plant based bowl

Trying a whole-food plant-based diet is surely going to be a resolution for a lot of runners this year. Here are six steps to become a whole foods plant based runner which will make the process go a little more smoothly.

1. Examine Your “Why” and Write it Down

There are many reasons for choosing a plant-based or vegan lifestyle and tapping into why you want to make this choice is essential to sticking with it long term. I’m not going to try to convince you that this is the right choice for you or say you need to be 100% vegan, but if you are curious about it there are lots of ways to learn more.

I committed to plants after watching Forks Over Knives in 2012. My main reason is to fuel my body with good food that will enable me to live a long and active life.

Then I learned more about the intense environmental impact animal agriculture causes to our land, air, and seas. That made it even easier to stick to my personal health goals, knowing I was not a part of the system.

For me, animal welfare is not my primary motivation, but for some vegans, this is their primary motivation and it can be incredibly powerful. No one really wants to talk about the atrocities that we commit on other sentient beings, and I won’t get into it here, but if this is your “why,” is certainly a good one.

2. Decide If You Are an All-Or-Nothing or Incremental Changer

Personally, I thrive on rules and routine. The fewer decisions I have to make, the easier things are. So I’m an All Or Nothing. When I went fully plant-based, that was that (okay, I do admit to stealing some of my kids’ Goldfish right at the beginning, but that was short-lived). To be fair, I was pretty close to being vegetarian already, so it wasn’t like I went from hamburgers to tofu in one day, but once I made the commitment, there was no turning back.

Other people do not find the transition so simple and need to ease into it. I recommend that you start eliminating the animal foods that you don’t especially like in the first place. For many people, that’s cows and pigs. Once that feels comfortable, you can excuse the birds and fish and see how that goes.

The hardest to give up is usually eggs and dairy since they are so prevalent in our food supply and because…cheese. We are wired to love something that is fatty, salty and umami and cheese hits all those cravings. But if you are armed with healthier alternatives made from plants, you might find that it ends up being easier than you think to go all in to a whole foods plant based lifestyle as a runner.

plant based camping
Plant based camping spread!

3. Arm Yourself with Really Tasty Plant-Based Swaps

Even if your “why” is because a whole-foods plant-based diet is one of the healthiest in the world, don’t forget to make it taste good!

My biggest mistake starting out was to make sure everything I made was so ridiculously healthy that taste was secondary. My family began to hate my cooking and resent this change that I was “forcing” on them.

So I finally got some good cookbooks that focused on flavor, which made my cooking something even an omnivore could love.

Chloe’s Kitchen (Amazon Affiliate link) by celebrity chef Chloe Coscarelli is one of my favorites.

4. Focus on Simple, Whole Foods

It’s never been easier to go vegan than it is today. Grocery stores stock an amazing array of meat alternatives that are surprisingly good, but many are not really nutritional superstars. Better to think of those as occasional treats rather than staples.

Runners can often be the type to overcomplicate things, so do your best to keep it simple. Fruit and nuts make a quick, nutritious snack that is the perfect recovery food right after a run. I love a medjool date filled with a smear of almond butter!

For dinner, it doesn’t get a whole lot easier (or inexpensive) than beans and rice with greens. Spice it up with taco seasoning for a Mexican flair or try a spicy peanut sauce with flavors of Southeast Asia. There are a world of possibilities!

Simple and delicious plant based bowl
Simple and delicious plant based bowl

5. Think About Protein, But Don’t Obsess About It

All plant food contains protein, so as long as you are getting in enough calories, you are likely getting enough protein. But different types of plants contain different amino acids, so you do want to make sure you are eating a variety of foods.

Here’s more about it.

6. Supplement with B12

One thing that is difficult to obtain naturally in a vegan diet is B12, so supplementing is a very good idea. B12 is produced by bacteria found in soil and it’s more concentrated in animal flesh than in plants.

With modern farming, our soil has been depleted of this natural resource, so even non-vegans are likely to be deficient.

Progress Not Perfection

Moving to a whole plant diet can be life-changing for you, the planet, and clearly the animals. It doesn’t have to be complicated and you don’t have to be perfect to see a difference in how you feel and eventually how you look and perform.

If you need a guide on your plant based running journey, I’m here to help! Schedule an appointment to talk about all the possibilities to make this your best year yet!

About Claire

Coach Claire has helped hundreds of runners chase their dreams and conquer big goals. Her coaching philosophy combines science-based training, plant-based nutrition, and mindset techniques to unlock every runner's true potential. She's an ASFA certified running coach, sports nutrition specialist, a 2:58 marathoner, mom, and borderline obsessive plant lover.

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  • Good stuff, as always. Thanks, Coach Claire.
    I actually wrote an overly long (moi?), characteristically solipsistic, self-indulgent response, but computer glitched and it appears not to have posted. Lucky you and your readers.

    Bottom line of it, though, was I overeat a super nutritionally dense whole food diet (berries, fruits, veggies galore, + various whole grains and too much hummus). I also continue to eat grilled chicken (staple in 3 of my 4 dish cooking repertoire) and LOTS of dairy (Greek yogurt, milk, cheeses). In addition to too much good food during the day through dinner, I have a bad habit of later night eating. Gotta commit to breaking the pattern, but haven’t yet.

    Keep it coming. – Jerry

    • Yes, overeating even the healthiest foods is going to cause issues and acknowledging that you do it is the first step towards changing it, if you want to. There are many psychological reasons why this happens and exploring your “why” can be very impactful. Habit change isn’t always easy, but it can be done. Great to hear from you, Jerry!

  • I can say without a doubt that working with Claire has changed my life. Apps, books and news articles may work for some people but I came to the point where I realized I needed an actual person to help me be accountable, reach my goals and MAINTAIN them. I had been curious about going plant based for some time because I just didn’t feel like I was at my peak even though I was religiously exercising, eating organic etc… With Claire’s guidance, I went 100% plant based over two years ago and have never looked back. To say I am still stunned at the transformation is an understatement. I lost weight (I’m back to where I was in my early 20’s), gained speed and strength and am now in the best shape (both mentally and physically) I have ever been in my life (I’m 45 btw). Her practical and nonjudgemental approach to health and fitness is refreshing. If you are serious about improving your life, inside and outside of running, I’d strongly suggest working with Claire as a personal coach. She is highly intelligent and accomplished yet understanding and kind. It is by far, one one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Michael! Your transformation has been truly remarkable. Happy New Year!

  • I love this kind of practical, nuts and bolts advice. In April I went vegetarian which wasn’t too difficult because I already didn’t eat pork or much beef. Carbs are my downfall though and 9 months after lockdown started I am a full 16 pounds heavier, making it harder to run or do any exercise, leaving me depressed and stressed which leads me back to that stash of cookies in the freezer. ? Seeing your email pop up in my inbox was like a breath of fresh air and I am feeling hopeful about turning things around with healthy food that actually tastes good. Thanks!

    • Thanks for chiming in, Autumn! We all have our “trigger” foods that we seem to be powerless in front of. Mine are not really sweets, but salty and greasy like chips and fries. If I see ’em, I want ’em! So as simple as it sounds, I don’t have them around. It doesn’t mean that I can’t ever have them, but when eating something becomes a habit and not a treat, it’s time to take a step back and decide how much joy you are really getting from that food. I’m planning to get more in depth on this subject (running and weight loss) and be sure to check out next week’s Run to the Top Podcast. It’s a deep dive into it!

  • Great post! I found that I am a much stronger and more efficient runner when my diet is fueled by plants. The biggest takeaway for me was I eat more regularly when I consume more plants because my body burns them faster telling me to eat. I also stay more hydrated!

    • I agree! I often say that I “eat my water,” because I get it mainly from fresh food!

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