With so many new diet trends evolving, selecting the one that’s right for you can be a confusing business. The vegan diet (also known as the plant-based diet) has grown in popularity over recent years, and for very good reason. Based solely on foods derived from plants, and excluding all meat and animal products, the diet has an abundance of health benefits, while also being particularly eco-friendly. A number of world-famous athletes, including tennis star Venus Williams and ultrarunner Scott Jurek, even attribute the diet to their performance success. Take Jurek. After taking up a purely plant-based diet just months before taking on The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, he took home gold, proceeding to win the event for the next six years!
Adding a vegan diet to your running and exercise routine can help improve your health. How? For starters, you’re going to be eating lots more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. These foods are rich in fibre, vitamins and minerals, supporting everything from digestion to cell growth and development to your body’s defences. As rigorous exercise can temporarily suppress the immune system, a diet including foods shown to heighten immune function is particularly important for runners.
A study undertaken by the University of Stellenbosch revealed that antioxidant supplementation, in the form of vitamins C, E and beta carotene, can support immune function following exercise, suggesting vitamin-rich fruit and vegetables are a dietary must-have for runners. Also beneficial for runners is the diet’s high-fibre content. Not only does fibre help keep you fuller for longer – important when doing long periods of exercise – but it also helps to lower and control blood sugar levels.
By eliminating red or processed meat, you will also reduce your risk of developing various types of conditions, as diets high in meat have been linked to higher levels of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
One thing is clear: you aren’t going to run at your best if you don’t have the energy to do so, and you certainly won’t be lacking in energy on this diet. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary fuel source during high-intensity exercise – a macronutrient found in high quantities in certain plant-based foods such as oatmeal, quinoa, legumes and wild rice. Complex carbohydrates from whole foods are not only lower on the glycemic index than refined carbohydrates, but are an excellent source of slow-release energy.
Based on mineral content, some of the most energy-enhancing fruits and vegetables you can eat include spinach, bananas, oranges, and grapefruit. Add these to your diet regularly – particularly before a run – and you’ll likely find it easier to power through your training session.
While animal-based foods are commonly seen as the primary source of protein in our diets, they don’t have to be. Plant-based foods such as nuts and beans are not only packed with protein, but are low in saturated fat and free from cholesterol, making them a much healthier protein source for muscle growth and repair. Plant-based foods are also high in anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which may also help to reduce muscle inflammation after exercise.
Now, if you’re on the fence about eating a plant-based diet at all, these benefits alone should be enough to make you want to eat more fruits, veggies, grains, and nuts—and less meat. For more plant-based benefits, visit: nutritionfacts.org/topics/plant-based-diets/