Friday, July 14, 2006

Vegetarian Action by David Zuniga

This is an interesting article for anyone out there who is a vegetarian.

Most people think marathons, which are 26.2 miles, are the longest races in distance running. Actually, ultrarunning, a small but growing sport in the United States, features races that are 50 kilometers (31.1 miles), 50 miles, and 100 kilometers. The premier distance in ultrarunning is 100 miles. Some assume that vegetarians cannot be serious athletes and compete in grueling sports such as ultrarunning. As a vegetarian and an ultrarunner, I know this is incorrect. In fact, being vegetarian actually makes me a better athlete.

After running cross-country in college, I tried many different training programs as I sought to move up in distance to marathons, but failed every time. My break came in 1996 when my uncle, an ex-Navy SEAL and vegan for almost thirty years, inspired me to become vegetarian. Six months later I completed my first marathon. Besides giving up meat, I had made no other changes in my training regimen. I strongly believe my success in running was directly related to my becoming vegetarian. I have completed numerous marathons and ultramarathons and next spring I will complete my first 100-mile ultramarathon.

Usually I am vegetarian, though during intense training I often eat vegan. Both are ideal for intense athletic training because they each offer diets that are rich in complex carbohydrates, are low in fat, and have ample amounts of protein. Complex carbohydrates provide the best source of energy for engaging in arduous athletic events. These carbs are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, pasta, and many other foods which vegetarians consume in abundance. Through foods such as beans, soy, grains, and vegetables, it is easy for the vegetarian or vegan athlete to get all needed protein. Fat in a diet is not always bad; it can serve as a good energy source. But as with protein, the average American gets far too much fat. Being vegetarian or vegan helps to ensure that you consume some fat without overindulging.

I have found that no supplements are needed for my diet, even when I am eating vegan and my training is very intense. I don't advocate products like concentrated protein or carbohydrate powders because I believe they often mask nutritional deficiencies. Further, I believe it is always healthier to meet your nutritional requirements with fruits, vegetables, and grains as opposed to artificial, processed powders.

During ultraraces or extended training runs, which last from three to twelve hours, I will sometimes consume energy bars because they are quick, convenient, and tasty sources of energy, but I do not advocate energy bars as a regular part of your diet. While many of these are vegetarian or even vegan, always be sure and read the labels. I also highly recommend that before you use a bar in a race, first try it out during training. And the most important priority is to stay properly hydrated.

As a vegetarian or vegan you naturally have a big advantage in sports. Your enhanced health, stamina, and energy will take you far in running. Further, I believe the mental and physical discipline needed to maintain a vegetarian lifestyle is very similar to the mental and physical discipline needed for grueling athletic training.

It is a good idea to have a physical exam before embarking on any new fitness program, and start cautiously. Depending on your health and athletic background, you might want to start out with a mixture of walking and running. A general rule, even for advanced runners, is to increase your distance by no more than five to ten percent per week. Though it takes extra time, warming up improves the quality of your workouts and helps to reduce injuries. If you decide to start racing, you may eventually want to incorporate hill work, speed sessions, and long runs. Running is probably the most popular amateur sport in the United States. With its widespread popularity, runners are often besieged with fancy products that promise quick, miraculous results. With the exception of good shoes, I believe none of that expensive equipment is necessary. The things that will take you farthest in running are a good attitude and a good diet, both of which are immeasurably improved by vegetarianism.

Sometimes it can be hard to be a vegetarian in our meat-obsessed culture. A lot of people think being a vegetarian or a serious athlete requires a great deal of time and energy. But I find that the opposite is true. As a full-time graduate student at Harvard, writer, and part-time chaplain, I find that vegetarianism coupled with running keeps me healthy and improves my energy. Vegetarianism and running reduce my stress and vastly enhance the quality of my life.
Being an ultrarunner does not mean that I am a super athlete. I am just an average person. But I believe my ultrarunning demonstrates that vegetarianism empowers an ordinary person to accomplish extraordinary things. Vegetarianism has literally helped make my dreams come true.


seema shah said...

I found your blog as I was searching
"Marathon training for Vegetarians" and what you wrote has inspired me greatly in achieving my goal to run a 1/2 marathon this sept. I, too am a vegetarian and I wanted to know what did u eat during ure trainings-before and after. As a graduate student myself, I am very busy and I want to eat the right foods as I train. I feel very confident after reading what you wrote in accomplishing this life long dream of mine.

Octacube said...

Hello fellow Vegetarian, I found your blog when I was looking for "marathon + vegetarian".

Can you please be more specific about your diet. For example, what is your typical breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Thanks. You inspire me!

Daniel Price said...

I couldn't agree more with the previous two comments. I too am a graduate student training for a half marathon and I would love to know the specifics of some meals you recommend.

Thanks again!!