Sunday, September 2, 2012

Vegan Running

Mention vegan in many circles and people will quickly conjure an image of a barefoot young woman with dreadlocks who's a militant member of PETA. That's not me, although I have nothing against it; I'm a fifty-four year old man who ate a healthy (I should say unhealthy) array of animal products on a daily basis for more than half a century. I stopped eating meat or any animal products about ten weeks ago. I didn't have any political motivation although one less person creating demand for resource intensive factory-raised animals is not a bad thing; we could feed a lot more people if we just ate the plants that could be grown on the land that we use to grow the feed we use to fatten the hogs and cattle and chickens. My motivation to move to a plant-based diet was purely selfish and personal; my cholesterol level had been persistently on the low side of high since certainly before the first time it was tested in my late twenties. The eye doctor even mentioned that he could see lipids; I had fat deposits up to my eyes! Running 40 miles a week evidently wasn't making any difference; it was probably just allowing me to pass more cheese and eggs through my system without resulting in much external evidence.

I wasn't a big meat eater but I found it satisfying, filling and a straight-forward source of protein. Switching to a vegetarian diet wouldn't have made much difference to me. Presumably, I needed to cut out the dairy products. I enjoyed butter on everything. The flavor of many of our meals  was enhanced with tasty cheeses. Although I had been using egg-beater type products for many recipes, there was no substitute for basted eggs to start a busy day. I was reading Scott Jurek's book Eat & Run of which plant-based eating is a main theme during the time that I had my last physical and cholesterol check. It made trying a vegan diet to lower my cholesterol an easy choice over Lipitor or whatever might have been prescribed for me. I still have to wait another month before having the cholesterol checked to see if it has made any difference in the numbers. If it doesn't it will be interesting to see what I do.

Scott Jurek stated rather directly that he felt his vegan diet was the secret to his being able to bury the competition in 100 miler after 100 miler. Many vegans talk about how much better they feel. I didn't feel bad before and I didn't imagine I was going to start winning ultras, but I wondered if I would notice something. I can't say I noticed any difference. I don't feel like I'm suddenly unburdened from a body full of toxins or anything like that. I'm not running farther or faster. I'm not slower. Things seem pretty much the same as before. The foods I ate to fuel up for a run were already carbohydrates, mostly from grains. Meats probably helped for recovery. I suppose beans, hummus, and nuts have taken over that role now. I don't have any cravings for anything like some nutrient is missing. There are some nutrients that are difficult to get in a plant-based diet, vitamin B-12 for example. I stop short of calling myself vegan; I don't like to define myself by what I do: I teach; I don't call myself a teacher. I bought a canister of nutritional yeast to sprinkle of cereals and such. I've also eaten an occasional tin of sardines and I've stuck with popping a couple of fish oil capsules a day. So that too makes me not a vegan in the strictest sense of the word, I guess, but I still think of it as a vegan-based diet.

As soon as I finish this post I'm heading out for a three hour or so trail run. I've had a bowl of granola with almond-coconut milk and I'll probably eat a banana and a couple of Brazil nuts and bring a Power Bar along with me and I'll have good energy the whole time. A long run like that will pretty much kill my appetite for the rest of the day, but I'll have a big salad of greens and fresh vegetables with nuts and olives sometime later. I'll probably snack on hummus and  Reduced Fat Wheat Thins. Black beans would be good too. I've never had irregularity issues but one thing I've noticed about eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and grains is that they pass quickly through the body. It's pretty common to be about to go out the door and have to make one more trip up the stairs. I'm certain I'm not carrying any unnecessary load when on a run.

Scott Jurek, already fit and slender mentioned in his book that he lost a whole layer of fat when he went completely vegan. I've dropped about ten pounds that one would have thought I wouldn't have even had running 150 miles a month. There's more to go though; I can still pinch plenty more than an inch of my abdomen. The weight has been coming off more slowly now because I have found myself eating more avocados and nuts and they keep the fat calorie intake up. They're good and necessary fats though. I've also had time to explore more vegan foods such as rice and almond pepper jack cheese and Tofurky bratwurst and Italian sausage; these are all rather respectable substitutes for the originals and they do contain some fat.

So, no earth-shattering changes. I haven't joined PETA. I have discovered that once meat, butter, cheese, eggs, milk and the like weren't on the shopping list they money for fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains went a long way. I still have muscle; I haven't wasted away to nothing. I have a rule for breaking my rules which I haven't had the opportunity to enjoy yet; if I'm out to eat with non-work or non-family guests I will allow myself to make an exception or if I am the guest at someones home I'll eat what's offered; they won't have to worry about what to feed me, so, if you want to invite me over for a burger on the grill, go ahead.