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.
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:
- Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance by Matt Fitzgerald
- The Paleo Diet for Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance by Loren Cordain and Joel Friel
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of 4 Meals by Michael Pollan
- No Meat Athlete: How a Plant-Based Diet Can Make you Fitter, Faster, and Happier by Matt Frazier
I’ve interviewed Registered Dietitians, pro athletes, and best-selling diet authors:
- Q&A Podcast with Anne Mauney MPH, RD
- How elite OCR athlete Kimber Mattox fuels her running
- Matt Fitzgerald on “The Endurance Diet”
- How pro marathoner Ariana Hilborn eats
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:
- 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?