It seems the more Scott shifted his diet away from the standard American and toward a whole-foods, plant-based diet, the better his performance at his true love: The world of ultra-running.
Scott Jurek is one of my fellow coaches at the first annual VegRun via the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. This innovative program provides training schedules and veg-food tips, along with a response forum with the coaches, for your Fall athletic, fitness, or competitive events.
Scott has a new, engaging and motivating book out with the most fitting title of Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness. He details his journey of dietary transformation to a healthier vegan diet and the correlations of same with his race history.
A solid chunk of Scott’s book was recently published in Runner’s World Magazine. This’ll get you started. A link to the rest of the article follows.
…Cutting out processed foods and refined carbohydrates was not difficult. Meat and dairy were other matters. I didn’t want to consume either—because of stress to my kidneys, potential loss of calcium, possibly increased risk of prostate cancer, stroke, and heart disease, not to mention the chemicals and hormones injected into the country’s food supply and the environmental degradation caused by cattle farms—but I was getting more serious about running, wondering if I had what it took to compete on a national level.
And I was even more conscious that I still needed fuel to burn. I knew that a plant-based diet meant more fiber, which sped food through the digestive tract, minimizing the impact of toxins. The same diet also meant more vitamins and minerals; more substances like lycopene, lutein, and beta-carotene, which help protect against disease. I knew it meant fewer refined carbohydrates and trans fats, both implicated in heart disease and other ailments. But could a diet like that provide enough protein for someone who wanted to be an elite athlete?
I hedged my bets. The percentage of what I ate that came from animals went way down, but I didn’t cut it out completely. And that summer of 1996, on my third try, I won the Voyageur. I didn’t run harder. I had been right: I couldn’t run harder. But I could eat smarter. I could live smarter. I knew I could keep going when others stopped. I knew I had good legs and good lungs. I wasn’t just a runner now; I was a racer. And I was a mindful eater.
But my victory was in a state competition, at 50 miles. What about the big races, the 100-milers that drew runners from not just other states but other countries? Everything I read about diet and health told me a meatless diet was healthiest, but I had to figure out a way to get enough protein, to marry my healthy eating with long-distance running. Combining vegetarian protein sources like legumes and grains every meal—until recently an article of faith among vegetarians—seemed too labor intensive. But I learned that our bodies pool the amino acids from the foods that we eat over the course of the day. I didn’t have to sit down and do the math every time I ate.
I also learned that even the conservative Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of dietary professionals in the world, has stated: “Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” Those last two words were music to my almost-vegetarian ultrarunner’s ears. As long as I ate a varied whole-foods diet with adequate caloric intake, I would get enough complete protein. At least in theory.
I spent the next two to three years testing the theory. In the spring of ’97, I cut out meat. I won the Voyageur again. Then fish. I won the Voyageur a third time, and placed second in my first 100-miler, facing ultrarunning’s top competitors. When I finally went vegan in 1999, I lost a layer of fat—the layer that came with eating the cookies and cakes and cheese pizza that so many omnivores and even vegetarians gulp down. I learned that I could eat more, enjoy it more (fruit tasted sweeter, vegetables crunchier and more flavorful), and still get leaner than I had ever been in my life. I started on more whole grains and legumes. Muscles I didn’t even know I had popped out. My blood pressure and triglyceride levels dropped to all-time lows, my HDL, “good” cholesterol, shot up to an all-time high. I had virtually no joint inflammation, even after miles of pounding trails and roads, and on the rare occasion I sprained my ankle or fell and whacked my elbow or knee, the soreness left faster than it ever had before. I was running in the morning, working eight-to 10-hour days, then running 10 miles in the evening—yet I woke up with more energy every day….
You can read the rest of this book excerpt at Runner’s World online, June 2012 edition.
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