Ultra-running legend (and vegan) Scott Jurek shares his tried-and-tested ways to run strong on the amazing power of plants. – By Scott Jurek
When I was growing up I was a meat-and-potatoes kid who hated vegetables. But 18 years ago, when I was 25, I had a bowl of vegetarian chilli that changed my life (and my running) when it sent me down the path of plant-based eating. Since then, I’ve fuelled my ultra running with plants. But it didn’t happen all at once. I slowly started swapping animal foods for plant-based ones: meat and potatoes became tempeh and yams; my ‘salad’ of iceberg lettuce and carrots became large bowls of dark leafy greens topped with chickpeas or kidney beans. Before I knew it, I had ditched animal products completely and ramped up my mileage without injury or undue fatigue.
Whether you want to forgo steak and eggs is up to you, but even runners who eat animal products can benefit from adding more plants to their plates. These small changes can help you try new foods, lose weight and fuel your runs.
1/ Map it out
You don’t need to come up with an entirely new diet when transitioning to a more plant-based lifestyle. Instead, determine the nutritional makeup of the foods you’re already eating: what are their macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) and micronutrients (their vitamins and minerals)? Replace animal products with plant-based ones that have similar nutritional profiles, paying close attention to the micronutrients that are most commonly found in animal-derived foods, such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc and calcium.
These key nutrients can be found in plant-based foods
Zinc: Legumes, nuts, seeds, porridge
Vitamin B12: Fortified foods (plant sources have negligible amounts)
Calcium: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, wholewheat flour, dried figs, collard greens, molasses
Iron: Fortified cereals, beans, sesame seeds, tofu, quinoa
Challenge yourself to experiment with one new fruit, vegetable, bean or other plant-based food every week. This will force you out of your comfort zone (in a good way) and allow you to try new recipes.
3/ Mix it up
‘But what about protein?’ There’s a valid reason why vegetarians and vegans get this question all the time: animal products contain all nine essential amino acids needed to build protein. Plant-based foods? Only quinoa and soy can make that claim. In order to get enough complete proteins in your diet, combine a variety of foods: mix and match beans and rice, lentils and chickpeas, plus meat substitutes, such as tofu.
I didn’t become vegan overnight. Take baby steps. Pick one meal a week to go plant-based or vegetarian – or a full day if you’re feeling adventurous, like a Meat-free Monday. If you don’t trust your veggie cooking skills (yet), turn to the pros. Try the veggie option at a restaurant to expand your palate and come up with new ideas for your own menus.
When you’re pushed for time or tired, it’s easy to revert to normal eating habits. Carve out an hour over the weekend to make a large veggie salad or plant-based bowl (see our ingredient tips below) and save portions for lunch and dinner later in the week.
If you’re not a greens lover, I understand: I despised veggies. Add dark leafy greens like spinach, kale or rocket to your morning smoothies. You’ll get a dose of fibre, calcium and folate, and the fruit will mask the flavour.
Thanks to the dishes from around the globe that I found in vegetarian cookbooks, I uncovered a world of new flavours. The wide range of spices and different ways of preparing foods keep things fresh.
Let’s go bowling
Mix together items from each category for a nutrient-packed plant-based meal.
Carb load: Grains, rice, pasta, wheat berries, barley, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, rice pasta
Carb boost: Squashes, sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, plantains, dried fruit (raisins, dates, apricots)
Protein power: Chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, edamame
Veggie kick: Fresh or steamed greens (romaine lettuce, rocket, kale, collards, chard), broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, pak choy
Fat fix: Avocado, olives, coconut, nuts (almonds, walnuts), seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, hemp, sesame), nut butter, olive oil, flax oil, sesame oil