Around 550,000 people in the country follow a vegan diet and never consume any animal products (so no meat, fish, dairy or honey). That’s three and half times as many following a plant-based as there were in 2006. Has the time of the vegan has arrived?! For ethical reasons, I was vegetarian for a long time before becoming vegan. Eventually, I followed the logic of my convictions and avoided anything from animals.
So what does a vegan diet mean for athletes and active amateurs? Can vegans run and ride as quickly, as strongly, as far as everyone else? One clue to the answer is to look at professional athletes who are vegan. These include Jermaine Defoe, David Haye, Scott Jurek, Carl Lewis, Serena and Venus Williams. So, if they can do it, can the rest of us mere mortals?
I’m not a nutritionist but I’ve read, listened and taken advice to try and find what works for me. The foundation of a good vegan diet is based on grains, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, beans and pulses, getting the right balance of carbs, protein and the right kind of fats. If you can't cook, this might be just the excuse you need to learn! Check out the link at the bottom for some recipes to get you started.
One of the issues that concern people when becoming vegan is where to find sources of protein – we know how important that is for athletes. There's no need to worry, there are plenty of complete sources of plant-based protein that we can eat. I try and include soya milk (which I love!), green peas, spinach, broccoli, lentils, chick peas, tofu, quinoa, pumpkin or chia seeds. It can help to keep a rough track of what you’re eating at first, just to check you’re getting what you need (I really like the free app MyFitnessPal).
Breakfast, the old saying goes, is the most important meal of the day. I like fortified breakfast cereals with soya milk. These cereals include vitamin B12, important for recovery from training, nerve function and the creation of oxygen carrying red blood cells. Porridge is always good, supplemented with fresh berries. I reviewed a great recipe for crunchy granola. Watch out for bought smoothies, though, as they can contain a lot of sugar - making your own is the best bet.
If you'e very active, you'll know how important recovery is. As well as getting enough rest, a vegan diet can also serve you well here - fruit, sweet potatoes, lentils, almonds and spinach are all good.
Little and often is the key for me, I’ve always been a bit of a grazer anyway. If you know you're going to be on the move, try preparing vegan snacks to take with you. It can be difficult to find things to eat in some places and real food is usually best anyway. Nuts and trail mix are good, rice cakes with peanut butter, but always check the ingredients and nutrition for any readymade snacks - I'm a fan of Go Bites energy balls which are all natural. Many of the high street sandwich shops are offering vegan options now - check out Pret A Manger (who deserve a cheer for leading the way!), The Coop, Caffè Nero, M&S. And you don’t even have to miss out on pizza! Stand up Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Firezza!
I was vegetarian at a time when it made life awkward. Back then, I ate a lot of veggie lasagne! Being vegan now is definitely easier! But don't be too hard on yourself - enjoy what you eat, eat well and keep on running!
Thanks again to Harvey for a really interesting blog into the life of a vegan. You can follow Harvey on Twitter at twitter.com/harveygallagher
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Happy running and be proud to be a runr!