There is no doubt that a growing trend is to see more and more vegan or vegetarian athletes. Two recent articles from famous endurance athletes Scott Jurek, ultramarathoner, and Lance Armstrong, elite cyclist and more recently elite triathlete, serve as inspiration for today's post. What's it like to follow a plant-based diet as an endurance athlete? Why do it, and is it nutritionally sufficient? These are some of the questions I'll try to address in some upcoming posts.
Scott Jurek made me super proud through two statements in his recent Runner's World article, "Eat Vegan and Run." First, he makes the connection between diet quality and physical performance:
"I didn't run harder. I had been right: I couldn't run harder. But I could eat smarter. I could live smarter. I knew I could keep going when others stopped. I knew I had good legs and good lungs. I wasn't just a runner now; I was a racer. And I was a mindful eater."
Second, thanks to Jurek for the shout out to my professional organization, the Academy of Nutrition of Dietetics, and touching on the nutritional adequacy of vegan/vegetarian diets:
"I also learned that even the conservative Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of dietary professionals in the world, has stated: 'Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including ...pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.' Those last two words were music to my almost-vegetarian ultrarunner's ears. As long as I ate a varied whole-foods diet with adequate caloric intake, I would get enough complete protein"
As previously mentioned, Lance Armstrong has also adopted a 'mostly vegan' diet. That is, he is eating vegan two meals a day: breakfast and lunch. In a recent Huffington Post Interview, Armstrong touted the energy benefits of his recent dietary changes:
"My energy level has never been this consistent, and not just consistent, but high...The other thing -- I expected to get rid of that dip, but I didn’t expect the mental side of it, and the sharpness and the focus that I’ve noticed."
Armstrong is following what is called the Engine 2 Diet, something I had not heard of until recently. It's a "plant-powered" eating plan based on a diet of whole foods, including whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. (Update: looks like doping-allegations were brought against Armstrong today...impeccable timing on my part!)
So why are some top athletes following a plant-based lifestyle? In my next post I'll address the benefits of adopting a plant-based, whole foods approach to fueling your life and your workouts!
Kristen Chang is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) and triathlete residing in southwest Virginia with her husband and dogs. Follow along as she shares favorite fueling recipes, general wellness and sport nutrition tips and stories from her athletic endeavors.
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