Growing up in a town that was founded on Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and RJ Reynolds Tobacco, I was somewhat predisposed to making poor health choices from an early age. The restaurants my family and I frequented served battered, fried, animal-based foods. Home life wasn’t much healthier; my mother’s pantry was often stocked with packaged foods that contained ingredients neither of us could pronounce. This was a recipe for sickness, and I often was. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned the benefits of plant-based, whole-food nutrition. And it has played a significant role in getting me to my healthiest, happiest, leanest self.
During the summer of 2011, I had grown sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was an aspiring runner, who couldn't together more than a mile or two at a time due to aches and pains, lack of energy, and excess weight. I was also experiencing a lot of joint discomforts. From what I knew, I needed animal-protein to produce strong muscles; milk to gain bone density; and energy gels for the added drive. I would regularly fix grilled chicken over egg noodles because I believed it to be the ultimate protein-packed meal. But I never felt any better, and my running performance certainly wasn’t improving. In fact, I began having more injuries, and my energy… well… it was non-existent.
A friend of mine and marathoner introduced me to the idea of using plant-based foods to fuel my runs. In an attempt to improve my performance, I took my friend’s advice, removing meat, dairy, and eggs from my diet entirely. I replaced them with plant-based foods like kale, spinach, dates, bananas, chia, and flax seeds. For me, making the switch wasn’t a hard decision. I had seen what it was doing for my friend, and I wanted to achieve the same results. Shortly after making the switch, I started noticing some serious changes in my performance. Within a couple of weeks, I noticed a dramatic boost in energy, decrease in recovery time, and I was beginning to run longer (and faster). Moreover, the pain in my joints had literally disappeared. But, what had happened?
I’ve since learned that plant-based foods are nourishing foods. They are easier for the body to digest, and don’t disrupt the body’s PH, like animal-based foods. Many athletes fear that they won’t be able to get an adequate amount of protein without consuming meat and eggs. But there are a number of (delicious) plant-based sources of protein: avocados, broccoli, lentils, garbanzo beans, pumpkin seeds, and many more. Plus, plants contain some of the most complete proteins around. A complete protein contains
each of the nine essential amino acids (Histidine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine) which we cannot live without. Take hemp hearts and flax seeds for example – they contain all of the essential amino acid chains and contain 20 and 31 grams of protein per serving, respectively. Chia seeds are another amazing superfood. The miniature kernels contain twice the protein of any other seed or grain. Due to its high level of easily digestible protein, omega-3 oils, and abundant fiber, chia has become a staple food for runners everywhere.
What about Nutritional Supplements?
There are many products on the market which promise to promote energy, speed up recovery, and replace electrolytes. Many of them come in the form of a gu (goo), powder, or liquid. But don’t be fooled by the clever marketing of these products. Some of their active ingredients (such as caffeine) can actually cause your body to crash quicker. Not to mention, most of these products contain artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, and preservatives. Why pay more to feel worse, when you can use raw fruits, seeds, and vegetables to attain the results you want, at a fraction of the cost?
There are a wide variety of plant-based foods that promote athletic performance. Endurance athletes, in particular, can stand to gain speed and energy by using vegan foods. Spirulina, maca root, turmeric, ginger, and sweet potatoes, are just a few superfood ingredients that make their way into my dishes each day.
I recently got the chance to try Amrita Bars. I was pleasantly surprised at the rich taste, and chewy texture, of their nutrient-packed snack bars. Sweetened with medjool dates and maple syrup, their “real-food” snacks prove that health and taste can coincide. As a distance runner, I need a fuel that’s compact, easily digestible, and tastes great. Amrita bars delivers all of this, without adding artificial ingredients or preservatives.
I encourage everyone to give plant-based nutrition a try. You don’t have to give-up meat, eggs, and dairy (like I did) to notice a difference. By simply adding more plant options to your daily regimen, you will notice some major improvements. Start making some changes today and see what it can do for you!