You are vegan, and you like to move. Or at least, you are convinced enough of the health benefits of staying physically active that you make sure to get in some kind of exercise several times a week. You are now feeling fit enough that you want to train not just for improved health, but for performance, and you want to fuel your workouts appropriately. Perusing fitness-oriented web forums and magazines, you are presented with a bewildering array of conflicting opinions as well as advertisements for all the latest designer supplements and "superfoods".
Here's my layperson's opinion on the matter, based on no authority other than my own intelligence, research, and personal experience:
1. Eat food when you're hungry.
2. Stop eating when you're full.
Too simple? Let's break it down:
1. Don't just eat, eat food. Not everything you put in your mouth and swallow is food, even if it is marketed as such. Vitamin and mineral supplements are not food. Diet sodas are not only not food, but a crime against nature as far as I'm concerned. Frozen microwaveable meals with 38 indecipherable ingredients listed in tiny type are only questionably food.
Food for me is simple, so much that I made a silly rhyme out of it:
Grains and greens, fruit and beans,
Tubers, nuts, and seeds,
Exercise and sunshine
Are what my body needs!
Sure, I eat vegan junk food from time to time. But fuel for exercise consists essentially of what's listed above. No Gatorade, no protein powders, no vitamin pills other than a weekly dose of B12. I do pack Clif Shots with me for an occasional boost on long runs, but that's it (and even these I'm looking to replace, as I find them too sweet since they changed from using brown rice syrup to maltodextrin and cane sugar). After a run, I really look forward to eating a big bowl of oatmeal. Seriously!
2. Eating when you're not hungry is a good way to gain weight regardless of how hard you work out, and most (though certainly not all) of us aren't looking to gain weight. I have needed to adjust my meal timing somewhat to accommodate the fact that I can't comfortably run within two hours of eating, but I still try to eat only when I'm hungry and stop when I'm full.
Actually, I stop just before I'm full. The number one most useful weight-management tip I learned from Dr. McDougall (although it certainly wasn't original to him) was this: Fill your plate with a reasonable amount of food. Eat it, then wait at least ten minutes. If you're still hungry at this point, have seconds (or thirds!) If not, stop.
I'm a slow runner, as you can see from the above photo, which was taken one second before completing my fastest 5K to date. (According to an age-graded calculator, the best possible 5K time for my age and gender would be 15:33.) But even competitive athletes can benefit from a simple, starch-based diet without relying on lots of fancy supplements. Read about the amazing Tarahumara runners in Born to Run, living primarily on corn and beans. Or vegan seven-time Western States 100 winner Scott Jurek in Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness; he even grinds his own flour for multigrain pancakes!
My fellow McDougaller and VeganMofo participant Vegpedlr is blogging about vegan food and fitness all month, so check out those posts for more perspective and recipes. Meanwhile, happy vegan eating and running/cycling/swimming/weightlifting/w