Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet as a Runner {by Cedric Torres: Part II }

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After finding, learning about and deciding to move more towards a plant-based diet, the next step is transitioning. For many people, this part can seem daunting, but if you’re equipped with the right resources, like the ones I shared in part 1 of this series, it can seem a lot easier.

What many people do not realize is that they are already eating a plant-based diet if the majority of their diet is made up of food that comes from plants.

The only change that is needed is to take steps, small or big, to move towards a more plant-centered diet, in other words, increasing the amount of plant foods and decreasing or eliminating animal-based foods. 

How to transition

There are many forms of plant-based diets, from ones that incorporate some animal products to others that eliminate all animal products. Diets that are more plant-based are known to be healthy, unless they are based too heavily on processed foods. It is better in the long run to introduce or replace animal-based foods with plant-based foods that are more in their whole food form, because they are more nutritious and filling than processed forms. However, for many people, meat, diary and egg substitutes can make the transition easier.

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There are many ways to transition.

Some people are able to transition overnight, but the majority of people prefer transitioning little by little. Some choose to transition less, such as cut down on or eliminate certain animal-based foods, while others go fully plant-based. There is no right or wrong approach. What matters is that you do you, do the best you can and any step towards a more plant-based diet counts. 

A few steps to take to move towards eating a more plant-based diet:

  • Eat more of the plant-based foods or meals you already enjoy

As mentioned, some of the foods and meals you already eat are plant-based (think bean and rice burritos, spaghetti marinara, hummus, oatmeal, smoothies). Continue eating those meals and try eating them more often than other less plant-based meals. 

  • Discover and introduce more plant-based foods into your diet

Discover plant-based foods you’ve never tried or have not eaten much of before and incorporate them into the meals you already enjoy. You can also discover totally new meals that may become some of your new favorites. (using a plant-based cookbook for runners or finding a good runner-recipe blogger you like will help)

  • Gradually eliminate or replace animal-based foods

As you add some more plant-based foods to your meals, you can remove or replace some of the animal-based foods. Over time, you may be able to replace all of the animal-based food with the plant-based food to eat a fully plant-based diet. 

A few tips that can help you during your transition:

  • Find plant-based recipes or cookbooks

Recipes are a huge help as they can give you ideas of easy plant-based meals you can make at home. A quick google search will bring you upon a variety of recipes and cookbooks, including some aimed towards runners on a plant-based diet. (and there are many here on this website, including the EAT TO RUN COOKBOOK by Katie and Gwen)

  • Find plant-based vegetarian or vegan restaurants

If you are not too much into cooking to begin with, finding places with plant-based meal options can introduce you to a variety of new dishes and maybe spark your interest in trying to making them yourself. 

  • Connect with other plant-based eaters

Join groups in your area and virtual communities on social media to connect with others who have transitioned or are also transitioning to a more plant-based diet. They can serve as inspiration and a support system as you begin and progress along your own journey. 

  • Seek help from a plant-based dietitian or nutritional resources

If you unsure about how to obtain certain nutrients from plants that you were getting from animal-based food, you can find help. A dietitian or other professional connected to plant-based nutrition and research, can provide guidance, resources and even meal plans to get you started. You can also find many of these resources and guides for free online. You may also find a nutrition tracking app helpful when starting out, but it is not required if you make sure to eat enough for you and include a wide variety of plant-based foods in your diet.  (Katie and Gwen do their own form of Nutrition/Running coaching too)

How I transitioned

It took me a few months to transition as I was figuring out how I could replace the animal-based foods with plant-based foods that were equivalently good sources of certain nutrients.

I found help by looking for resources on plant-based diets and nutrition for runners online.

I started by eating more of the plant-based foods and meals I already enjoyed, like oatmeal and fruit for example. I also discovered and introduced plant-based foods I never ate or did not eat much of before, such as avocado, beans, quinoa and certain vegetables. Some meals I did not eat too often before, but now enjoy include avocado toast, stir fry, curry, salads, smoothie bowls and often a big bowl of fresh fruit after a run. I sometimes try animal product substitutes and vegan sweets, like cinnamon rolls, but prefer to eat a mostly whole food plant-based diet to support good health and running performance. 

Next, I started eliminating animal products little by little. I did not eat much red meat or eggs so those were easy to eliminate first. Within a few weeks, I eliminated all other meat, except fish, and gradually introduced and replaced the meat with more and more legumes and vegetables as an alternative source of protein and other nutrients.

The last things I eliminated were milk products, which I replaced with calcium-rich plant-based food; and finally fish - which I replaced with plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids and other nutrients. For a few months, I tracked my nutrition on an app to make sure I was eating enough and getting enough of the essential nutrients. I stopped tracking after I found my new favorite staple foods and meals, figured out which foods were sources of certain nutrients and learned what and when to eat these foods based to my own biofeedback.

While I was transitioning, I got interested in cooking and it became one of my hobbies. I started by looking up recipes online and eventually started making my own. I was in college at the time and shopped for food to cook for myself, but occasionally ate out at the campus dining hall or in restaurants off campus.

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The Happy Cow app was a huge help to find places with plant-based food in my area and when traveling. I also found a club on my college campus with plant-based eaters like me and attended local vegfests.

As a plant-based runner, it is possible to find plant-based food options at races too. When eating out or traveling, some of my favorite meals include veggie sushi, veggie burgers, cheese-less veggie pizza with plant protein options like tempeh and often have fun trying new things I can customize from the menu. 

At the end of my transition, I was eating plant-based vegan, with a few mistakes and challenges here and there, and have been doing so for about the last 2 years. In Part 3 of this series, I will discuss the mistakes and challenges that you may make or face while transitioning to a more plant-based diet as a runner and ways to overcome them. 

-Cedric

More on me over at my blog: 

http://plantbasedstride.com


Resources from Katie & Gwen

Our Cookbook for Runners with our complete Nutrition guide, how to transition, etc.

 


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