Just because it’s plant-based doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
I don’t like to wear headphones when I run. Maybe I’m too easily influenced by whatever is currently blaring in my ear, but “pump up” playlists make my pacing frantic and thought-provoking podcasts usually bring me to a pensive crawl.
Typically, I just spend my time on my route thinking. And after I’ve gone through the list of people I’ve forgotten to email and thought up a killer comeback to woman behind me in line at my local Mexican restaurant who told me I had “too much salsa”. (Mind your beans-wax, lady!) I can finally bring my attention to, you know, running.
I’ll try to smooth out the hitches in my stride, or slow down my breathing, or focus on my foot strike. The practice feels meditative; a melding of body and mind. Soon, I’m aware of everything and nothing all at once. The swing of my arms, the honking of car horns, the piles of dog doo-doo covering the sidewalk all soak into my consciousness like rain drops on sand.
Then, total serenity will give way to an even greater bliss; I’ll start to think about what I’m going to eat after my run.
Running is often its own reward, but when you’re in the middle of a long one, having a little carrot-on-a-stick never hurts. Or maybe banana-and-almond-butter-sandwich-on-a-stick? Ooh! Wait! What about soy-cheese-and-seitan-chorizon-nachos-on-a-stick?! I mean, with all this huffing and puffing, I’ve earned a little treat. Plus, it can’t be that bad. It’s vegan, right?
The post-run pig-out session can be a problem for runners of all dietary denominations, but there’s an even bigger danger of overindulgence when we vegans (or omnivores looking to justify a little extra snacking) pretend that a box of plant-based doughnuts is somehow “good for you”. Sure, those cronuts may not have any egg or butter in them, but they’ve still got plenty of sugar and fat (and not necessarily the good kind). If you give in fully to your sweat-soaked cravings, animal-free or not, you may just be piling on kilojoules without giving your body what it actually needs to recover properly: water, quality carbohydrates and quality protein.
Yes, even we vegans need to bring a little mindfulness to our eating habits from time to time. So here’s a quick rundown of what every runner, regardless of your animal-eating status, should be eating and drinking post-workout.
You’re drinking water before you go out running, right? At least three cups two to three hours before you go out the door, right?! Well, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, you should also be drinking two to three cups of water for every 500g you lose while exercise. So weigh yourself before and after your run to make sure you’re properly hydrated.
Your body turns carbohydrates into glucose, which is used to replace the glycogen stores your muscles burned up during your workout. And foods with a moderate to high glycaemic index (often the ones that are deemed “unhealthy”) are the best way to replenish glycogen immediately after a run since their simpler chemical makeup is easier for the body to process. So keep the seven grain loaf in the bread box and break out the bagels, baby! The general rule of thumb is to eat as many grams of carbs as your body weight divided in half.
There’s been a recent push in sports science to stress the importance of protein in recovery, since it both repairs and builds muscle, but that doesn’t mean that you should start guzzling down cans of garbanzo beans. Studies show that your body really can’t do much with more than twenty grams of protein at any given time, and sports dietitians say you should follow the 4:1 rule: four grams of carbs for every gram of protein.
And when it comes to sources of protein, more is more friends. There are a few plant-based “complete proteins”, like quinoa and seitan, which contain all nine essential amino acids needed to build protein. (Your body can’t produce on these on its own.) Some plant foods only provide you with some amino acids, which means you need to pair them with others to get the whole kit and caboodle on their own. Classic pairings like brown rice and beans, and hummus and pita cover all of your protein bases. If you eat a diverse diet throughout the day, you’ll be in great shape. So be sure to switch it up!
The Vegan Advantage
Carbs and proteins comes in all shapes and sizes, so why would an omnivore consider swapping in a few vegan recovery meals every week? One word: fat. Most vegan sources of protein (beans, tofu, quinoa) are way lower in fat that animal-based proteins like meat, milk or eggs, so you can refuel without weighing yourself down. (Don’t get me wrong, those are packed with nutrients and the fat in them is actually good for you, but expanding your diet is also good for you.)
So the next time you go out for a long one, try enticing yourself with thoughts of whole wheat pasta and a lentil bolognese. Or pita and hummus? Or an almond milk smoothie? See? Even this vegan can crave responsibly.
Make It: Lentil Bolognaise
Chop and fry an onion in olive oil until soft. Stir in a dash of garlic powder and dried thyme, and a bay leaf, cook for one minute, then add 1 cup lentils and toss until lentils are covered in oil. Add 3 cups of liquid (water, white wine or vegetable stock) and simmer until lentils are just undercooked. Add 1 cup plain almond milk and pinch of nutmeg. Cook until mixture begins to thicken. Add a tinned plum tomatoes and simmer until tomatoes begin to break down. Season with salt and pepper, and serve over whole wheat pasta.