How a Plant-Based Diet Made Me a Better Endurance Athlete

I have been an athlete since I was tall enough to get in the game.

From day one I had that competitive mindset – always driven and dedicated to improvement. After college, I started spending every day in the gym looking to find that same rush I found in team sports. (My previous sports were field hockey, softball, basketball, and boxing.)  Instead I was just bored without goals or competitions to look forward to.

Then I discovered that running had very little barrier to entry – just lace up some shoes and show up to a start line! I was immediately hooked and dove headfirst into the world of endurance sports.  My debut race was the Coronado Independence Day 5k on July 4, 2001.

My racing evolved a lot over those first few years.

I was able to keep improving while also finding new goals along the way, whether distance or time, I kept chasing more. I added duathlon and triathlon into the mix and was enjoying my progress in those sports as well.

Then in 2005 I took things to the next level.

Although I had given up meat a few years prior I decided to take it a step further and give up dairy as well. My decision to give up both meat and dairy was driven by animal welfare issues, however there was no denying that my body felt better after eliminating these products.

After learning that not only is dairy non-essential to our diet (after being raised to believe I needed it!), but it’s also extremely unhealthy to consume another mammal’s milk, I had no qualms about cutting it out entirely that very day!

This choice meant I had to get intentional about my nutrition.

Being intentional meant taking the time to educate myself.

Some of the lessons I learned:

  • Processed foods – whether meat, dairy, or otherwise – are not healthy for the long term and can lead to the same slowed recovery, inflammation, and developing health issues.
  • I don’t need “meat replacements” to get enough protein into my diet. Plants have the same amount of protein (usually higher) with a multitude of other benefits like fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals in an easy-to-digest and assimilate form.
  • Processed foods can taste delicious and are convenient but there is nothing better than going straight to the source and eating plants in their natural form.

Fair point – at that time there were not as many vegan alternatives to meat and dairy products as you can find today, but I still relied on them from time to time.

So what happened to my performance?  Well, just like with any good story (or lifestyle change) you’ll just have to wait and see.

Stay Tuned for Part II of Laura’s journey.

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