Silent Sports Column

Diet and nutrition is a hot topic in the news but it carries even more weight in the world of sports. At the elite level, one meal can be the difference between winning and driving home with only your tired legs to be proud of.

Even for weekend warriors, eating matters. Although I could take up every page of the Pulse talking about carbohydrate-to-fat ratios and the correct grams of protein per body weight, I take a simplistic view of fueling for performance.

If you have read anything I have previously published on racing and food, you will know that I follow a plant-based diet. I don’t like the word vegan because it comes with too much social baggage and restrictions.

Two years ago, I ate a steak and, when I ran, I felt slow and sluggish. The next day I ate a salad and felt fast on my run. So I started eating more salads.

I have since expanded my diet beyond salads, but everything follows the general rule of eating more plants. This still allows room for things like the leftover pizza in the back cooler of Wild Tomato in the middle of my double shift, or trying the pie from Harbor Pie Co. because I saw that lady on TV.

Over the weeks of this column, I will explore different diets and their role in endurance sports but plant-based is my bread and (almond) butter.

In fueling for sport, the biggest benefit of a plant-based diet is the concept of net-gain nutrition. You want all of the energy, or calories, you consume to go toward making you faster.

Still, it takes energy simply to digest foods and assimilate them into energy sources. Everything from the mechanical churning of your stomach to building enzymes in order to chemically break down food takes energy. Those on a plant-based diet believe foods they consume take less energy to break down and thus more energy can be used for performance.

This is the reason I felt so sluggish after that big steak. My body was using a lot of energy in simply digesting and metabolizing the meat, it didn’t have any more to power my legs.

Plant foods come with natural enzymes that aid in digestion so your body doesn’t have to build these enzymes from scratch. Most plant foods are also naturally alkalizing, or they keep the pH of the blood where it should be, so your body doesn’t have to power the buffer systems that neutralize the acid in foods.

In the end, I simply eat foods that make me feel good and make me go faster. Through trial and error, I’ve found that eliminating processed foods and animal products from my diet has improved my performance and so I’m going to stick to it until I don’t feel like going fast anymore.

Send your questions on training, racing and nutrition to [email protected].