Running on Plants - My Life as a Black Vegan Runner
by Grace Henderson
When I look back at life in my 20s, there were two things that I never dreamed would be part of life in my 30s: being a runner and being vegan. At that time, you couldn’t pay me to run more than a mile, and I loved my mom’s southern fried chicken and mac and cheese. “Why would I give that up?”, I thought.
However, when I turned 30, the age milestone made me take a look at my health. Although I wasn’t sick, I saw my family members and some of my peers struggle with illnesses and diseases that were linked to their diets. I wanted to be proactive and take charge of what I consumed to stay as healthy as possible for as long as possible. I completely gave up consuming meat and dairy and, after volunteering at the Navy Air Force Half in 2014, I decided to get into try distance running as well, even though it was an idea at which I’d previously cringed.
When I tell people I’ve switched to a plant-based diet, especially as a Woman of Color, I often get a side eye and it triggers all kinds of questions: “Isn’t that a ‘white thing’?” “How do you get protein if you don’t eat meat?” “How do you have the energy to run races when you don’t eat anything?”
But, what if I told you that I became a better athlete when I went plant-based? (*Que the Laurence Fishburne meme*) Since making the switch, I’ve noticed that my post-race recovery time, sleeping patterns and energy levels have all significantly improved. I can eat a full meal and not get that tired, “-itis” feeling commonly associated with being overly full. Instead of needing a nap after I eat, I have the energy to go get in a workout. It's a wonderful feeling to go workout because I want to, and not just because I want to do damage control for what I ate that day.
Running on Vegan Nutrition
The biggest benefit and change I noticed was with my digestion and gut health. Previously, when I consumed meat and dairy, my stomach would go crazy immediately, causing severe bloating and discomfort. This would often affect my runs and made race day extremely tricky. I had to be very strategic the day before about what I ate, and when I ate it. I worried whether it would cause bloating, and if my body would be able to dispose of it before the start of the race--all marathoners know what I’m talking about.
Switching to a plant-based, whole food diet has taken out all of that guesswork, and I've become more in tune with my body. I feel like a well-oiled machine now, and my digestion doesn’t get in my way, which is a huge plus with racing.
So the big question is, as a vegan, what exactly do I eat while training for a race?
Vegan Nutrition for Runners
My diet is pretty standard whether I’m training or not, although, if I have a long run scheduled (seven or more miles), I make sure to eat more carbs for energy. Here’s what standard day of vegan eating looks like for me:
- 1 Shot of Ginger and Turmeric - Anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting properties, strengthens the immune system, aids in digestion. It improves heart health, soothes pain, counters depression, and improves the skin.
Protein Packed Oatmeal - Offers complex carbohydrates that fuel energy throughout the day. I usually add a scoop of plant-based protein powder, flax seeds and fruit.
- Carrot Juice - Highest source of vitamin A, also provide ample amounts of vitamins C, D, E and K, as well as many minerals such as magnesium, potassium and calcium.
Kale, Roasted Sweet Potato, Quinoa Salad - Sweet potatoes are a good source of potassium, fiber and B1/B2 Vitamins. Quinoa is a very protein- and fiber-rich super grain. Kale adds the bonus of another leafy green serving for the day.
- Black Bean Burger - A healthy source of protein, and vitamins without consuming meat. As an added bonus black beans are a great source of antioxidants.
Roasted Veggies - I like to have veggies with all meals, aside from breakfast. Some of my favorite veggies to roast are broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.
Fruit & Veggie Smoothie - My smoothies are generally made up of fresh and frozen fruits, a green leafy vegetable and a vegan protein powder. This is a great way to fulfill some of my veggie and fiber requirements for the day. Fiber intake is vital to a healthy digestive system. Throwing in some chia seeds will help keep you full for longer and add protein.
Through the day, I also snack on nuts/fruit trail mixes and indulge in the occasional vegan cookie or potato chips depending on the day (yes, I am human and I love snacks!).
I drink at least a gallon of water a day to keep myself hydrated. By doing this, I also get the added benefit of healthy skin, hair, and nails. I treat my body like a plant, it needs water to grow, thrive and stay beautiful. What would happen if you were to give your plant only soda, juice, and alcohol? It would not survive very long! The human body is the same way.
I know from personal experience that it is possible to be a vegan Woman of Color while successfully taking on distance running. It takes a little more discipline, but the best achievements come with hard work and dedication. Your overall health is well worth the effort.
Grace Henderson is from St. Louis, Missouri and currently serves in the U.S Air Force, with more than 10 years of service. She enjoys staying fit through running and promoting a healthy lifestyle through a plant based diet.