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.
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?