Inside My Diet: 3 Plant-Based Diet Strategies for Better Performance

I’m a proud omnivore. I firmly believe that eating a balanced, “whole-foods” diet is the key to both long-term health and improved running performance.

The evening haul from the garden ūüď∑@mseelaus

A post shared by Jason Fitzgerald (@jasonfitz1) on

But the issue isn’t which diet is best, but¬†the results¬†that a certain diet can give to you.

Over the past decade, I’ve been borderline obsessed with discovering the optimal diet for running performance.

I’ve read many of the best diet books:

I’ve interviewed Registered Dietitians, pro athletes, and best-selling diet authors:

I’ve also heard first hand from elite runners, USA Track & Field instructors, and world-class coaches about the best approaches to eating for endurance runners.

And they all include meat.

But… not one person (anywhere) thinks we should eat a meat-based diet.¬†The notion of a meat-based diet is ridiculous… am I taking crazy pills?!

Whether you’re vegan or an omnivore like myself, we should all eat a plant-based diet mainly consisting of:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes / beans
  • Nuts and seeds

That’s the foundation – the base upon which we add smaller portions of other foods. As Michael Pollan noted in his (highly recommended) book¬†In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto:

Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.

But I know how hard it is to eat more plants. Some days, I realize I haven’t had a single plant until dinner!

One of the easiest ways to transform your diet is to simply find more ways to eat plants and always remember that any diet should be plant-based.

This is what works for me.

Plant-Based Diet Tip #1: Join a CSA

CSA stands for “Community Supported Agriculture” and it’s a way for you to support a local farm.

My family and I have been subscribing to a local CSA since about 2010, first in Maryland and now in Denver through Berry Patch Farms.

CSA’s vary depending on where you live. In Maryland, we chose our own vegetables at a local farm stand and had more options.

Here in Denver, they choose our weekly share for us. Either way, we’re forced to eat a lot more (local and fresh!) fruit and vegetables than we normally would.

CSA’s aren’t right for everyone so if you’re on the fence, here are a few of the things I love about being a member:

  • Exposure to new fruit and vegetables that you’re not too familiar with already
  • A weekly share¬†forces¬†you to eat a lot of plant-based foods
  • Fresher, local food – this simply can’t be beat
  • You support a local farm and small business
  • As the seasons change, so does your diet

A CSA share is not all organic peaches and cream, though. They can be expensive and you’re not guaranteed¬†a certain amount of food.

Since you’re essentially buying a share of a farm (like a stock with edible dividends!), if the farm doesn’t produce then you don’t eat.

Even with the drawbacks, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The CSA is a¬†forcing function that automatically injects more plants into my diet.

Going to the pick-up spot with my two daughters is a special experience that all of us love. They get to hear about the farm and where our food comes from.

Curious about joining your own? Find a local CSA here.

Plant Based Diet Tip #2: Plant a Garden

This year, I planted my first garden. I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m thrilled that I haven’t killed any of my plants yet.

(Disclaimer: I’ve planted everything far too close together, nearly killed my cherry tomato plant, and broke two main branches off of a pepper plant…)

But I’ve discovered that I love it!

After about 10 hours of back-breaking labor, we now have a variety of plants:

  • 11 swiss chard
  • 4 curly kale
  • 2 tomato
  • 2 green bell pepper
  • 2 green squash
  • 2 lunchbox orange snacking pepper
  • 1 serrano pepper
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 banana pepper
  • 1 cherry tomato
  • 1 cubanelle pepper
  • 1 blackberry bush (not doing too well…)

I’m so psyched about my garden that I bought a tractor.

Twice every week, I can expect to get a few individual vegetables and bunches of greens. The garden is yet another forcing function that forces me to eat a more plant-based diet than I normally would.

And that’s a good thing. As we discuss in Strength Running’s free nutrition series, a whole and “real” food diet is optimal for running performance and recovery.

Plus, there are a host of other longevity benefits that planting a garden bestows on the gardener.

Earlier this year, I read¬†Blue Zones: 9 Lessons For Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner. This book was the inspiration for my garden and opened my eyes to the power of gardening for longevity.

Planting a garden gives your longevity a boost by:

  • Forcing you to eat more plants (always a good thing)
  • Increasing the amount of low-stress daily activity in your life
  • Reducing stress
  • Exposure to more sunshine

So a garden improves your diet, running performance and recovery, and overall longevity?

Sign me up!

Plant-Based Diet Tip #3: Make Smoothies

A good problem that results from planting a garden and subscribing to a CSA share is that you’ll be drowning in produce.

Almost every day of the week, there’s a salad before dinner.

Sautéed swiss chard and curly kale is on the menu 2-3 times per week.

There are soups, crock-pot recipes, and grilled veggies on the weekends.

And we STILL have an over-abundance of plants spilling all over our kitchen table, counter, and in the refrigerator.

Our solution is to make smoothies a few times per week with the extras.

I haven’t regretted investing in a BlendTec blender since I bought it over two years ago. It has the engine of a lawnmower and can puree an avocado pit.

Much like Matt Frazier outlined in our healthy lifestyle podcast, I follow a rough “formula” for all my smoothies:

  • 2 cups of whole fat coconut milk (unsweetened)
  • 2 cups of frozen greens
  • 1-2 cups fruit
  • 1 cup or equivalent of vegetables

This is used for 80% of my smoothie recipes and it always results in one that’s great-tasting with a nice texture.

Washing and cutting fruit and vegetables and the necessary clean-up can be time-consuming but I’ve found a few strategies that help:

  • Blend the frozen greens and coconut milk first (blending in stages makes it easier and less clumpy)
  • When in doubt, use more fluid so the smoothie isn’t too thick
  • If you don’t like crunchy smoothies, avoid fruit with seeds (like raspberries or kiwi)
  • Use a good blender – it will cut your time in half (I prefer BlendTec)

This process usually produces about 30-40 ounces of smoothie depending on the fruits and vegetables that you choose.

We use a collection of mason jars (from our wedding in 2011 so before the hipster trend!) that have screw-on lids so you can easily save extra green juice goodness for the next day.

Why Eat Plant-Based?

The sport of running and clean eating go hand-in-hand. Without fueling properly, you can’t optimize your overall health, recovery, training, and race performances.

With a focus on nutrition principles for runners, you’ll be able to run those challenging workouts, recover quickly, and get a lot faster.

A plant-based diet (with some meat) is the surest path to covering all of your nutrition bases while promoting longevity and performance.

We have a lot more resources for those runners who are ready to dial in their nutrition:

  • A “Registered Dietitian-approved” shopping list
  • The answers to the most common (and sometimes confusing) nutrition questions
  • Case studies on how other runners feel after eating properly
  • What¬†not¬†to do, so you don’t waste time chasing diet promises that never materialize
  • Tips and tricks to make all of this simpler, easier, and more impactful

Ready to learn more?

Get our free advice here. I think if you apply these lessons, you’ll be feeling unstoppable in just a few weeks.

Was this post helpful?

Then you'll love the free email lessons I've never released here on the blog. Enter your email and you'll get:

  • The exact strength exercises that prevent injuries
  • Workouts that boost your speed (even for beginners)
  • Pacing strategies, coaching Q&A, and more

Comments

  1. Thanks for this great article. I am a firm believer in plant-based nutrition. I would suggest you also include beans and legumes on your list of primary plant-based foods. Their nutrition profile is actually better than nuts and seeds, which are quite calorie dense. So the list would look like: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and legumes, with occasional nuts and seeds.

  2. Joseph Olstad says:

    I appreciate the article as well. I’m part of one of those communities that is studied in the Blue Zones and I want to give a quick plug for eating a diet of all whole plants not commonly expressed. Ok, here it is: You never have to worry for the rest of your life whether you are eating enough fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains because…that is all you are eating. It is a pyschological release and a complete guilt free food existence. I love it. Eat and run!

  3. Sorry Jason, going to have to disagree with you on this one. In the early part of our evolutionary history (actually for the majority) Man evolved by chasing animals until they were heat exhausted and collapsed. It’s why we have long legs able to endure long distances and a very effective cooling system (ie we’re hairless). If we were meant to live on fruit and veg, both of which grow close to the ground, chances are that we would have evolved to be stooped making it easier to pick fruit/veg off the ground – look at chimps/apes that are also omnivores. Man needs meat to thrive, pound for pound it contains way more of the proteins, vitamins and minerals we need to be healthy compared to veggies. Ethically, whether we should be eating a meat diet is a whole other question!!

    • I think you misread this post. I am not a vegetarian nor do I think that’s an ideal diet.

      I never said we were to live on fruit and vegetables. I never said we don’t need meat. Please reread.

      • Sorry Jason, I did read your post correctly,I know you weren’t discussing a solely veggie diet, but maybe I didn’t get my point across as well as I should have. Youre promoting a diet that basically conforms to the conventional diet pyramid with fruit, veg and whole grains to the forefront with meat/dairy/fats to be eaten sparingly. This dietary advice hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years; unfortunately these years have produced an incredible increase in obesity/diabetes/metabolic disorders. My point is that your described diet, which, by default, is high in carbohydrates (and thus low in protein/fat) may not be the best option for general health. As for performance in endurance events, carbs are King but long term issues are still unresolved (ie Tim Noakes may have an alternative view!!)

        • No, you’re still not getting it. The entire point of this post is to simply encourage people to eat more plants. You can not determine macronutrient percentages from what I recommend in this post – I think you’re trying too hard to prove your own point.

  4. We in north amerand ca should take a look at the scandinavian way of eating. Everything starts with a healthy breakfast with grains, berries, veggies. You can eat fish in every.single.meal if you so wish! No sugary spreads on your toast, just healthy egg, lean meat or fish for protein, add bell peppers, cucumbers or tomatoes, herbs, add a cup of natural yoghurt (dont get me started on how yummy the yoghurt is in Norway, Finland) with musli! Voila! Cut up carrots for snacks! Lots of non-processed all natural goodies- that’s what i miss! Delicious fresh bread smell of bakeries!

Speak Your Mind

*