Vegetarian Athletes DEBUNKED

Scott Jurek (on left) is a famous vegan ultra marathoner.

Most people probably wouldn’t put the words vegetarian and athlete together. If you do, though, then there might be a few things that come to mind; skinny, anemic, possibly even weak.

What does the research say, though? Are vegetarians less fit than nonvegetarians? Are they fitter? First, a few basics on vegetarianism.

Vegetarianism Defined: an individual that doesn’t eat meat and sometimes other animal products oftentimes for religious, moral, or health reasons.

Types of Vegetarians:

The word vegetarian is an umbrella term. It ranges from people that avoid some red meat all the way to vegans. The different types can get a little confusing, so here are a few of the basic ones (for the purpose of simplicity I’m using the word meat to include red/white meat, fish, and seafood);

  • Semivegetarian/Flexitarian: avoids some animal products, but not all (ex: eats fish, eats white meat, etc.).
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian: avoids meat, but consumes milk, dairy, and eggs.
  • Ovovegetarian: avoids meat and dairy, but includes eggs
  • Lactovegetarian: avoids meat and eggs, but includes milk
  • Vegan: avoids all animal-derived foods
  • Macrobiotic: avoids most animal-derived foods, but emphasizes eating unprocessed organic foods

Within each subgroup of vegetarians there can still be a range, however. For instance, some vegans will go as far as not eating any honey because it is technically an animal-derived food while others will consume it. Things can get a little complicated when we try and organize them nicely.

Gotta love "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"

Gotta love “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”

Why Do People Become Vegetarians?

The reasons why people choose this lifestyle varies as much as the different subgroups of vegetarians. More and more reasons are emerging, but here are a few;

  • Health benefits – some meats contain quite a bit of saturated fat, hormones, and preservatives
  • Economics – meat oftentimes costs more than other foods
  • Religion – some types of religions advise people not to eat certain types of animals
  • Environment – Don’t like the adverse affects that meat consumption has on the environment
  • Taste – Some people don’t like the taste of meat.
  • Ethical – Love animals, don’t want to kill them, or disagree with the way they are raised.

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THE RESULTS

Well, the truth is that being a vegetarian doesn’t hurt or help athletic performance. For a class project last semester a few of my friends and I researched this topic. One particularly helpful article we found was this one. It analyzes a bunch of different studies that compare vegetarian athletes with nonvegetarian athletes. ALL of the studies found no significant difference in sport performance.

Are There Health Benefits to Being a Vegetarian?

There are plenty of positive health benefits that are correlated with vegetarianism.

Vegetarians have decreased rates of;

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity

Increased intakes of;

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Dietary fiber
  • Antioxidants
  • Phytochemicals
  • Folic acids

And Lower intakes of;

  • Saturated fat
  • Cholesterol

Concerns with the Vegetarian Diet

Like any diet, there are some concerns that people have with the vegetarian lifestyle. Here are a few common concerns:

  • Protein intake – There are plenty of other ways to get adequate amounts of protein in one’s diet besides meat (nuts, tofu, eggs, cheese, quinoa, seeds, legumes, yogurt, seitan). For vegans it can be a little more difficult, but if you put in the effort then there should be no problem. Most Americans consume WAY more protein than they actually need anyways.
  • Iron – Most studies actually show similar prevalence of iron-deficiency anemia in vegetarians and nonvegetarians. However, the type of iron that vegetarians eat (nonheme) is more difficult to be absorbed, so higher amounts of iron should be consumed. Some common sources of vegetarian iron include; quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal, legumes, nuts, seeds, tomatoes, swiss chard, collard greens, and prune juice.
  • Amenorrhea – Oftentimes people with disordered eating/eating disorders will adopt the vegetarian diet as a means to control their weight, which can often lead to amenorrhea (irregular menstrual cycle due to low body fat). However, it is important to remember that amenorrhea is caused by low energy intake not by dietary quality. Therefore, the vegetarian diet does not cause amenorrhea.

Is it possible to have a bad diet and be vegetarian? Yes. Is it also possible to have a bad diet and be a meat-eater? Of course. If a vegetarian just eats lettuce all day then they will not be getting all of their essential vitamins and minerals. It’s the same as if a nonvegetarian decides to just eat meat – they will not be getting proper nutrition either. As long as a vegetarian puts adequate effort into eating a well-balanced diet then they should have no trouble with their nutrition.

vegetarian meme

Conclusion:

The vegetarian diet does not hurt or harm an athlete’s performance. One does not have to give up or adopt the vegetarian diet in order to improve sport performance. A well-planned and balanced vegetarian diet can provide all of the essential vitamins and minerals that one needs. However, nutrition should be something that all athletes (vegetarian or not) should be concerned with. There are also some health benefits that are correlated with being a vegetarian.

What are your thoughts on the vegetarian athlete? Have you had good luck/bad luck with it? Thoughts?

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THE POLAR VORTEX

lake champlain 2

Lake Champlain

            I was mistaken when I thought that the extreme cold was over. This week the weather dropped back into the negatives (F). When I went to bike to work on Thursday it was literally -11 degrees out… I don’t even want to know what the temperature was including wind chill.

This, right here. This is NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. Doors are not meant to be frozen….

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            Granted to say that I have had to resort to running inside for a few runs this week. Luckily, I’ve had some great friends join me to circle around the indoor track. When you get lost in conversation, the time can passes sooooo much quicker!

This week is also the first week in my marathon training cycle that I have added in some speed work. After a short break in December, I picked my running back up and had a few weeks for base building. This is my first time training for a full marathon and also my first time doing marathon specific workouts. I am using one of Hal Higdon’s training plans, but with some of my own modifications to it.

Everyone has their own philosophy on “the long run” for marathon training. I think everyone can pretty much agree that it is important, though! The long run in the plan I’m following by Hal Higdon is kind of done in two days. The first day is a run at goal marathon pace and the second day contains most of the miles. The speed work from the day before is supposed to make your legs feel slightly sluggish and therefore simulate what the end of a race feels like. Although the long run on the second day is not at a fast pace, the workout from the day before is supposed to make it more challenging.

Even though the weather has been freezing cold, the views are still just as pretty. I was actually able to head down to the bike path yesterday for a run and I didn’t freeze my butt off! Yay!

Lake Champlain again.

Lake Champlain again.

Instagram!!!! 

I got an account pretty recently (joyrunner6) and I’ll be posting cool photos/videos about running/fitness/randomness, so you should go check it out and follow me.

How has the weather been where you are? Have you had to resort to running inside too? Anyone else follow a Hal Higdon training plan? Thoughts?

The Ultimate “If You Fall, Get Back Up”

Heather Dorniden was a student athlete at the University of Minnesota. She ran indoor track and was a favorite in the finals for the 600 meter at the Big 10 Track and Field Championships. The race starts out perfectly with Heather drafting off of another runner, but with 200 meters to go she makes a surge to go to the front. Her feet get tangled up with another runner and she ends up falling flat on the ground. Watch the video to see what happens next… (She falls around 1:00)

I always love watching running videos before a race or just anytime in general. They get me motivated and inspired. This clip is most definitely my favorite running clip. Every time I watch it I can’t help but smile. Even though I’ve seen it a dozen times, my heart races and I can’t help but get nervous. It’s the perfect video to get you “in the zone” for a race or just out the door to do a workout.

Although there was race coverage of the meet, I prefer this video taken by a fan. It captures the crowd’s reaction as well as her team’s reaction, which is just priceless.

I hope this video might give you a little inspiration or just brighten up your day a little. Happy Running!

Aging Gracefully

I recently received an article from Parade about running. The front cover shows a picture of a woman dressed in athletic gear standing on a track. Her strong stance and joyful smile makes her look around 80 years old. You can imagine my surprise when I opened up the article and found out that she was actually 94!

olga

The woman’s name is Olga Kotelko and she is a retired schoolteacher that recently picked up masters track and field. She competes in a variety of track and field events such as the long jump, high jump, triple jump, hammer, javelin, shot put, discus, and a variety of running events. She is the only woman competitively competing in the long jump and high jump over the age of 90.

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Olga is not the only “super senior.” 101-year old Fauja Singh recently completed the London Marathon. That’s right, MARATHON.

Fauja-Singh

So, what’s Olga’s secret to aging gracefully? There are a few things about Olga that sets her apart from other people her age.

1. Stay Active

Although Olga didn’t pick up masters track and field until she was 77, she has been active nearly all her life. She played baseball with her siblings when she was younger and continued playing until 75.

2. Don’t Be Sedentary

Although Olga is retired, she never stays sitting for very long. Whether it’s to cook, fetch something from upstairs, or make a phone call, she’s always moving. Olga hardly ever watches television and only worked a desk job for a short period of time.

3. Be Happy

When asked if she has any goals Olga replies, “To keep on going. Not to stop. And I don’t have any plans to stop and I don’t see why I should stop. I’m enjoying every minute of it.” It’s evident that Olga loves track and field and it makes her happy – so of course why would she stop!?! Do what you love.

I’ve heard plenty of people tell me that I should enjoy running and being active because some day I won’t be able to. What if that actually wasn’t true, though? What if we didn’t have to give up what we love? Who says that we can’t be running marathons at age 100 like Fauja Singh?

Although this seems pretty unbelievable, I think it’s good to keep the possibilities open. Just like anything else, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the standards or “norms” of society. The possibilities that our life holds are endless and we should enjoy life to the full. After all, it’s much more fun to think that way instead of believing the contrary.

Our bodies will age – that’s inevitable. We will get slower – that’s also inevitable, but who says that we have to stop doing what we love to do? I believe anything is possible if we set our minds to it.

Here’s a video of Olga. Pretty amazing!

Do you know any “super seniors?” What is their secret? What do you think?

Fueling During Exercise

race

Now that I’m actually going to run a marathon, I think it’s important to learn about fueling while running. The other day I was trying to research online about a few of the guidelines for fueling during races, and it was kind of difficult. There is no perfect formula for fueling during exercise – only estimates.

This is because we are all different and so are our bodies. Some people might have no problem eating a slice of pizza a few minutes before their run, while others might have serious stomach problems. Some people might need to fuel every 25 minutes of a long run while others might not have to for 45 minutes. The bottom line is that what works for one person might not work for another. With that being said, here are a few general guidelines I found for fueling during exercise.

A Few General Guidelines

  • Fuel during exercise that lasts longer than 1 hour. There is no proven benefit for people to fuel for exercise that is shorter than this.
  • Ingest 30-60g carbohydrates for every hour of exercise.
  • Ingest sodium for exercise lasting longer than 2 hours.

Why to Fuel During Exercise?

Our bodies are pretty awesome at using stored energy and converting it into usable energy. However, our bodies can only do so much. Therefore, we need to do everything possible to make it easier on our bodies and therefore improve our performance.

When we ingest fuel during exercise, it’s kind of like giving our body a break. Our glycogen stores are easily converted to usable energy, but fat can be harder to convert. The fuel we ingest is easily accessible and it also helps to spare our glycogen stores for when we really need them (the end of the race).

Fueling during exercise also helps to maintain our blood glucose levels or “blood sugar”. That way we don’t “bonk” or get that awful dizzy/weak feeling. Our bodies can stay strong and keep our motor skills sharp, which is crucial in a race.

My Experience with Fueling

I think the farthest I’ve run before was about 15 miles (roughly 2 hours of running). For me, I don’t really fuel for runs that are shorter than 10 miles and for my 15-mile run I only fueled once. Therefore, I don’t have much experience with it.

I’ve run a couple half marathons where I’ve ate along the way, but I’ve also run some that I haven’t fueled for (not including water) and I haven’t noticed much of a difference. My personal experience is that I don’t necessarily need to eat during half marathons. However, I know that for a full marathon almost everyone needs to fuel so that they don’t hit the wall. Here’s the link to my previous post about the importance of carbohydrates in avoiding the wall.

I’ve tried out eating GU’s, crackers, power bars, and blocks. I now prefer GU’s as they are really easy to eat while exercising. Chewing and breathing hard just don’t go well together in my experience. It normally ends with me semi-choking.

Last weekend I went to a local running store that I had a gift card to and spent it all on GU’s.

SOOO MUCH GUUU!!!

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I got a mixture of lemon-sublime, salted caramel, vanilla bean, and peanut butter. I wish the store had the chocolate-mint type as I remember REALLY liking that flavor. I didn’t want to get ones with that much caffeine in them just because there isn’t much caffeine in my diet. Since my body isn’t used to it, I don’t really want to test something new out right now.

I tried some GU’s on my long run and found that they worked well. They were pretty easy to eat and tasted fine. My only complaint is that they were a little messy since there weren’t any trashcans for me to get rid of the wrappers in, so I had to stuff them back in my coat pocket. EW! I’ll be able to have a better idea of how well they work for me once I get closer to race day and my long runs get longer.

How to Find What Works Best for You

Experiment. You’ll never find out what works best until you try it out. You shouldn’t expect that it would be fine to eat and drink during a race if you haven’t practiced it before. Our bodies need time to adapt! If you start experimenting long before your race then you will probably find something that works well and will therefore work well during your race.

Since I’m pretty inexperienced with fueling during exercise, I would love some advice. I’ve taken nutrition classes where I’ve learned about fueling, but nothing is better than real-life experience.

What works best for you? What doesn’t work well? Thoughts?

And it Begins…

Helloooooo second semester! I moved back into my dorm yesterday and classes began today. I had a nice long break and am feeling ready to get back into the swing of things. I even added a few more running posters to my collection in my room.

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Welcome Mary Cain and Mo Farah to my wall!

Of course I had to start my first day of classes with something running related. No, I didn’t go for a run before class (I’m not much of a morning runner). I registered for the Half Marathon Unplugged bright and early – 6am to be specific. I heard that last year the race filled up pretty quickly, so I wasn’t going to take any chances. It looks like the first wave is filled up, but the second wave is still open to anyone that might be interested! Register quick!

unplugged logo

About the Race

The race is on April 12th and has two waves – one at 9am and the other at 11am. It starts in Colchester and goes along the Burlington bike path. It’s super flat and is therefore a super fast course! It’s a really good price – just $32. The title reads, “No Frills, No Hills!” The race covers all of the basic services for a race such as a few water stations, timing, results, food, and bus transportation. There aren’t any awards, medals, race day registration, and you have to pay extra for a shirt or hat. It does look like there are photos taken during the race and a complimentary yoga session the next day, though!

Since it’s a month before my marathon I thought it would be a good time to test out my fitness level and also get a good workout in. I’ve finally gotten to the point that half marathons aren’t that physically strenuous for me. My past two I’ve only been a little sore the next day, but really just fine. I remember after my first half I could barely walk up/down stairs for a good four or five days. It’s nice to see how far I’ve come.

What’s on my plate this semester?

  • Anatomy
  • Bio
  • Abnormal Psych
  • Anthropology
  • Marathon training!!!!!!

It’s been nice catching up with most of my friends today – I missed them! I’ve also missed my running routes around here. I absolutely LOVE running in Burlington – all the bike paths around here are awesome and I haven’t even explored all of them yet! Unfortunately, when I went to go on the UVM bikepath today, this is what it looked like…

sooooooooo much ice!!!!

sooooooooo much ice!!!!

There were literally a few inches of ice covering the entire thing. Now, I know that my Yaktrax can do a pretty good job of stopping me from slipping, but I’m not sure that they’re meant to tackle that much ice. I had to resort to trying to run on the sidewalks and doing loops around campus, which were less icy. Luckily, it was a short run. It looks like the next few days are going to be warmer out, so maybe it’ll melt. I’m hoping so at least!

Is anyone else trying to survive the ice? What’s on your plate for next semester/next year?

The Day I Realized I’m Not a Sprinter

Almost every little kid that joins track wants to be a sprinter. I think the thrill of running all out for a few seconds with the crowd roaring is really appealing. Who would want to run a longer race? The longer distances don’t seem to carry as much excitement. Plus, they hurt.

Needless to say, I didn’t want to be a distance runner when I was younger. When I was about 8 years old I joined a summer track program. I convinced myself that I would compete in the 100m dash. I told myself that I was a sprinter and that’s what event I was best at.

MidJuly2006 046

I remember going to one track meet in a nearby town with my dad. It was really small and low-key. Each kid got an index card and wrote down the events they wanted to compete in and pinned it on the back of their shirts. I remember talking with my dad about what events I wanted to do. I, of course, said the 100m dash – along with the long jump and 4×100 (other little kid favorites). My dad, very lovingly, said, “Laurel, I’m not so sure that you should do the 100m dash. You know, neither your mom nor I are very good at sprinting. We both are better at the long distances. Maybe you should try out the 400m or something. I think you might be better at it.”

I wouldn’t budge an inch. I said, “No, Dad. I’m a sprinter. I’m doing the 100m.” Because genetics don’t matter at all… OBVIOUSLY.

“Well, how about the 200m? It’s just a little bit longer,” he tried again.

“Nope. I’m doing the 100m.” When I was little, I would oftentimes dig in my heels. And once I did, there was no turning back. My mom would often joke that I was a typical Aries child – stubborn as can be.

And so, with all of the other little kids that also thought they were sprinters, I headed over to the starting line. Even though the race only lasts a few moments, the event takes forever because so many kids want to do it.

When it was finally my turn to race, I lined up with a few other 7-8 year olds. With my adrenaline pumping and little kid competitiveness building, I toed up to the line. “On your marks, set… go!”

I started pumping my arms and legs as fast as I could make them go. Almost as soon as we took off, though, I realized I was already behind. The other little girls already had a lead! I dug in even more and tried to use every ounce of energy I could muster. My legs just couldn’t seem to move any faster. It was as if the more I tried to will them to go faster, the farther ahead the girls got. With the finish line quickly approaching I was finally able to pass one girl that seemed to be struggling. I crossed the finish slightly baffled, but mostly just disappointed. I loved winning and second-to-last in my heat didn’t suit me too well.

With a frown on my face, I slumped back over to my dad. He still said “good job” like a good dad and didn’t tell me, “I told you so.” I learned my lesson, though. I’m not a sprinter. After that race I started trying out different races, and soon learned that I was a decent distance runner. Remember, “distance runner” at that age means the 400m.

Since then, I have felt that all too familiar feeling of not being able to sprint fast enough. In longer races you can normally dig down and push into more pain to win. However, the same isn’t true for sprinting – at least, not for me. No matter how much harder I try, my legs just won’t seem to cooperate. I tell them to move faster, but they just won’t. I guess I feel a little like this pug…

pug

I would always get frustrated in high school when we would run 200m repeats or do strides the day before a race. I just couldn’t seem to move any faster.

Luckily, I’ve learned that distance running is pretty cool. Although most little kids who sign up for track don’t think that the longer distances are as exciting, that’s because they just haven’t tried them yet. After all, I’ve never gotten a  runner’s high after sprinting the 100m!

***UPDATES***

I’ve switched the settings on my blog so that anyone can comment on it – not just WordPress users. I’ve heard from a few friends that they couldn’t, so that should work now!

Also, I finally tried out substituting the oil in the black bean brownies recipe with peanut butter and it is DELICIOUS! I think it is like twice as good as it was before. The flavor kind of reminds me of those no bake PB/chocolate cookies. The batter is less liquidy and therefore bakes faster also. I love them! So, you should try them out.

Lastly, remember that ClipLight that broke after only a few runs? Well, my dad got a little crafty and managed to fix it. He used the hot glue to attach a binder clip. It now works even better! The new clip holds more tightly, so that I’m not worried about it falling off. Thanks, Dad!

oops….

before (broken)

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YAY! All fixed!

How did you realize what type of runner you are? Did you have a light bulb moment like me or just gradually figured it out – or are still figuring it out?