Sunday, May 20, 2012

Going Vegan?????

On my lunch breaks at work I like to read to pass the time and this past week I was perusing the latest issue of Runner's World when I happened upon an intriguing article.  It was about prominent ultra-marathoner, Scott Jurek, and his Vegan diet.  Now, I've always been in the camp that a Vegan diet and endurance sports just didn't go hand.  Where the hell do you get get all the protein you need?  The article went on to dispel that fear and other myths that are associated with such diet.  I started to think maybe there is something to it and started doing some research online to gather a little more information.

In doing so I stumbled upon a "diet," for lack of a better term, developed by professional triathlete Brendan Brazier.  It's called Thrive, and is essentially a vegan diet catered to endurance athletes. I browsed the website for a bit and then decided to pull the trigger on the book (Thank you Kindle!).  I spent last weekend reading through it and a lot of the concepts within made sense to me.

The premise behind it is to eat nutrient dense "one-step" foods.  This includes fruits, veggies, beans, and seeds that are fueled directly from the sun.  Meat would be a two-step food since the animal has to get it's fuel from plants.  The reasoning behind this was to limit the body's amount of stress.  As athletes we put our bodies under more stress than the average person and by limiting the amount of stress from our diet we are promoting health and well being.  Highly processed "multi-step" foods put the body under additional stress due to the difficulty to digest.  More stress = more cortisol production = more fat storage.  By limiting the nutritional aspect of stress and eating one step foods, we can lower our overall stress and fat storage.  Additionally, if the body is not working as hard to digest the foods we are taking in, it can get to work repairing all the muscle damage we've done.

He threw in plenty of science to back up the claims, but as much as it seems to make sense I always remain a bit skeptical.  It was his anecdote about his weight gain during Ironman training was what really resonated with me.  A few years ago before adopting the diet he was experiencing wait gain during a his training.  The natural assumption was that he was taking in too many calories so he cut back calories and he started gaining the weight at an even faster rate. So what was it then?  Overtraining? Some would call it that, but instead he reasoned that if he could eliminate the other stresses in his life that he could continue to train at a high level.  So he started to tweak his diet and eventually the Thrive diet evolved out of that.

As someone who struggles with their weight, even with some insane training volume, this struck a chord with me.  Over the years I've tried a variety of diets, from strict calorie counting to the Paleo diet, all with mediocre results.  For me, I've found that it's just not as simple as calories out > calories in and frankly I always get a little pissed off when dietary experts tout that adage. I'm living proof it's not true.  I always (like since high school) have carried an extra ten pounds (or more) around that midsection that seems to never go away, regardless of diet and training volume.  I like to joke that I have the largest gut on the podium at races.  It seems I'm always the chunky guy doing well at these race because of a little natural talent, a determined work ethic, and a heightened capacity for suffering.  Still, there's always a part of me saying ,"just imagine what you could be doing without that spare tire."

I'm going to cut myself off there to avoid turning this post into more of a rant than it already is.  Simply put, it's time for a change with the diet.  There was an article in Bicycling last month that calculated your ideal body weight based not only on height but body frame as well and I should be around 152 pounds.  That is the goal racing weight for Chicago.  I have dropped over 20 since the first of the year, but have since been stuck at my normal plateau of 160-162 for the last month or so.  I am going to start incorporating parts of the plan in the next few weeks in order to get my body used to the transition with hopes of being fully committed in a month.  I have a few vices that will need to be weened off like cheese and peanut butter (which I probably abuse too much) and I don't know if I'll ever be able to give up my post long run steak (it was delicious tonight by the way). I've already tried a few recipes and started stocking my cupboards with all kinds of weird ass stuff like amaranth and dulse and tahini and hemp protein that I had never known existed until just a few days ago.  There's nothing like starting a new diet to coincide with the start of marathon training.  This should be fun!

Oh, I also had my first triathlon of the season today, but that will have to wait for another post 


  1. Way to go Neal. You can get plenty of protein through a vegan diet, just do your homework. I recently read about Rip Esselstyn who eats a plant based diet and was a professional firefighter and triathlete. Being basically a vegetarian myself, I would struggle to give up the cheese, but if you are dedicated you can do it.

  2. I'm impressed little brother! As I get older my oreos at night don't help yet I keep thinking running and teaching kickboxing will work for me! Trying this diet will be awesome for you, can't wait to hear how it works and maybe you can teach me a little something! I have no races on the books right now, BUT I do have the WHOLE FAMILY signed up for a 3.5 mud run at Quantico in a few weeks, even Ashley. Should be hilarious and great family bonding with the boys and hoping Chip can help me over a wall since you know how great my upperbody strength is! Nothing like a little competitive spirit in our family! We just finished running club for the school and the kids have the bug to run so it worked! Good luck on your training!!! Big Sister(-: