Running on plants

When I decided to go vegan almost 4 years ago now, the main reason was for my health as a preventative measure against lifestyle diseases, particularly knowing I had an increased chance with most of them living with type 1 diabetes.

What I didn’t know was the incredibly positive impact it would have on my diabetes management or my athletic performance.

At the time of transitioning to vegan – which pretty much happened over night after watching the documentary Forks Over Knives – I simultaneously picked up my training and focus on running.

Within a couple of months of eating a fully plant-based diet I noticed dramatic changes in my fitness level. I was running 6-7 days a week, up to 100km a week and squeezing in some spin classes, yoga and personal training also. And my body was not only surviving it was feeling good. Albeit sore 99% of the time, but strong.

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Over the first year of eating a vegan diet, I continued to research, read and learn more about how to improve my eating habits even further with a particular focus on reducing inflammation in the body.

I started to eat less processed foods, took out vegan protein powders, reduced my soy intake and slowly started to cut out wheat and gluten.

The more fruits and vegetables I ate, the better I felt, the more energy I had and the more often I could run and train.

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I had multiple races across the next couple of years including the NY half marathon, Brooklyn half marathon and some interspersed 10K & 5K races.

It was when I got selected into the NY marathon, which was my first full marathon, that I looked to other plant-based athletes to see what they were eating to train for peak performance.

Lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains seemed to be the go-to for most.

I started to live off very simple yet nutrient dense foods. My staple diet consisted of, and still does today, bananas (10-15 a day), oatmeal, at least one big salad with a variety of raw veggies, brown rice, quinoa and kale/baby spinach superfood smoothies containing turmeric and ginger.

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Everything I was eating was anti-inflammatory, and this promoted quick recovery in the muscles after running some weekends of 20 miles on back to back days.

Changing to a completely plant-based diet had some incredibly positive effects on my diabetes management, but of course not without some challenges.

Here are the pros and challenges (no cons) of eating plants and being a runner with type 1 diabetes:

Pros:

  • My insulin requirements dropped more than half – my basal rate went from 24 units a day to the lowest of 7 units and my insulin:carb ratio peaked at 1 unit of insulin for 30g of carbs (this was during peak training of 100km+ a week)
  • I could eat large amounts of food to meet my energy requirements for training without feeling sluggish or tired – the foods I ate increased my energy dramatically
  • I was able to eat more of the foods I liked – carbs! I could have never imagined eating 10-15 bananas in a day!
  • My HbA1c dropped from always being in the 7s to 5.8% where it sat for over 12 months (current A1c is 6.1%)

Challenges:

  • Trying to refuel after long runs (2+hours) that instigate high blood sugar levels was sometimes hard. I would have to pre-bolus while still running or wait 30-60mins post-run to refuel with carbohydrates if adrenaline and cortisol were causing my sugar levels to rise
  • Having to eat a lot of food to meet my calorie/energy requirements from training – most plant based foods are lower in calorie – this is where medjool dates started to become my friend!
  • Managing hypos on hard training days was sometimes a challenge, I would frequently wake up during the night with low BGLs even after adjusting my insulin doses

To me, the benefits of going plant-based far outweigh the challenges I face, given the benefits to my running and to my diabetes management.

I am looking forward to 2017, eating the rainbow and running further and faster.

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