A plant-based diet has become popular as a way to improve health, but does this mean it’s also good for runners? While research on the subject is limited, some findings suggest that a plant-based diet may be beneficial for runners.
To quickly answer this question, we can say that a plant-based diet may not be right for everyone, but it can be beneficial for runners. Why? Because they tend to be lower in calories and more inflammation-free than meat-based diets, which can help with weight loss and running performance.
Additionally, plant-based foods are high in fiber, which can improve digestion and reduce the risk of gastrointestinal issues while running. Not to mention that there are many other benefits you get from plant-based foods including getting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support immune function and physical health.
Finally, opting for a plant-based diet can help you shed pounds quickly and might even improve your running performance due to reductions in inflammation and better digestion.
Let’s discuss this topic in greater depth.
What Entails A Plant-Based Diet?
Plant-based eating entails consuming foods sourced primarily from plants such as nuts, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, plant-sourced oils, beans, legumes, and fruits. When following this diet, you put more emphasis on the wholeness and quality of food. That means avoiding highly-processed and refined foods.
However, it’s important to mention that following a plant-based diet doesn’t typically mean avoiding eggs, dairy products, or meat. It simply means eating more plant-based foods.
There are several variations of plant-based diets. If you identify as plant-based person, you may fall into any of these categories:
- Flexitarian. Also called semi-vegetarian, flexitarians eat eggs, dairy, with occasional poultry, fish, seafood, and meat.
- Pescatarian-diet includes dairy, eggs, seafood, and fish. No poultry or meat.
- Vegetarian-diet includes dairy and eggs. No fish, poultry, meat, or seafood.
- Vegan-diet includes solely plant-based foods. No meat, fish, seafood, dairy, or eggs.
- Raw vegan. Diet includes uncooked plant-based foods. No fish, seafood, dairy, eggs, meat, or poultry.
Why Switching to a Plant-Based Diet May Improve Your Running Performance?
If you switch to a vegan lifestyle, you’ll probably eat more whole grains, fruit, veggies, and legumes. Additionally, you will be avoiding processed or manufactured foods with “empty calories” and more likely replacing them with nutrient-dense whole foods like nuts and fruit. Increased intake of fiber, minerals, and vitamins will boost your overall health and consequently improve your running efficiency and recovery.
This is especially true if you are transitioning from a diet that is heavy in processed foods, red meat, and little vegetables and fruits.
Precautions to Take When You Switch To Plant-Based Diet as a Runner
There are many benefits to following a plant-based diet as a runner, including reduced inflammation and better weight management. However, there are also some precautions that must be taken to ensure optimum performance. Here are important tips for transitioning to a plant-based diet as a runner:
Make sure your calories are still adequate. While plant-based diets can provide plenty of nutrients that the body needs, they can be low in total caloric intake. If you’re following a plant-based diet and aren’t maintaining your usual calorie intake, you may struggle with weight loss or have difficulty reaching your running goals. Speak with a registered dietitian or other nutritionist to see if adjustments need to be made to ensure you’re getting the right amount of nutrients while following a plant-based diet.
Make sure you’re getting enough protein. A vegan or plant-based diet isn’t as high in protein as a meat-based diet, so make sure you’re eating enough to stay healthy and strong. Good sources of protein include beans, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Be sure to get your B12 Vitamin, vitamin D, Iron, and calcium. Many people don’t realize that they need these nutrients even if they’re not vegan or plant-based. You can find B12 in fortified foods like cereal, beetroot, spinach, chickpeas, etc. You can get vitamin D in yogurt. Sources of iron include nuts, bread, sprouted beans, chickpeas, dried fruits, etc. Get calcium by eating kale, almonds, turnip greens, and figs.
Consider supplements if you’re struggling with energy levels or weight loss on plant-based eating. Some people find that they need supplements such as B12, magnesium, iron and zinc when transitioning to a plant-based diet. Speak with your doctor about what supplements might be necessary for you based on your individual health history and current running status.
Another thing to beware of is electrolyte balance. Electrolytes are minerals that help keep your muscles and nerves functioning properly, so it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough of them on a plant-based diet. Try consuming foods like avocado and pineapple, which are high in potassium and magnesium, respectively.
Additional performance advantage a plant-based diet may offer to athletes
There is growing evidence that a plant-based diet may offer some performance advantages over traditional animal-based diets. Some of these benefits include:
Leaner body. A plant-based diet is composed of foods that are mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This type of diet is often lower in calories and sugar, which can help reduce weight and improve athletic performance.
Improves tissue oxygenation. Tissue oxygenation is the level of oxygen in the blood and tissues, and is key to preventing oxidative damage and improving athletic performance. Plant-based foods contain more antioxidants, which can help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Additionally, plant-based diets are typically low in saturated fats and cholesterol, which can also improve tissue oxygenation.
Higher glycogen storage. Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate that is stored in the muscle and liver. When glycogen levels are high, the body has more energy available to perform activities. Consuming a plant-based diet can help boost glycogen levels, which can lead to increased endurance and strength.
Lowers oxidative stress and inflammation. Oxidative stress is the result of the body’s response to toxins and pollutants and can damage cells and tissues. Oxidative stress promotes inflammation, which is the body’s response to injury or infection. Antioxidants are chemicals that help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Plant-based diets are high in antioxidants because they contain high levels of antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and phytochemicals. These antioxidants help protect the body from damage caused by oxidative stress and inflammation.
Tips for a Smooth Transitioning To Plant-Based Diet
For any athlete or person looking to make a big change in their diet, transitioning to a plant-based lifestyle can seem daunting. But with a little preparation and some tips, it can be a breeze. Here’s some key advice for runners hoping to transition to a plant-based diet.
Meal prepping can help. If you find it difficult to adjust to a plant-based lifestyle on your own, meal prepping can be a helpful tool. This means preparing your meals in advance and storing them in containers so that you can eat them quickly and without hassle. This can help reduce stress levels and make the transition easier.
Make sure your diet is balanced. A well-balanced plant-based diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Make sure to include enough proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in your meals as needed. This will help regulate your blood sugar levels and fuel your workout.
Stick with whole foods. When transitioning to a plant-based diet, it’s important not to exclude any food groups – including those that typically contain lots of nutrients and antioxidants (such as fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes). Whole foods are the best way to get all the nutrients your body needs without adding any unhealthy extras.
Start slowly. If you’re making a radical change to your diet, it can be difficult to adjust at first. Gradually introduce more plant-based foods into your daily routine and see how you feel. If you find that you’re getting sick more often or have other health concerns, consult with a doctor or nutritionist before continuing on this journey.
Be mindful of your calorie intake. When changing up your eating habits, it’s common to want to lower the amount of calories you’re consuming. However, make sure you don’t go too low on your caloric intake or you’ll end up feeling weak and tired. Aim for a balance that feels sustainable for you.
Avoid harmful supplements. While supplements can be helpful in boosting the nutrient content of your diet, many are filled with unhealthy ingredients that can have negative effects on your body. Consult with a doctor before taking any supplements if you’re uncertain about what would be best for you.
While it is still too early to know for certain whether or not a plant-based diet offers any performance advantages over a diet consisting largely of animal-based products, the mounting evidence suggests that this may be the case. If you are looking to improve your health and fitness overall, incorporating more plant-based foods into your daily routine may be the best way to do so.
Marko Rakic is a trail runner and fitness enthusiast from Sydney, Australia. He is the lead writer for The Ultimate Primate and believes the best way to live a happy life is to take a holistic approach to fitness and health.