Burning Runner: The Rising Popularity Of A Plant-Based Diet

Week 11: Two months into his conversion to veganism, T.J. finds out he’s not alone in his approach.

Written by: T.J. Murphy

In the October issue of Men’s Journal, one of the feature stories declares that “The Rise of the Power Vegan Diet” is “…taking hold in some surprising places. Top talent in the NFL, the business world, and adventure sports are saying that going animal-free not only works, it gives them their edge.”

The story stars off with how Tony Gonzalez, a star tight end on the Atlanta Falcons, made the switch to a plant-based diet and his performance improved, busting the myth that suggests you can’t build muscle off of a vegan diet. “When we build muscle on animal protein,” Gonzalez told the Journal, citing The China Study, “we get what animals get when we fatten them up; marbling and layers of fat inside the tissue, which means it’s a weaker muscle than what you get from plant protein.”

Another subject of the story is Scott Jurek, seven-time Western States Endurance Run champion who has been a vegan for more than a decade.  What’s impressive about the reporting on Jurek is how many calories he takes in through vegan means: over 5,000 per day, which is in the territory of what a cyclist racing the Tour de France strives to get. According to Jurek, the diet is essential in helping him recover from the strenuous nature of his high-volume training.

Included in the story is a three-week trial for anyone wanting to give the transition to a vegan diet a shot. “The fat, cholesterol and calories in meats and dairy are a huge burden on your system,” Susan Levin, from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says. “Give this stuff up for three weeks and you’ll see big results.”

It’s a great feature, with tons of insight and numerous tips and recipes. Definitely pick it up.

For my part, I’m coming up on the two-month mark in my jump to being vegan. I’m asked often if I miss items like steak and shrimp. Not at all. My biggest problem is the fear that I’ll strand myself in a situation where I have no choice but to slip up. That said, I just made it through a three-day trip to Las Vegas for a trade show. I’ve learned that restaurants with meat-and-fish menus are generally very happy to make something up for you that’s vegan.

In fact, I’ve completely shifted my thinking in regards to how to achieve weight loss during a half-marathon training program. Before, I was imagining all manners of strict calorie counting and reducing food consumption. I’m sold on the vegan approach—it makes it a fairly simple matter (replace dairy, meat and fish products with plant-based alternatives, whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits and nuts) and be free to eat as much as I want. My personal experience is in tune with everything I’ve read. I feel like I recover faster from workouts, sleep better, and feel better overall. From here on in I’m going to leave it to the training to burn off the remaining weight I’d like to lose before December 5.

Speaking of Scott Jurek, by the way, I’m pleased to be able to announce that he will be holding a clinic at the expo the day before the Zappos.com Rock n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon. Jurek is an exceptionally knowledgeable runner: in addition to diet, he’s an expert in a number of matters related to running performance—injury prevention, sports psychology, shoes, training–you name it. Be sure to be there! I will be.


T.J. Murphy is a contributing editor to Competitor and the Editorial Director of Triathlete and Inside Triathlon magazines. Previous installments of his Burning Runner column can be read here. He can be reached by e-mail at burningrunner@gmail.com.

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