very high in fiber. Make sure you get some whole fruits in there as well (fruit directly from a tree or bush—not fruit juice which are high in refined sugars) as part of your healthy lifestyle.
Carbohydrates are essential and need to be incorporated into our daily eating habits regardless if you are a long distance runner or not. Again, consuming the right type of carbohydrates is important to feeling well and keeping your weight in check. With myself being on a whole food/plant base lifestyle, I consume about 80% of my daily calories from carbohydrates so the term ‘carb-loading’ to me is now completely eliminated from my vocabulary. Since changing to this eating lifestyle my energy level has increased immensely, my intake of fat calories is significantly lower, my body fat levels have decreased, and I am healthier than I have ever been in my life.
Pre/Post Run Nutrition
Taking whole foods and plant base foods on a daily basis (as long as you are omitting processed food, animal protein, and refined sugar), you really don’t need to worry about what you are consuming before and after a run. However, you still need energy and calories in your body to run. Our bodies are all different and we all have preferences to what foods we consume before and after a run.
So what does a runner eat that is on a whole food/plant base lifestyle? Just about anything that comes from the ground or a tree. Food in its most natural element, unrefined, and stocked with nutrients. When many people here the term, ‘Whole Food/Plant Base’ they think it’s primarily plants that we eat but it’s not. Plants are only a small part of what we consume and as I’m still quite new to this journey, I’m learning about the endless possibilities of food there is out there. These are some foods that I consume before or after I run:
- Oatmeal with granola (vegan) & fresh fruit
- Kamut with some agave, cinnamon, and apple
- Pineapple smoothie with spinach or kale
- Banana smoothie with raw cacao (almond milk optional) – sometimes add some hemp seeds
- Brown rice with steamed vegetables
- Whole wheat pancakes (vegan) with fresh fruit
- Quinoa bars with nuts, dried fruit, and agave
Depending on what time of the day you run and the length of your run will determine how much food you consume.
No Single Nutrient Belief
The one thing I really struggle with being on a whole food/plant base lifestyle is not the food itself but the amount of people that still believe that if I’m a vegan how do I get enough protein in my diet. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I get that question, where do you get your protein from? Not having meat now for over 3 years, people assumed since I didn’t eat meat that my protein intake was coming from other animal sources. As I started to eliminate animal protein completely, I took the time to learn about other food sources and the nutrients within them.
My thinking of food and how I consume my nutrients has changed considerably over the past year and until recently I’ve had to pre-program myself that I don’t need to eat a particular food in order to get a particular nutrient. I can’t believe how brainwashed I’ve been to eat this way but now I know the science behind a whole food/plant base diet and the significant benefits it provides us. Do you ever see commercials where they tell you to ‘drink your milk to get your calcium, or eat your lean cuts of meat to get your daily protein needs, or even ‘eat your fish to get your required amino acids.’ Did you know that dark leafy greens have the largest amount of calcium? Did you know that nuts, seeds, legumes, and even vegetables have protein?
The problem with this single nutrient belief is that people are consuming large amounts of animal products because they think that’s the only place where they can get these nutrients and at the same time people are getting very sick from this belief as animal protein is high in dietary cholesterol which can lead to many diseases and an unhealthy life.
I don’t ever worry about consuming protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, or minerals because all the foods I eat have multiple amounts of everything.
If you are thinking of going vegan or taking the next step of adapting a whole food/plant base lifestyle, you have lots of options especially if you are a runner. Make sure you do your research, make an appointment with a holistic nutritionist to discuss your food options, and remember that you have support. Your health is your greatest commodity so don’t take your food options for granted especially if you are active and running. You don’t need animal protein in your diet to run short or long distances and you will be surprised how great your body really feels after making the switch. Now that I’m back running again, I find whole foods much easier to digest and the biggest difference is in how I feel. Stay tuned next week as I explain what the major difference are between a vegan diet and a whole food/plant base lifestyle.
Have a great day & eat healthy!
Art & Maureen