Ultra-runner David Allamon has been vegan for 22 years and a runner for 10. “Before running, I was really into weightlifting and weighed about 50 pounds heavier than I am now,” he says. “I started running because it was especially hard for me, and I enjoy overcoming challenges. I could only run a quarter of a mile when I started. Last year, I ran six ultramarathons and two 100-milers. Now, it has progressed into being a major source of joy as the challenge aspect has faded away and I run for fun.”
That’s motivational, but how do you handle 100 miles with no animal protein or byproducts fueling your system? It’s simple — but it’s not as easy as just cutting animal products out of your diet, you have to make sure you’re adding in the right stuff — and skipping the Oreos or other junk food that’s technically ‘vegan-friendly.’
Here are a few tips to know about adopting a vegan lifestyle:
1. IT REQUIRES MORE ATTENTION
John Fitzgerald, of Carmichael Training Systems, says that when he coaches a vegan runner, especially a newly converted vegan, he wants to know what a typical few days looks like for them and sometimes asks for a food log. Even if you don’t have a coach, an app like MyFitnessPal is a great way to track your food intake for a few days so you can make sure you’re eating enough, consuming the right macros and properly fueling your runs.
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2. VEGAN FOOD DOESN’T EQUAL HEALTH FOOD
“To think that eating vegan and/or being an ultrarunner enables you to eat without consequence is the biggest mistake people make,” says Allamon. “You still need to make smart food choices.” That means just because it’s labeled ‘vegan’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy. (The same goes for things labeled ‘gluten-free.’) For him, a typical day starts with a breakfast shake of ground oatmeal, chocolate protein powder, instant coffee, banana and water. Lunch is a large salad and a vegan protein source, usually tofu, soy curls or a meat substitute. He opts for some carb-filled snacks like rice cakes, and dinner is a combination of vegan protein, veggies and rice. Dessert? You can’t beat fruit.
3. MACROS MATTER
Macros matter equally for everyone, but vegans in particular should be tracking them. It can be tricky to take in enough protein when you need to rely on plant-based proteins, though it is quite possible. “I eat a very protein-rich diet and always make sure that I have enough protein for recovery,” says Allamon. “When I am disciplined about protein consumption, I notice that I recover better. This is a holdover from my weightlifting days.” Healthy fats — like coconut oil and avocados — can also be lacking in a vegan diet, so again, MyFitnessPal can help get you back on track.
4. THINK ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL
Fitzgerald wants all of his runners to pay close attention to their feelings of fatigue and muscle soreness. Vegans, in particular, need to keep track of their day-to-day feelings, since it’s easy for a vegan to miss vital nutrients like iron. That’s how some vegan runners can end up anemic or undernourished. So, if you’re starting to feel sore but haven’t been increasing intensity or duration of your runs, or you have trouble waking up in the morning, it might be time to head to a doctor to see if something is up.
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5. IN-RUN PLANNING IS KEY
“The biggest challenge is that being a vegan ultrarunner requires more planning for pre/during/post-run food,” says Allamon. “Many ultramarathons are in mountainous wilderness areas and span several days, so finding vegan options after a race to start the recovery process can be difficult. During the race, I can’t always rely on the food that the races provide, so I always need to come prepared with enough calories to get me through.” When Allamon doesn’t want to rely on gels, he makes his own mashed potato burritos (a large flour tortilla filled with prepared instant mashed potatoes — potato flakes, water, a touch of olive oil and salt) or savory sticky rice balls (sticky rice made with vegetable bouillon or miso). Wrap those in plastic wrap or double-sided foil/parchment paper for easy access.
6. BE KIND TO YOURSELF
“Don’t beat yourself up over mistakes,” says Allamon. You might slip up at first (intentionally or unintentionally), but that doesn’t mean you should binge on burgers and just give up altogether. Just try to do better with your next meal or snack. If you’re vegan-curious but not ready to commit, start slow by shifting to one vegan meal per day, or one full day a week of eating vegan, and slowly increase your vegan meals while decreasing your animal products.