Plant Based Triathlete

Often the biggest changes in our lives happen inadvertently without any kind of plan, it just sneaks up on you and before you know it…….. This is what happened to me when I switched to a Plant Based diet or Veganism as it is commonly known.

Browsing the shelves of Barnes & Noble I came across a magazine called Vegan Health & Fitness, flicked through it, put it back on the shelf, went back to it, studied it in a little more detail and eventually purchased it –

It piqued my curiosity as an avid triathlete, runner and cyclist now in my 50’s and looking for the elusive elixir that could help offset an age-related reduction in performance. The magazine was packed with news, articles and recipes illustrating how athletes of all ages and abilities were discovering higher levels of energy, speedier recovery, weight loss and an overall feeling of wellbeing by following a Plant based diet (veganism) or clean eating as some prefer to call it.

Side note 1 – I really shy away from the term Vegan as it seems to resonate negatively with people due to animal welfare issues so I choose Plant Based to describe my dietary lifestyle.

The magazine sat on my kitchen table for a few months until the next issue became available and low and behold we cooked up some of the recipes, they tasted pretty good, were easy to make and didn’t take much time.

At the same time I discovered The Thrive Diet by Brandan Brazier, a fantastic book thoroughly researched and written by an Ironman Triathlete and Ultra runner which in clear and simple terms lays out a meal plan for athletes following a vegan, plant based lifestyle. This is now my go to book for tips and recipes for home made gels, energy drinks, pre & post snacks and healthy meals.

In August 2018 I decided to take the plunge cold turkey in to a plant based lifestyle which meant a dramatic shift in my kitchen cupboards and a rather expensive series of shopping trips to restock with Plant based foods.

I tend to look upon this as discovering new and exciting foods I would not normally eat rather than focusing on what I am not eating or what I have cut out of my diet. By this I mean that I have discovered lentils, beans, Thai food, curry, Steel Cut Oats, maple syrup, Tahini, Chick peas, Black beans, BelSoy, Spinach, greens and so much more. I don’t even think about eggs, beef, chicken, bacon or diary anymore: we are happy to prepare them for friends and family but have no desire to eat them.

Side note 2 – one lesson I quickly learnt is that just because you are Vegan does not mean you are healthy. There are plenty of unhealthy sugary foods, heavily processed, high in calories and fat with no energy benefits so please enter into this with your eyes wide open and read ingredients to see what you are eating.

The first few weeks were the toughest as my body adapted to the new food and to the elimination of all meats and dairy. Many mornings I woke up and without warning became ravenous with an immediate empty feeling in my stomach, almost to the point of feeling sick. As soon as I had breakfast this went away but stayed with me for a few weeks until my body adapted and it simply stopped.

The other issue was an urgent need for number 2’s! No warning, just drop everything and go and it was pretty loose, liquid and explosive – I know, too much info but no sugar coating here.

Things settled down pretty quickly and in the first few weeks I dropped a couple of kilo’s down to my ideal race weight (177 pounds or 80 kilos). It was not my intention to lose weight just a by-product of the diet and as an added bonus I feel less bloated and trimmer.

In terms of training I can’t say that I have more energy (perhaps because my diet was pretty good beforehand) which many athletes claim but I do feel that I recover faster from workouts, meaning that I am ready to go again the next day and can train a little harder and longer. The theory behind this is that our body uses plant based food directly as fuel source as it is mostly raw or unprocessed without the necessity of working hard to breakdown processed food before it can be used for fuel. My muscles don’t seem to be so sore after long runs or rides and I feel looser or freer if that makes any sense.

Side note 3 – Where do you get your protein from is a commonly asked question but the truth is that if you are eating a balanced diet full of fruit, vegetables, beans etc you will have no problem finding enough protein. So, in no particular order, quinoa, nuts & seeds, chick peas, lentils, beans, tofu, temph, nutritional yeast, hemp seeds, rice, chia and on and on. Its actually not hard or something that I think about now on a daily basis although I make sure I have a Hammer or Vega Vegan protein Powder at home after a hard or long workout.

The real test for me will be taking part in Ironman Mont Tremblant and Hawaii Ironman this year with only 8 weeks between races as well as a warm up Half Distance race in June. The key will be to have enough of my own food with me for pre and post race to fuel rather than relying on the races to provide Vegan food for me. I believe that it is not the responsibility of a race to provide me with Vegan food, I am choosing this as my lifestyle and should take responsibility for my own supply.

I am a big believer that you only get out of things the effort that you put into them, so rather than being half assed about it I have fully committed to this Plant Based Lifestyle and I am lucky in that I have a very supportive wife who has joined me and is prepared to cook and prepare meals with me.

How long will this last, will I ever eat meat again? Who knows – for now I’m having too much fun discovering new and exciting food that is easy to make, not too expensive, tastes great and gives me fuel to race and train. All of the above is anecdotal and I have no papers or research to back it up but it is working for me and that is the best I can say apart from what does anyone have to lose by trying something for a few weeks.