When it comes to staying happy, healthy and hearty – there are a few factors we all need to consider. And diet – what we eat and drink – to live and survive – is one of them. In this modern world we’re extremely lucky to have a wide range of choice when it comes to what to include in our diet. And so I recently chose to try a fully ‘plant based‘ diet for a week.
But what is a plant based diet? According to Google it is:
“…a diet based on fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains, and legumes; and it excludes or minimizes meat (including chicken and fish), dairy products, and eggs, as well as highly refined foods like bleached flour, refined sugar, and oil.”
You could maybe call this a ‘vegan’ diet, but since my choices were centred around curiosity, health, athletic performance and the environment rather than solely animal welfare I felt it wasn’t appropriate to categorise in such a way. And I’m not a huge fan of ticking boxes, but more of that later…
I’d been waiting for an opportunity to try a completely plant based diet for a while – especially after reading Scott Jurek’s book (trying many of the recipes), and also listening to many episodes of Rich Roll’s and Running On Om‘s podcasts. I also know many incredible plant-based athletes including previous interviewees on this site, including Hannah Roberts. I was interested to see how I would feel on a day-to-day basis energy wise, if it would make any difference to physical recovery from tough workouts, and how it would compare just in general to what I usually eat.
It wasn’t a major switch to cut out meat and fish, having followed a vegetarian diet for a number of years, 2007 – 2010 (a decision made after a long conversation with one of my brother’s about the environment). But completely removing dairy from my diet was a bigger undertaking. Products from cow’s milk are definitely something I have taken for granted in the past, and eggs – well, I’m not a huge consumer of eggs, but I am partial to the occasional plate of scramble eggs after a long run. I had lots of great advice from the Instagram community thanks to: runemz, ultratone_, evelinruns, khp_art, pokaihontas, catism83, fitnessfatale, martinad62, tiffanyadudley and leah_balantine.
So… what did I eat? Was it just lots of this…
To give you a quick break down, without going in to too many details, a typical day looked something like this:
Breakfast: Water with/ without lemon, green smoothie made with fruit & spinach or kale (with a scoop of protein powder, spirulina and macca powder), and/ or toast with spread/ jam/ nut butter. Coffee w/ almond milk.
Lunch: Green leafy salad with beets, carrots, tomatoes, sesame & pumpkin seeds, chick peas, quinoa or bread. Homemade energy bars and breads. Banana. Dried fruit.
Dinner: Veggie burger/ quorn/ lentil/ legume/ tofu/ tempeh based dish with brown or wild rice/ quinoa/ whole wheat pasta/ sweet potatoes and veggies.
Snacks/ drinks: Coffee, tea, juice, nuun, rice cakes w/ honey, nuts, vegan carob chips, crackers, fruit & veg, pumpkin seeds, blue corn chips with salsa & guacamole.
The different foods and products I found myself trying and testing as replacements to meat, fish and dairy included: Earth Balance spread, Almond milk, Wild Friends nut butters, Qi’a superfood mix, vegan carob chips, RAW protein powder or Down to Earth’s vegan protein powder, Dave’s Killer Bread, Quorn (coz that’s what Mo Farah eats…), home made energy bars and Mana Bars (to hit the sweet tooth).
And how did I feel? I did actually feel really good. I didn’t ever feel tired, loved making green smoothie concoctions, and also had a great week of running, teaching yoga, and coaching. I also had a great time baking a few vegan bread recipes (including the delicious and very ‘Simple Banana Bread‘). Giving up cheese wasn’t hard, but I did miss eating yogurt, and found it hard to completely make the switch from cow’s milk to almond milk. I’m also not a huge fan of soy-based products, but did eat some tofu, which is easy to cook with and is often on restaurant menu’s in Hawaii – eating out was not a problem.
Would I recommend making the switch to a completely plant based diet? Yes and/ or No! The truth is there is no simple answer.
Yes – I would definitely recommend testing it out for yourself. Try eating a wider variety of food types, and don’t be afraid of vegetarian and vegan cooking. Adhering to a plant based diet is a great way to learn more about what you eat, what’s available (check out your local Farmer’s Market) and also what goes in to the food and products we find on most supermarket shelves. It is also a great way to increase your awareness of the environmental and animal welfare issues associated with the food industry (but that’s a whole other blog post, or ten). Additionally if you have lactose intolerance, celiac disease or any allergies, a plant based diet may be the best solution for you to find comfort and enjoyment in eating.
But, as with all ‘diets’ there has to be a level of intuition involved, and a degree of personal responsibility. Listening to your body is sometimes the hardest thing we need to do – and often that switch has been completed turned off. Following a plant based diet is a great way to eat more healthily, and probably is right for some people – but maybe not for everyone. I think overall the words and advice from writer Michael Pollan are some we could all benefit from hearing: “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.“
Therefore, I am putting myself in a box, that of the flexitarian – a title my little brother jokingly gave me a few years ago when I moved back and forth between being a full vegetarian, or not… Little did he know that it is actually a thing, defined as: “a person who has a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eats diary, meat or fish.”
But a further reason why I am hesitant to stick 100% to the plant-based diet is because last week I read an article by Matt Fitzgerald that was published on Competitor Running, and soon made it’s way to the top of their ‘Most Read’ list: Why You Should Eat Like An Elite. Whether or not you call yourself a runner, a yogi, a hiker, biker or swimmer, I think we can all agree that the diet of an elite athlete of any kind is always going to be interesting! It gives us a glimmer of hope that maybe what we eat will suddenly transform us. But the news states otherwise:
” Elite runners are living proof that one-size-fits-all diets are neither necessary nor optimal.”
What? There’s no magic diet to becoming a superstar athlete? Uh oh. But all hope is not lost! What we can do is take the same steps with our diets as elite athletes do:
1. Eat high quality foods from a wide range of food groups (including meat, fish and dairy). Avoid refined or processed, fried foods and sweets.
2. Eat lots of the high quality food (to fuel the miles you run and workouts you complete). As Matt Fitzgerald writes: “… if you chronically eat even slightly too little, the bottom will eventually fall out of your training and health.”
3. Don’t be afraid to eat carbs!
And so, I guess the take home message is: eat mostly plants, stay flexible in your approach to the word ‘diet’, but in the words of Tara Stiles, don’t be afraid to break a few rules!
PS. On a completely different note, here’s my first free online yoga video for you all to try!