How to Lose Weight and Fuel Your Runs on a Plant-Based Diet, from the Running Doctor
Running is a great way to clear your mind, release feel-good endorphins into the brain, and have a sense of calm and elevated mood for hours after. Studies have found that after a run your mood stays up due to antistress hormones in the system for 12 yours or even longer. You also experience "afterburn" where your body is churning through calories as it refuels the muscles and repairs the micro-tears that help build fitness. So in every way, running is a great way to lose weight, feel great, and stay fit.
It's also an incredibly effective way to burn off extra pounds if you know how to fuel up after. At The Beet we are big fans of healthy, sustainable weight loss on a plant-based diet, rich in vegetables and legumes, nuts, grains, and seeds. But sometimes after a nice long run, you get so hungry in the refueling hours that you reach for all the wrong things. Let's just say there used to be a few more bags of salty chips in the cabinet and pints of vegan ice cream in the freezer before this week of working, running, and gardening. Okay, that's at my house.
For all of us, it makes sense not to "undo" all the good healthy plant-based eating and running with a few quick jaunts through the snack cabinets. For how to eat healthily, fuel your body as you increase your mileage from 2 miles to 5 to 7 and so on, and still lose weight the healthy way, I interviewed Mark Fuerst is the co-author of Running Doc's Guide to Healthy Eating: The Revolutionary 4-Week Program to Boost Your Athletic Performance, Everyday Activities, and Weight Loss. Fuerst wrote the book with Dr. Louis Maharam.
The Running Doc’s Guide to Healthy Eating explains why it’s time to ditch the difficult-to-use food pyramid put out by the USDA in favor of hands-on experience of being hungry and how to eat to fuel an active body, whether you're a couch potato turned runner or an Olympic level athlete qualifying for the marathon in next year's Tokyo games. The book gives helpful advice on how to divide your plate into sections and make sure you get enough of a balance of proteins, carbs, and fat to be satiated but not over-do any one macro. This system is what the authors call Fueling Plates. The book shows, step-by-step, how readers can apply the program to feel and perform better, lost weight, and have more energy.
Developed by Dr. Maharam, the Fueling Plates program has helped countless people who want to make a difference in their life, whether it is to lose weight, or train longer, such as marathoners competing for a place at the Olympic trials, and everyone in between.
The idea is to think about the four different food groups. You use the plate to visualize these quadrants. Most people eat too much food at each meal, especially when we dine out at restaurants or in these days when we order in and the portion size provides too much food.
Divide Your Healthy Weight Loss Plate into Four Quadrants.
The four quadrants are: Protein, long-acting carbohydrates, short-acting carbohydrates, and fat. As you start to run more often or longer distances you increase your protein a little bit to train harder. The protein choice can easily be vegan protein, such as tofu or tempeh, quinoa or nuts, or all the good vegetarian proteins available.
Right before an event, whether a 10K or a tennis tournament, you night slightly increase the carb quadrant, to top off your glycogen stores in the body -- for ready fuel to get you through the first 45 minutes. During the event you can reach for plant-based gels or nutrients for runners on a vegan diet, The important moment is an after your run, when you should add a little more protein and short-acting carbs to get your energy back quickly and recover from putting your body in deficit. That way you'll feel great for the rest of the day (and not need a power nap) and be able to head out the door again tomorrow.
"Obviously, there are benefits of a plant-based diet," says Fuerst. "But the number one source of tiredness or fatigue for a runner could be not getting enough of complex carbs or protein." Runners also need to be sure they are getting their daily requirement for essential vitamins such as iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B 12, and vitamin D, which The Beet has covered.
Iron is especially important for runners because it carries oxygen to your muscles, he adds. Some great sources of iron: Dried apricots and prunes, fortified cereal, whole wheat bread, beans, and nuts. For complex carbs turn to your favorite vegetables, since most are a great source of slow-burning carbs; the way to find the healthiest is to look for those highest in fiber.
Protein is the building block of life, and for runners (or anyone training hard), it's also the building block of strong, fit muscles so to make sure you stay uninured add plant-based proteins like quinoa, beans, nuts, and nut butter. [For a full list check out these stories from The Beet with the nuts with the highest protein per service and legumes with the most protein per serving.]
Calcium is important for bone health. Tahini and nuts, green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. Soy milk and beans, nuts and seeds, mushrooms and lentils are a great source of zinc. Vitamin B12 -- you can eat cereals and soy-based drinks riboflavin. Vitamin D is important for muscle and nerve function. Mushrooms, breakfast cereal, and fortified plant-based milk.
The Perfect Fueling Snack is an "Elvis Bagel" With Peanut Butter and Banana
So one of the things the book recommends for fueling a runner's needs is an "Elvis Bagel." Elvis is known for peanut butter and bananas, says Fuerst. "He liked fried bananas." But for runners, the healthier choice is a whole wheat bagel with sliced bananas, and not fried. If you eat an ElvisBbagel a couple of hours before performing --long enough that it won't feel heavy in your stomach --you're going to get the carbs in the bagel, the protein in the peanut butter, and the potassium and extra nutrients from the banana.
Alternatively, if that sounds like too much before a long run, try a small bowl of oatmeal with a sliced banana. Another great fuel source for anyone running a long run or fueling up for an event is raisins, which are short-acting. This works well since the oats provide long-acting carbs for lasting energy, the almond milk adds protein, and the raisins short-acting fuel, Fuerst explains, so this is a perfect combination to fuel-up before a long run.
"Dr. Maharam once told me about a runner who came to him complaining of knee pain. He gave him a brace and some exercises. But then the doctor asked the patient, "What are you eating?" And it turned out that like many marathoners he was eating long-acting carbs but not enough protein. "Marathoners have this idea that they need carbo-loading but in fact, as the book points out, you don't need all that carbohydrate and it makes it difficult to lose weight. IN fact, you need to add protein." If you're running almost daily and not seeing the scale budge, change the mix of your fuel from carbs to protein and you will see the weight come off, says Fuerst. "Cut down on all those calories," was the doctor's advice. The guy ate differently for a week and told the doctor he had his personal record (PR) one week later."
The running doctor, as Maharam was known, is to visualize how these food groups's fit together as quadrants, and then eat a balanced plant-based meal every time you eat, even when you snack. If the weight won't come off, add to your protein quadrant and keep running!
Top 10 Sources of Plant-Based Protein According to a Nutritionist
The Top 20 Veggies with the Most Protein