I began running again 2 ½ years ago after taking a 14 year vacation from marathon running. I just let life happen and gave in to the pressures of going full speed without proper nutrition. Since starting back to living a healthy lifestyle – I have dropped 75 lbs! I am leaner now than I have ever been in my life. I have run 3 marathons so far this year and I have PR’ed all my records from the mid-90s (when I was in my 20s).
Plant-powered nutrition has had a very positive effect on my running. It has provided a foundation of health to support faster and longer distances, AND I have not experienced any injuries as an endurance athlete.
So what does plant-powered mean?
In the purest sense, it means not consuming any animal products (no meat, no dairy, no cheese, etc.). Many people would call this vegan, but I don’t use that label because vegan is much more than not eating animal products.
So why plant-powered? I have followed many athletes who are plant-powered and they have all inspired me to change to this lifestyle – athletes like Scott Jurek, Rich Roll, Matt Frazier, and many others. For me personally, I have found that this lifestyle has allowed me to go from a 245 lb. coach potato to an ultra-runner in two years!
Eating a Plant-Based NSNG Diet
One of the challenges with a plant-based diet is reducing or eliminating sugar and grains. This becomes difficult when you look at your fueling strategy for training and races. The common consensus for most runners is to eat Power Bars, GUs, Shot Blocks, and drink sugary sports drinks. These products all have one thing in common – SUGAR (and all its related cousins called by other names!)
One of the most recent changes I made to my nutrition is eliminating most sugar and grain from my diet. Why you ask? Because sugar (not fruits) have a very negative impact on the body. It raises insulin levels and creates an additive reaction in most people, and causes the body to crave more of it.
Ever try to eat just one chip or one cookie? Grains today are mostly processed. It is very difficult to find grains in their natural form. The way grains are processed today causes a negative reaction in the body and the result is excess inflammation, which can lead to chronic illnesses. For plant-powered people rice, beans and legumes are fine if eaten in reasonable quantities.
By eliminating grains and sugars from the diet, I have had a much easier time increasing my distances and improving my overall speed – whether in training or racing. The other benefits include an increase in lean body mass and faster recovery after long hours of training. As I write this, I just finished a marathon on Sunday, ran twice this week and ran a 10 mile training run with very little soreness at the end of the week.
In the past, this would not have been possible for me to do. I know many runners may be able to do this type of recovery, but as your eat better – your muscles tend to recover much faster and there is certainly less fatigue.
How I Fuel with PPNSNG
There are two things to consider when fueling with a Plant-Powered No Sugar No Grains lifestyle (PPNSNG).
- Training Runs: For training runs (anything longer than a few hours) consider fruit, nuts, Ucan (plain), olives, or other sources that are plant-based or specifically formulated without sugar (or its cousins). Transitioning to this method can take time. You must train the body to reduce it dependency on sugar for fuel and teach it to run on the body’s own fat stores. This is accomplished by building a solid base of Zone 2 style training and eliminating sugar from your fuel.
- Race Day: Racing takes a bit of time to figure out. The challenge on race day is you typically run at a much higher intensity for an extended period of time. The body burn through glycogen stores within 1 – 1 ½ hours. Because of this, you will need small amounts of fuel to keep your body going. This can be accomplished with the fuels mentioned above. The trick is to find what works for you. Not everyone reacts the same way to his or her fuel.
For me, bananas are a great source of natural energy and have a high glycemic load. For others, they need something in a more pure form like Generation Ucan or Nuun. I would still suggest not using Gatorade or other sports drinks. The pure sugar in these products can have a negative effect on your body during your race – especially if it’s consumed early on in the race.
Finally, some runners, who are fat adapted, do use some form of sugar in the final miles of their race. This is acceptable because of the intensity of the race. You will need additional fuel in your body, but a lot less is required because of all the proper training done before race day.