Stacey Margaret Jones: The Vegan Athlete?


Vegan athlete Photo


I grew up with a mother who was knowledgeable and careful about our food. My parents maintained a huge garden, and every summer they realized heaping harvests of tomatoes, corn, green beans, potatoes, turnips, peas, strawberries, lettuce, radishes, zucchini and rhubarb, among others. They would spend days canning and freezing what we couldn’t eat so we could have the most local food possible all year around.

Most of our meals included at least one home-grown food, and my thoughtful mom always prepared an animal protein, a starch, a green veggie and a dessert, which was often fruit. We didn’t keep soda (sugar or otherwise) in our house and had very little junk food. If I went with my mom to the grocery store, Harvey’s Jack & Jill “uptown” in De Smet, S.D., I was allowed to choose one junky item, like Lucky Charms, or a single can of Orange Crush.

This is all to say that I come by my attention to food honestly, and perhaps my slow and halting journey into veganism is inevitable in a woman raised to choose what she eats carefully by another woman who attributes many of life’s ills to poor diet and nutrition choices. (Every time I had a nightmare, Mother would ask me in the morning, “What did you eat before you went to bed?”)

A plant-based diet is an interesting proposition for an athlete at any level, because there is a common belief that the restrictiveness will not provide enough variety and the right kind of calories for those who spend hours and hours each week working out.

But as I’ve become more observant and aware of the relationship between diet and physical performance, I’ve noticed how many “hard-core” athletes are vegan. They not only have enough energy to train, but also to win.

One ultramarathoner profiled on Forks Over Knives became a success in the World Ultra Marathon Championships recently after turning 40 and finding himself winded just from climbing the stairs. He began working out and changed his diet to one that is whole-foods and plant-based.

Though we do not aspire to ultra-marathoning, my husband and I have committed to seven straight days of vegan eating this week. Monday through Sunday it’s all plants, all the time for us. He actually agreed to it more quickly than I thought he would, but he already follows a low-fat diet pretty strictly. Also, I promised I would take care of stocking the kitchen and cooking the meals – a big incentive for the man who does at least half the cooking and almost all the shopping in our house.

It’s the fourth day, and we’re both enjoying it, feeling good, and eating well. We put the pumpkins, butternut squash and spaghetti squash from our locally grown co-op to good use in multiple iterations, and the kale has been in his lunchtime salads and my green smoothies. We traded out his skim milk for soy milk on his cereal and he skipped the turkey bacon all week. As a reward for sticking with it, I’m going to make him a quinoa-tofu-kale scramble on Friday. We’re even having two dinner parties this week, and I’ve designed completely vegan menus of multiple courses that aren’t just salad after salad after salad.

How is our energy? Jay walks the dogs each morning on a brisk 1.5-mile loop, and he said he’s felt good, energetic and ready to go, maybe not more energetic than usual, but certainly not less. I’ve been sidelined in my running somewhat by a knee issue, but I’ve had more energy and zeal for the workouts I can do than ever. I also just feel better after eating – not so weighed down and “greasy” as I might when I eat animal fats.

This experiment has also opened our eyes to how delicious our food can be and how many options there are without animal-based foods to choose from. Do you know how delicious fried leeks are? I didn’t either until yesterday.

I suspect that Monday morning, the turkey bacon will be back on my husband’s plate, and I may have an egg or two next week, and maybe even a hamburger made with beef, but I can see that veganism is where I’m ultimately headed. As my miles increase for my winter running, I’ll really be able to test the sustainability of that lifestyle more fully.

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, Google “vegan athletes,” and let me know if you need any good recipes.

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