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Plant-based diet relieves endurance athlete of heart ailment

I started eating plant-based because of a health issue. I had been diagnosed with Pericarditis (inflammation of the sack around the heart). This meant that every time my heart beat it rubbed against the sack and made me feel like I was having a heart attack. It also made me feel out of breath and lethargic.

This diagnosis meant that I was going to have to be on medication for an undetermined amount of time and once cured there could be a recurrence. As a triathlete, this was not something I was OK with, so I started to research causes of inflammation in the body. One of the possibilities that I discovered was that animal products can cause inflammation, and at the time I was following a paleo diet.

My gut (no pun intended) told me that was the root cause and I should switch to a plant-based diet.

All or nothing

In the course of several weeks, I made the change.

At the time of my diagnosis, a vegan nutritionist (Deb Gleason) in my hometown of Ottawa, Canada, was hosting a vegan event at a local community center and the guest speakers where Rich Roll and Dr. McGregor. I attended that event and at the end of the day had made the decision that I was switching my diet. I then hired Deb to help me transition. I have not looked back since.

When I made the decision to change my way of eating overnight, my husband was very supportive and so were my friends. Ottawa has many vegan items available in its grocery stores and we have some amazing restaurants as well.

I did the all-or-nothing approach because that is just my personality. If I am going to do something, it is all or nothing.

Before I had my son in 1989, I tried being vegetarian because I was trying to find a way of eating that did not hurt my stomach. My whole life I had a stomachache. It was just a matter of how bad my stomach was going to hurt. I was sickly growing up, really skinny and had unexplained rashes etc.

When I became an adult I started to try to find a way of eating that did not cause a stomachache. I had been vegetarian for a while before I became pregnant with my son, then the doctor talked me into believing that I needed to eat meat to have a healthy pregnancy. My stomachache disappeared as soon as I took dairy and gluten out of my diet.

One obstacle for me was cheese because it’s so addictive. So I gave myself permission to transition from that at my own pace. I now have some vegan cheeses I love and I even make my own on occasion.

Diet keys improvement as an athlete

As an Ironman and trail runner, I expect a lot out of my body and I feel that by eating a plant-based diet I am less sore, recover quicker and have great stamina. Before going vegan and taking gluten out my diet, I was tired and sore all the time. I felt like I never recovered. When I switched to a plant-based diet, my soreness disappeared which allowed me to take on a heavy training schedule and recover quickly.

The plant-based diet also has also keyed my progression as an athlete.

I can train for an Ironman or 50K races and not feel anywhere near as tired as my friends who do not eat the same way as me. People reach out to me and ask for advice on how to start a plant-based diet because they follow me on social media, see what I am doing and want to be able to do the same.

Making sure to get enough protein

As a vegan, I find it easy to get enough protein in my diet. All of my favorite veggies are high in protein. If I am a bit low, then I mix a protein powder with some coconut yogurt and berries, or make a shake.

I take B12, Vitamin D and an iron supplement daily. To note: I have been iron deficient my whole adult life, even when I ate meat. It just seems to be something I will always deal with.

My doctor does not say much about my diet. Every year I go in for my yearly checkup and she gives me a requisition for blood work and it always comes back with great results. She supports my way of eating because it is working for me.

Of course, my journey began with the heart ailment diagnosis. Even though it has a high potential to come back, the heart ailment has not returned. After the initial three-month treatment, I did have to do a second bout of treatment but afterward I have been free of the ailment.

Speed drill

Name: Brenda Ross

Hometown: Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada. Currently live in Ottawa, Ontario

Number of years running: 30 years (gulp, really, wow)

How many miles a week do you typically run: Depends. If I am training for a triathlon I am fitting in biking, swimming and weights. But if I am training for a 50K trail race it would be 40K a week.

Point of pride: Personally, my 32-year marriage and close relationship with my 30-year-old son. Sport wise – my Ironman Mont Tremblant marathon of 4:16 and my 50K trail race with my son.

Favorite race distance: Half Ironman, half marathon, if road; but 50K, if trail.

Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: I love oatmeal

Favorite piece of gear: My race vest

Favorite or inspirational song to run to: I don’t workout with music for running, just cycling which is techno.

Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Do your own race and let the results take care of themselves.

Where can other runners connect or follow you:

• Instagram, @rossfitmomma

• Facebook,

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