That headline is the question. It’s a question that I have been pondering and debating for the past couple of months.
My running journey has taken me from a mildly active couch potato on a standard Western diet to an endurance athlete on a plant-based diet. It all started when I laced up the running shoes in 2011 with the goal of completing a 5K.
In time, I gradually moved to a much-cleaner diet. The big change occurred at the beginning of 2018 when I removed meat — except fish — from my diet. Red meat was very easy since I did not consume that often. But I found it interesting that I did not miss chicken, which we generally ate three or four times a week because it was “healthy.”
I’ve also abstained from turkey, including the past two Thanksgivings, as well as pork, ham and any other meats. At the start of this year, I transitioned from eggs to just having egg whites and cut out almost all dairy from my diet.
My diet now is full of fruits, vegetables and gluten-free grains since I am a Celiac. The plant-based lifestyle has definitely improved my running and recovery. Perhaps the best example is when I did a recent 5K on no specific training. I finished in 21:07, about 90 seconds faster than my PR, which was set several years ago – before the diet adjustment.
So the question begs, should I continue and adapt a vegan diet?
Where I've been, where I'm going
In addition to the twice-weekly fish (tuna or salmon) and the egg whites, there are times when I have eggs or dairy in baked goods and as added items in packaged goods like granola or protein bars. Overall, of the dozen or so granola or protein bars currently in our household only three list eggs or milk as ingredients. While my egg and milk intake is minimal at best, I would still need to make adjustments to be completely vegan.
While my running performance has definitely improved in the past couple of years, I cannot pin that solely on diet since there are other variables at play. Still, my regular tests and bloodwork analysis from InsideTracker suggest that my health is strong for someone my age. Sure there are improvements to be made but there are no red flags related to my improved diet. (Interested in trying out InsideTracker? Use this special discount link for 15 percent off.)
There is no shortage of information — pro and con, authentic and contrived — available for those like myself trying to find the best options. I’ve conducted my own research from reading Scott Jurek’s book “Eat and Run” to reviewing independently conducted research studies to watching documentaries like “Game Changers.”
I’ve heard from a wide variety of athletes too.
Trevor Fuchs explained how adapting a vegan lifestyle has fueled his success as an ultra runner. He went from an overweight, heavy smoker to a vegan, ultra running champion.
On the other hand, Jeff Browning takes a different approach. Browning, a 48-year-old champion ultra runner who is still going strong, transitioned from vegetarian to a diet consisting of clean meat, most vegetables (not potatoes), some fruits and limited sugar. h
There are no easy answers for myself or anyone else in pursuit of the “right” diet.
For me, as I review how far I have come since that last bite of chicken, it’s still an evolving process. The important part – and one that I will use to guide me — is to continue to experiment and focus my diet on what makes me feel good, helps me recover from ultra training and allows me to progress as an athlete.