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Fitness Friday || Benefits of a Plant Based Diet

Good morning and happy Fitness Friday!!

For about 1 year I have been increasingly more passionate about the connection between nutrition and athletic performance. More specifically how what I eat impacts running and overall fitness.

My Journey

In June of 2011 I started what came to be known to me as finding my nutritional self. There is something about a challenge that just about makes it impossible for me not to give it 100%. So, I used that premise in my search for  optimal health and fitness and lifelong wellness. Just over 1 year ago I challenged myself to eliminate all processed foods from my diet for 30 days. Fast forward 8 months. After watching Fat Sick and Nearly Dead I challenged myself to, at first, replace 1 meal a day 4 days/week with juicing. After the first week I changed to replacing one meal a day with juicing  7 days/week. One month later I started a 30-Day Vegetarian [Lacto] Challenge and after that my latest challenge (started on May 29), 30 days of a plant based gluten free diet.

What the Research Says

I don’t have a specific baseline in which to measure progress and change so I’m comparing what the “experts” say with my personal experience.

Benefits of a plant based diet (Source: Thrive. The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life by Brendan Brazier):

  • reduce body fat and maintain lean muscle,
  • increase energy without coffee or caffeine,
  • increase strength,
  • increase endurance,
  • improve sleep quality,
  • improve mental clarity,
  • reduce sleep requirements,
  • improve resistance to infection,
  • quicken recovery from exercise,
  • reduce or eliminate sugar cravings,
  • increase desire to excel.

My Personal Experience

I can’t pinpoint which benefits I experienced with each dietary change but I can say without a doubt that with each challenge I experienced an increase of existing benefits as well as new benefits. I have also made other changes in my life that, most likely, contributed to the success of finding my nutritional self, but, in my opinion, it is highly unlikely that I would have been as successful without making the diet changes.

Increased consistent energy. Whether I’m running, working out or just day to day living my energy level has increased and doesn’t fluctuate throughout the day. I rarely experience the 3:00 afternoon slump.

Recovery time is significantly reduced. It takes less time to recover from exercise and the sore muscles and lack of energy have significantly decreased.

Improved quality of sleep. I sleep more sound and I wake up feeling more rested without increasing the number of hours of sleep. I can’t remember the last time I woke up at 2:00 a.m. unable to go back to sleep. Previously, that was a regular occurrence.

Improved digestion. I haven’t had to take over the counter meds for any digestion discomfort in over 2 months. Previously that was at least a weekly occurrence if not daily.

Eliminated migraines. I have had migraines for as long as I can remember. I’m talking headaches so bad my only option was to be taken to the emergency room for relief. I remember that this huge benefit began with clean eating. That in and of itself was reason enough to no longer eat processed foods. I still have the occasional headache but nothing that compares to the pain of a migraine.

Improved performance. I have run 6 half marathons, a distance PR of 31 miles, a 10K PR, a 5K PR, ran races on consecutive days, and have already run as many, if not more, races this year than I did in all of 2011. And, for the first time ever, I placed in my age division!

Decreased body fat. I am at [and have maintained] a lower body fat % than ever before.

Increased muscle definition. I have guns! I have back muscles! I have muscle definition without flexing. Like the line that runs down the outside of my quad 🙂

Stronger and longer fingernails. I have always had weak fingernails that split. Not anymore. I know it’s a small inconsequential detail but the improvement is just so noticeable it can’t be ignored.

Increased desire to excel? Most definitely! I think this goes back to all of the above benefits and progress and the desire to experience the feeling of success again and again.

Simply, I feel better overall.

A Doctor’s Perspective

Quite honestly I’ve been a bit surprised by all of this. Maybe vegetarian and vegan were just the latest nutritional buzz words. Maybe the expectation to maintain such diets long term was unrealistic. I wanted more data to substantiate or refute my overall experience. My first thought, schedule an appointment and have my thyroid levels checked. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism right after my daughter, who is now 13, was born. After a lengthy discussion with my internal medicine physician  blood was drawn to test for thyroid levels and vitamin deficiencies. We also discussed things like getting enough protein, carbs, calories and drinking enough water. I don’t typically track the numbers with menu planning. After so long you just kind of “know” how much and what to eat. So, for 3 days I’m tracking tracking calories consumed along with water intake, and grams of proteins and carbs. I’m looking forward to seeing the results!

Overall success! I have found what works best for me and my nutritional self 🙂

Are you surprised by the results? Do you have any questions? If I hosted, would you be willing to participate in a vegetarian challenge?


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  1. Hey Jill, I just saw where you linked this post on my vegetarian question on the HBBC facebook page. I love this. Thank you so much. I’ll report back soon!

  2. You look amazing. I love reading your personal experience with this. I would like to try your juicing challenge, that sounds like something that isn’t too daunting for me since it is only 1 meal a day. I typically do kale or spinach smoothies for breakfast about 3-4 days a week and it has been life changing for me (energy, mood, etc.). Good for you, keep it up!

  3. I love how you took the challenge on incrementally rather than making all the changes at once so you could truly find your “nutritional self.”

    Personally, I found eliminating wheat from my eating has made a huge difference for me. I’m not foggy. I’m energized all day. I don’t have the aches and pains that I had. In fact, I think I may drop a supplement from my joints from my vitamin regime after this month to see if I still need it.

    1. It can easily become very overwhelming in the beginning so the baby steps helped.

  4. i’m very curious about all of this…did you get your results back from the doc yet? how do you get enough carbs for your long runs? you weren’t a vegetarian before, right? i just don’t know how i could give up meat. and, i think planning around my boyfriend, friends, family would be tough to handle.

  5. I currently eat mostly vegetarian but love sushi 🙂 Otherwise most of my diet is plant based. I recently cut out gluten and dairy and feel so much better: less headaches, more energy, less aches and GI issues.

    1. Dairy was one the things the doc said people should consider eliminating whether vegetarian or not. That and processed foods.

  6. I have always loved the vegan diet but I never really liked how it affected my body. Right now learning what to eat while struggling with a health condition can be very hard, but each day, each time I try something new I know I am getting closer and I am really excited about the new adventure I will be trying out in July 20th.. which is what I wrote about for Fitness Friday!

  7. I try and lean more and more towards a clean eating diet and over the last year we’ve made many improved substitutions in the pantry and fridge. Not ready to put a label on a diet yet though! I’ve loved reading about your diet changes along the way….so glad it’s working for you.

  8. I’m amazed y people who can live this healthy lifestyle! I believe in the benefits of this diet, but I could not imagine me doing it. I love meat and milk and chocolate too much. I live the “anything in moderation” and a lot of fruits and veggies- diet.

    1. You’re an amazing runner so anything in moderation clearly works for you 🙂

  9. It sounds like you’ve figured out what works for you. I used to be a vegetarian and I pretty much eat mostly vegetarian now as well. I love beans and vegetables and eat a ton of fruit! I think that being active, no matter what you eat, is the key. It really helps me to sleep at night, not have that 3 o’clock slump, and to maintain an overall happier mood during the day!

    1. I didn’t think what I ate was as important as being active. Now I believe both are equally important.

      Until now I couldn’t stop the 3:00 slump no matter what I tried. Ugh!

  10. Thats great this is working for you and you have felt and overall improvement in all areas of your life and health. I cant eat gluten or dairy, Im intolerant to both. So they are not in my diet and it makes me feel great and healthy. I do have to say its a little hard for me to keep weight on because of this. But I just have to remember I need to eat more of what I can eat.

    1. In the beginning I had to be careful about getting enough calories. I felt like I was eating enough but a few days of logging calories I realized I wasn’t.

  11. I’m not a vegetarian, but it sounds like a plan that works for a lot of people.

    For me I see similar results just be staying active. When I’m not working out regularly, I feel yucky in a multitude of ways!

    1. Staying active feels so much better than not staying active. And a lot more fun too 🙂

  12. Your progress and results are so impressive! I still have some dairy although I’ve cut way back. I would definitely be up for a challenge! 🙂

  13. I use to do vegetarian/vegan diet and than for some reason I changed back and lately I have totally been off. (funny my post today totally is about this!) Anyway as I was in bed the other night thinking of all the aliments I have been experiencing lately I couldn’t help but think it was more due to the fact that I was eating the totally wrong diet and how I need to transition back to vegetarian food! I am so happy you are doing great with it!!

    1. You should try it Courtney. Even if only partially. I bet you’ll start to feel better 🙂

  14. That’s fabulous! I’m slowly transitioning to almost vegan diet. I’m mostly vegetarian right now.

    Side note- are you not doing the link for fitness Friday today?

    1. Good morning Angela! The link up is there now 🙂 Strange that it didn’t post the first time.

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