Food is Fuel, Supplements & What I Eat in a Day
I get asked a lot as vegan, but more so as a vegan athlete with an extremely busy lifestyle, what I eat, where do I get my protein, what supplements do I have to take, etc. I love getting these questions because I think a lot of people think that it is a lot harder than it is to eat vegan, especially while training for long distance endurance events. Before I was vegan, I had a lot of misconceptions about what vegans actually ate and I assumed they were all burlap-wearing hippies who were weak and tired from their protein-deficient diet. After being vegan for almost 4 years and going from barely being able to run a 5k to winning ultra marathons, I can assure you that I am nothing but weak! However, it has taken me some time to figure out exactly what works for me as an athlete, what supplements do I actually need to take, and how to fit in eating a healthy diet with my hectic schedule. But before I dive into things.. a little back story.
I've mentioned before on social media and in some of my blogs about having issues with disordered eating and negative body image, and how running and veganism has helped me. I won't dive too much into that now, but let's just say that when I first went vegan, I was not eating merely enough calories. Not any less than I was eating previously as a non-vegan, but barely enough to function. Once I started running longer and longer distances, eating too few calories was not working out for me. I knew that if I wanted to make running more of priority, I was going to have to change the way I viewed food. Food used to be an enemy, it made me feel bloated, it made me gain weight, it made me have this distorted image of myself that didn't actually exist, but in my mind, food was just something I had to eat for survival only. Through running and weightlifting, I have a much more positive relationship with my body, which has changed the way I view food. Food is fuel, it's the gas in my tank and tools in my kit. What I put on my plate not only affects how I feel physically after eating that meal, but what I eat on a daily basis effects my performance in the long run (no pun intended), and I have seen this firsthand. Food is the one advantage every single athlete has but good nutrition is often lacking from most athlete's training plans, and it's taken me awhile to figure it all out myself, but switching that mindset of food is my enemy to food is fuel was key. Also, I must say that the more food I eat, healthy food that is, the better I feel.
Supplements.. I used to never take supplements because I was ashamed to. I thought I was a "bad vegan" if I had to take a supplement. Even before switching to being vegan, I was very anemic, however still refused to take any sort of supplement for it. But same with food, once I started making running more of a priority and thinking of myself as athlete, I realized I need to give myself the best advantage I can to be healthy. Now I take B12 (which is a must for ALL vegans, but also non-vegans), Iron and Calcium. Since I've been eating more iron rich foods, plus taking an easily digestable iron supplement, my blood iron levels have doubled since just last year. Calcium is also a must for me because I am on Omeprazole for my stomach-acid reflux, and one side of omeprazole is calcium depletion. As a runner, I need heathly bones! I also take probiotics because working with children, I am exposed to surplus of germs and sickness, and taking a probiotic seems to help keep sickness at bay. I take all four of these supplements about every other day.
Now on to what I actually eat.. I could write a whole separate blog post on what I eat before, during and after a race or long run, so for now I'll just talk about what I eat on a normal day. I used today's meals as an example and entered all the food items into MyFitnessPal. I don't normally track my calories or macros, I eat what I feel like eating and sometimes I will eat more than this if I have a particularly active day (for example if I run a hard track workout then weight-lift), plus tracking calories can be triggering for someone who's experienced disordered eating in the past, so I only do it on an occasion. Here is the run down:
Breakfast- Oatmeal with granola and banana, plus coffee (of course)
Lunch- "Buddha Bowl" with roasted cauliflower and sweet potatoes, avocado, and pepitas.. topped with sriracha (veggies roasted on Sunday for the week)
Snack- Larabar (Larabars are great because they're less process than other snacks, only have a few ingredients, and I can eat them on the go!)
Dinner- Minimalist Baker's coconut curried golden lentils with brown rice and roasted broccoli (again, prepped this meal on Sunday and tossed it in some mason jars)
Dessert- Chocolate dusted almonds
What this chart doesn't show is the 71g of iron, 442g of vitamin A, 266g of vitamin C and 31g of calcium. Could I improve upon this to increase my iron and calcium intake a bit, sure! But this is just one day out of 365 days a year, and this is EASY. Most of my food prep is done on Sunday's so it's just a matter of packing and reheating things. I roast my veggies with chili powder, cayenne and pepper, but no salt or oil. And best of all, all of these things taste good so I am not sacrificing flavor to eat healthy. Why did I take the time to write this all? To answer the same questions I get consistently about my diet, and to prove that a vegan diet and lifestyle can be healthy for someone who runs 55-65 miles a week and occasionally wins some races. The past year I have grown so much as an athlete. I am faster and stronger, train harder, and have remained that same weight the entire year (gaining a couple pounds when I am on a break from running, but not losing weight when I am in peak training). Yeah, I have occasionally days where I binge consume pizza, beer and vegan ice cream, but on most days, just simple, nutritious, easy ingredients and recipes!
*Minimalist Baker's recipe for the coconut curried golden lentils
*Please note that I am not a dietician, nutritionist or physician. This is just my own experience as a vegan athlete who is 5'2" and 115lbs!