Can Runners Thrive on a Plant-Based Diet

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Thanks to everyone who joined me Thursday evening to answer the question: Can runners thrive on a plant-based diet?

No doubt you’ve seen fitness influencers posting their impossibly lean bodies posed with green smoothies, espousing the benefits of going vegan. And you've likely read about or seen documentaries on how athletes are trying out this way of eating with amazing results.

But can a runner like you or me really thrive on a plant-based diet?

Maybe.

Let’s back up for a minute for some definitions: A vegan diet is one that eschews all animal products: No red meat, poultry or seafood; no dairy, eggs, gelatin or honey. (These choices also extend to a vegan’s lifestyle, where they avoid animal-derived products like wool, leather and more.) A vegetarian diet excludes all animal flesh, but depending on the individual, may have more flexibility to include animal derived products, like dairy or honey.

From an ethical standpoint, a vegan diet is a compassionate choice, and there are tremendous environmental benefits to eliminating or even reducing meat consumption.

But here’s the kicker: Other than the exclusion of animal products, there are no other parameters around this way of eating, so being vegan is not synonymous with being healthy. In fact, there is a ginormous range of heavily marketed vegan junk food, from cookie dough to highly sweetened yogurt alternatives, to boxed mac and cheese. Active people adopting a vegan diet need to do diligent research to make sure their diet adequately meets their needs, not just as a runner but as a human. Additionally, if one chooses this diet without a supportive network of family or friends, it can be socially isolating.

Following are the five most common questions I hear from veg-curious runners:

WILL GOING VEGAN MAKE ME A BETTER RUNNER?

Eschewing animal products does not guarantee you’ll be a faster runner, better fueled, or faster recovery. ALL runners benefit from eating a health-promoting diet like the model from the Harvard School of Public Health, which is adaptable to omnivores, vegetarians or vegans:

  • Half of a nutritious diet is made up of non-starchy vegetables and some whole fruit
  • A quarter of the diet is healthful proteins
  • A quarter is whole grains and/or starchy vegetables.

If your way of eating falls way outside these parameters, whether you're a vegan, vegetarian or omnivore, your body may not be getting the nutrients it needs.


DO VEGAN ATHLETES RECOVER FASTER?

Principles of healthful fueling apply to plant-based athletes, too: Vegetables, whole fruit, nuts, seeds, whole grains + legumes are vital to a healthy body, as is eliminating inflammatory foods, including many animal products, fried food + sugary junk. Fueling well before and after workouts is also key for speedy recovery. More on that what and when to eat before, during and after workouts HERE.


WILL I NEED TO SUPPLEMENT?

Some vital nutrients do not occur naturally in significant amounts in a whole food, plant-based diet. They must be consumed via fortified foods, in supplement form, or very deliberately eaten as whole foods:

B12 is required for healthy blood and nerve cells, as well as production of DNA, and it’s the one non-negotiable supplement vegans must take. B12 deficiency accumulates over years and can be devastating to the body. To achieve the recommended 2.4mcg/day, supplements are the most convenient option. There are some fortified foods, like nutritional yeast, some cereals + plant milks, but this route is tougher.

Iodide regulates thyroid and supports metabolism and is found in eggs, fish, dairy and sea vegetables in small amounts. ¼ teaspoon of iodized salt contains nearly half the recommended daily value.

Omega 3 fatty acids DHA + EPA are vital in managing inflammation, and necessary for brain + heart health. They’re found in cold water fish (the fish get them from algae). Omega 3 fats as ALA are in flax, hemp + chia seeds, you may need to eat 10-50 times the amount of ALA to convert it to adequate DHA + EPA. Eating less Omega 6 fats from processed foods like soybean oil is also key.

Depending on your unique needs and diet, whether you’re plant-based or an omnivore, you may need additional supplements, such as vitamin D (which many are deficient in regardless of diet), zinc or iron. There is no need to self-diagnose vitamin and mineral deficiencies when they are easily detectable by blood tests ordered by your doctor. 


WHAT ABOUT CALCIUM?

The RDA for calcium for adults is 1,000 mg/day (1,200mg/day for women >50 + men >70). This is achievable with whole foods: There are 80mg calcium in 1 cup edamame, 100mg in 1 cup cooked kale, 160mg in ½ cup white beans, 140mg in 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds. Fortified plant milks have 300-450mg/cup. You can see how an intentional combination of foods could easily add up to meet daily needs.


AND THE BIG QUESTION: WHERE WILL YOU GET YOUR PROTEIN?

To determine your Recommended Daily Allowance—the amount you need to meet basic nutritional requirements—for protein, multiply your weight in pounds by 0.36. (You can also get a more detailed calculation based on your gender, age and activity level on using a calculator HERE). For example, the basic protein requirement for a 130-pound woman is about 47 grams daily, and a 180-pound man is 65 grams daily. A more active person will most definitely require more.

If your diet follows the Healthy Eating Plate proportions, your protein needs can be easily met without ever touching protein powder or bars. Whole grains, nuts + seeds, and legumes (including whole soy) all provide excellent protein, and even fruit and vegetables provide small amounts that add up to your daily needs. This example of a fairly light day of eating shows how easily 75.9 grams of protein add up:

Breakfast - 13 grams

  • .5 cup oats: 6g
  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds: 2g
  • 1 banana: 1g
  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter: 4g
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk: 0g

Snack - 6.5 grams

  • Apple: 0.5g
  • Handful of almonds (1 oz): 6g

Lunch - 25 grams

  • 2 slices sprouted grain bread: 8g
  • Avocado half: 2g
  • Green salad: 2g
  • 1/4 cup cooked farro: 3g
  • 3 Tbsp hemp hearts: 10g

Snack - 5 grams

  • Handful of carrot sticks: 1g
  • Hummus, 1/4 cup: 4g

Dinner - 30 grams

  • Green salad: 2g
  • 1 Tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste): 3g
  • Whole wheat pasta serving: 7g
  • Green beans: 2g
  • Marinated cooked tempeh: 16g

Final verdict: If you’re driven by a strong motivation to choose this lifestyle, and if you’re willing to do a bit of extra homework to make sure your nutrition needs—as well as social and emotional needs—are adequately met, veganism can be a healthful choice that supports an active lifestyle.

Even if you don't want to commit to a fully vegan lifestyle, we can all benefit eating more vegetables and adopting the proportions of the Healthy Eating Plate, where protein represents a smaller portion of the diet than most American's consume.  

Got questions? Please be in touch!

This information is not intended to prevent, treat or diagnose any disease, and should not supersede recommendations prescribed to you by a medical professional.

I wish I could sell you that weight loss pill

If you're on social media, you are undoubtedly seeing a few friends posting how an amazing weight loss supplement has really helped them shed the pounds, lose belly fat and get shredded, all without having to change their diet! Your friend insists these all-natural pills/shakes/bars/superfoods/drinks speed up metabolism, keep hunger at bay and melt fat.

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Not only does your friend love these supplements, she knows you'll love them so much that you'll want to sell them, too! And if you do join her sales team, then you can buy these great supplements from her at a special discount. What a deal! 

I wish I could sell you weight loss pills that would do make weight loss so effortless.

Only catch is that these pills don't exist.

If they did, we'd all be on them, we'd all have lightning fast metabolisms, and we'd all be super shredded. 

You know what does work for weight loss? Building healthy habits. You know, eating nutritious food, moving your body, sleeping well and controlling your stress level. There's no magic to it, but these habits take time and consistency to build. Save yourself time, energy money and angst and get to work on building those habits now. 

Need some support?  Please be in touch to schedule a one-on-one consult or with your questions! 

 

Make This: Delicata Squash Rings

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While I love the flavor and creamy texture of starchy winter squash (not to mention the nutrition punch in the form of fiber and vitamin A), it feels like such a chore to hack at that tough outer skin to get to the good stuff. 

Until I discovered Delicata squash, the squash that requires NO PEELING! The skin is super thin and very edible. 

You'll recognize it as the oblong light yellow squash with green or dark yellow stripes running longways. Wash it well, then cut it in half, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and pulp. Slice it into half-inch thick rings, and it's ready to bake.

Set the rings on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet and season with a sprinkle of sea salt, and take things up a notch with one or more seasonings, like cinnamon, garlic powder or onion powder. You can add a small swizzle of olive oil if you like to help the seasoning stick, but by putting the rings on parchment they won't stick, and by giving plenty of space on the pan, they'll brown nicely. Pop them in the oven for about 15 minutes and then flip them. If you’re feeling super fancy, swizzle a scant teaspoon of pure maple syrup at the halfway point, but again, that's optional. Roast for another 15 or so minutes (depending on their thickness). 

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For a quick and balanced weeknight meal, serve them as the starchy component of your meal: They're great over wilted kale or collards, or with roasted green beans or Brussels sprouts. Add your protein, or some rinsed and drained canned beans and a handful of raw pumpkin seeds, and you're set. Leftover squash rings (if you have any!) make tomorrow's lunch salad really special, too, or enjoy them with yogurt for breakfast or a snack.

Recipe: How to pumpkin spice without derailing your fitness goals

I do not have enough fingers and toes on which to count the number of times the term "Pumpkin Spice" has come up in conversation with clients this fall. Lattes, cookies, cake and fudge spiked with artificial pumpkin spice flavoring, cheap soybean oil and loads of sugar are ridiculously tempting this time of year, but they're cinnamon-y landmines if you're trying to eat more healthfully. For example, the ubiquitous Grande (16 oz) Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, even with non-fat milk and no whip, contains a whopping 49 grams of sugar—that’s 98% of your daily allotment of added sugar in a 2,000 calorie diet (based on a the American Heart Association recommendation of max of 10% of calories from added sugar).

Is it possible to enjoy the autumn joy that is pumpkin spice without consuming a day's worth of sugar? And could you even--dare I say it--find a way to make pumpkin spice a healthy choice? I say YES! and the proof is below...

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Pumpkin Spice Dip

Makes 1 serving but is easily multiplied

  • Make the Pumpkin Spice by shaking up these spices in a small jar (you could also use a commercial mix, but why would you?!):
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
    • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • Pinch of cloves
    • Pinch of allspice
  • Make the yogurt dip by blending these ingredients with a whisk or spoon:
    • 2 Tablespoons of unsweetened non-dairy yogurt (I used Anita’s Plain Coconut Milk Yogurt Alternative, or you could use Kite Hill Plain Unsweetened Almond Yogurt Alternative) OR an excellent quality Greek or Icelandic plain yogurt
    • 1/2 cup of canned pumpkin (make sure it's plain pureed pumpkin, not canned pumpkin pie filling)
    • Prepared pumpkin pie spice to your liking: Start with about a teaspoon and add more to your taste
  • Add a topping if you choose:
    • Drizzle a teaspoon of natural peanut or almond butter
    • Sprinkle a Tablespoon or two of muesli (I used Michele’s Toasted Muesli--made locally in Baltimore!)
    • Add a Tablespoon of raw seeds or nuts
  • Slice up some apples or pears and enjoy as a tasty dip, or eat it with a spoon for breakfast or a snack.

Fall Group Health Coaching

The holidays are coming! Will this be the year that you finally avoid the annual holiday weight gain? If you're ready, not just for a happy holiday, but to lay the foundation for long-term health, greater energy and lasting weight loss, I'm excited to announce my fall group health coaching program:

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During this four-week program in Towson, participants will…

  • Learn what a healthy diet is
  • Identify the habits and environmental factors that impact the way we eat
  • Acquire practical skills for shopping for, ordering and preparing healthful meals
  • Master the skills for planning healthy meals and snacks
  • Share recipes and strategize for eating healthfully to make progress towards health and fitness goals through the holiday season.

The greatest benefit of the program is support and accountability, not just from your health coach, but from the other members of your group. 

Full details and registration coming next week, but complete the form below, and I'll forward those details to you directly:

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