The following is a guest post by Micaela Cook Karlsen, author of A PLANT-BASED LIFE: Your Complete Guide to Great Food, Radiant Health, Boundless Energy, and a Better Body (AMACOM July 2016). She and we here at the AMACOM Books Blog were thrilled to see that Josh LaJaunie, winner of the Runners’ World cover search, includes his plant-based diet among the choices that drive his success. Read on to find out how effective plant-based life can be for athletes and weight loss.
With athletes like Runners’ World cover winner Josh LaJaunie making their appearance, plant-based diets are becoming more and more common among elite athletes–with good reason! The roster of plant-eating top athletes is significant and includes names such as Olympic track star Carl Lewis, Australian Olympic swimmer Murray Rose, MMA fighter Mac Danzig, and heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who credits his diet with helping him shed 130 lbs in retirement. While the research is still young, there appear to be no disadvantages in performance, and many athletes claim by eating plant-based meals they recover faster between their workouts.
For Josh LaJaunie, the path to ultra-marathoning began with very simple workouts and a massive change in diet. While he had started running and lifting with a gym buddy, he still weighed 320 lbs. He credits a 100% plant-based with helping get down to 190 lbs, allowing him to amp up his runs and make him a serious long-distance competitor.
Why is plant-based eating so useful for athletes? The full picture on how it may help with performance remains to be uncovered, but we do know plant-based eating provides the easiest path to healthy weight that there is. And a healthy weight is what catapulted Josh towards elite running. Here are the top 6 reasons plant-based diets are good for weight loss and maintenance:
- You eat the perfect amount of calories without counting calories.
The stomach holds about a liter, which is roughly 500kcal of whole, unrefined plant foods. Multiply that by 3 meals and add a couple snacks, and you end up with roughly 2000kcal, or just under. That happens to be around what most adults need in a day! When you focus on eating the right foods, you don’t need to be strict about the quantity–your body naturally sorts it out for you. Because of the lower calorie density of whole plant foods, it’s easy to eat the right amount.
- You won’t feel deprivation – fiber fills up your stomach so you naturally feel satisfied for longer.
Eating fewer calories doesn’t have to mean that you feel hungry throughout the day! There is no fiber in animal food, and very little in processed food – but it’s found in abundance in plants. The high fiber content makes your stomach and intestines feel satisfied longer because the food is digested more slowly. This is what people mean when they say oatmeal “sticks to your ribs”.
- Eating plant-based can supercharge your workout results.
While exercise is definitely important for optimum health, strength, and long-term weight maintenance, exercise without changing diet often has disappointing results for weight loss. This is partly because of the calorie density of whole plant foods – it would take 40 min of running and 1 ½ hours of walking to burn just 100g of parmesan cheese – but only 9 min of running and 17 min of walking for that same 100g of sweet potato. It’s also partly because of the nutrients these whole plant foods provide.
- You’ll have improved vitality and alertness – making it more likely you’ll exercise.
Once you quit eating heavy, animal-based foods and processed food, you may be surprised to find out how light, energized, and ready to take on the world you feel! Most people who switch to a totally plant-based diet report improved energy and decreased feelings of sluggishness, especially after meals. This could make the difference for you in sticking with a workout routine.
- Did I mention it’s fun and delicious?
Many people who switch to a plant-based diet are surprised to find they eat more different types of foods, not less. There are colors, flavors, and a variety of different cuisines that all lend themselves to amazing plant-based recipes. In addition, your taste preferences change so you prefer whatever you are used to – which means we can all train ourselves to prefer foods that naturally produce your ideal weight while at the same time enjoying what we eat.
- It’s a lifestyle you can stick with.
Basically, if you can eat tasty food until you’re full without counting calories or feeling hungry, you can achieve your ideal weight (and also decrease your risk for chronic disease), and you feel great, it’s a recipe for success! Many people are derailed from diet plans because of complex point systems, tracking meals or calories, or feeling deprived because of eating less than their stomach can hold (portion control) or eating the same boring foods day after day. Unfortunately, less than a third of people achieve even modest success with weight loss in the long term. Eating whole, plant-based foods bypasses all of these annoyances to make healthy eating comfortable and fun – and therefore a sustainable lifestyle.
Find out how to begin your plant-based journey–or how to make it even more rewarding, with strategies and over 100 recipes–in Micaela Cook Karlsen’s A PLANT-BASED LIFE: Your Complete Guide to Great Food, Radiant Health, Boundless Energy, and a Better Body (AMACOM July 2016).
MICAELA COOK KARLSEN, MSPH, is one of the founding employees of the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies and its former Executive Director. A contributor to the New York Times bestseller Forks Over Knives, she is a member of the advisory board for the Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference and founder of www.PlantBasedResearch.org