Ultrarunner Scott Jurek shares his tried-and-true ways to eat more plants so you can run strong.
I was a meat-and-potatoes kid from Minnesota who hated vegetables. But 18 years ago I had a bowl of veggie chili that changed my life (and my running) when it sent me down the path of plant-based eating. Since then, I’ve fuelled my ultrarunning with plants. But it didn’t happen all at once. I slowly started swapping out animal foods for plant-based ones: meat and potatoes became tempeh and yams. My ‘salad’ of iceberg lettuce and carrots became large bowls of dark leafy greens topped with chickpeas or kidney beans. Before I knew it, I had ditched animal products completely, and successfully ramped up my mileage, without injury or undue fatigue.
Whether you want to forgo steak and eggs is up to you, but even runners who eat animal products can benefit from adding more plants to their plates. These small changes can help you try new foods, lose weight, and fuel your runs.
Map it out. You don’t need to come up with an entirely new diet when transitioning to a more plant-based lifestyle. Instead, determine the nutritional makeup of the foods you’re already eating: What are their macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals)? Sub out animal products for plant-based ones that have similar nutritional profiles, paying close attention to micronutrients that are most commonly found in animal foods, such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and calcium.
Explore the store. Challenge yourself to experiment with one new fruit, vegetable, bean, or other plant-based food every week. This will force you out of your comfort zone (in a good way!) and allow you to try new recipes.
Mix it up. “But what about protein?” There’s a reason vegetarians and vegans get this question all the time: Animal products contain all nine essential amino acids needed to build protein. Plant-based foods? Only quinoa and soy can make that claim. In order to get enough complete proteins in your diet, combine a variety of foods: mix and match beans and rice, lentils and chickpeas, and meat substitutes, like tofu or seitan.
Hold the meat, please! I didn’t become vegan overnight. Take baby steps. Pick one meal a week to go plant-based or vegetarian – or a full day if you’re feeling adventurous, like a Meatless Monday. If you don’t trust your veggie cooking skills (yet), turn to the pros. Order the veggie or vegan option at a restaurant to expand your palate and come up with new ideas for your own menus.
Prep ahead. When you’re crunched for time or tired, it’s easy to revert back to normal eating habits. Carve out an hour over the weekend to make a large veggie salad or plant-based bowl and save portions for lunch and dinner later in the week.
Be sneaky. If you’re not a greens lover, I get it: I despised veggies. Add dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, or arugula to your morning smoothies. You’ll get a dose of fibre, calcium, and folate, and the fruit will mask the flavour.
Seek adventure. Thanks to the ethnic dishes I found in vegetarian cookbooks, I uncovered a world of new flavours – literally. The wide range of spices and different ways of preparing foods keep things creative and fresh.