Plant based eating – my experience and thoughts.
A little bit about me first; I’m a 23 year old trail and ultra runner from East Sussex, although I split my time between the South Downs of Sussex and South Devon. I’m a dog dad, big foodie, former Royal Marine and spent a year in policing before leaving due to ethical and moral reasons which I may save for a future blog post. I started running during my medical discharge from HM Armed Forces as a way to process the trauma of a traumatic brain injury sustained during a recent military training exercise, trail walking and later running also acted as an extension of vestibular physiotherapy. A few years later I can now run 113 miles non stop, run a sub 2.50 marathon and have a number of top 5 and 10 placings in several ultra marathons – remarkably unremarkable but with stupidly big aspirations.
I was first seriously introduced to plant based eating by my now partner whom I met at beginning of 2020, at first like many I was sceptical, for I came from a family that loved summer BBQ’s and traditional fry ups – not too mentioned my recent diet in the Royal Marines, which was protein-centric above all else! We used to call it Op Massive – and boy did we live up to that. It wasn’t unusual for me to crush 4-6 eggs, bacon, sausages, copious amounts of chicken and beef all in one day, not too mention all that whey powder and cows milk – yuck. In summary, my transition into being plant based, a term I find more approachable than ‘vegan’, began unexpectedly not only for those around me but also myself. I considered it a very un macho move.
So how to approach a topic that has been beaten to a pulp? Well of course, get the hammer out and start swinging. Acknowledging the fact going plant based eating has been addressed by possibly thousands before me (likely with better writing skills too), if I can’t make this blog somewhat interesting I will at least try to keep it brief ish.
For some time my partner continued to be plant based whilst I remained in my old ways; roughly a year later as my commitment to running began to ratchet up a notch so did my curiosity in making lifestyle changes that would support my running goals. I had by this point registered for my first ultra marathon and was tackling my first proper training block. In doing so I thought, why would I commit myself to hard training sessions but not take advantage of the easy wins that simple lifestyle changes could afford me? I therefore became a student of the sport and indulged in as much material as possible; books, podcasts, academic literature, blogs and anecdotal experiences – it was all fair game. It was clear immediately, amongst the general advice of sleep more, drink less alcohol, move more, sit less, de stress and so on.. I also noticed a clear trend that the large majority of successful endurance athletes were largely plant based in their eating whether they meant to be or not, with a healthy proportion of these being entirely so. I decided one morning when training for my first ultra marathon, a 50 miler, to give plant based eating a 4 week trail – I haven’t gone back since. It certainly helped that my partner is an amazing cook and baker, I had been eating her plant based meals since we started dating and she has never pushed me into making dietary changes, but her vegan meals certainly helped as they always left me with sustained energy and without the post food commas I often experienced prior.
As my time being plant based has progressed so has my experience and research into plant based eating. I’m going to share with you some of the benefits I have come to value and my thoughts around the topic, the rest of this blog may now come across as preachy and for that I am self aware but not necessarily apologetic, because our planet is dying and peoples emotions are not more important.
I’m going to keep these arguments simple, this isn’t an essay so don’t expect any extensive academic referencing but please feel free to research to see if I am talking bollocks or not. Some of the below is anecdotal, and that’s okay – people are amazing and should be listened too irrespective of their connections to higher education and academic opportunities. I also tend to ramble on apologies (pun not intended).
Firstly let’s talk environment, for that’s why you are on “Green Runners” – simply put the meat and dairy industries pollute greenhouse gases at an unprecedented scale, including not just CO2, but also Methane which is its more potent cousin. That’s not cool. The leading causes of habitat loss and deforestation are interestedly linked to these industries. For context, to create one beef burger requires 660 gallons (674 gallons for a tiny 6oz steak) of water – an LCA study demonstrated a typical plant based alternative, The Beyond Burger, uses 99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, generates 90 percent fewer Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGE), and requires 46 percent less energy than a beef burger. And I can confirm plant based burgers are yum – with no decaying flesh involved. Using agricultural land to graze meat and diary rather than growing vegetables is grossly inefficient, it also degrades soil quality at an unsustainable level meaning the soil will no longer be productive if continually used for that purpose – not that we are running out of arable land, oh.. wait. At the moment livestock takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land, yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories. If everyone shifted to a plant-based diet we would reduce global land use for agriculture by 75%. This large reduction of agricultural land use would be possible thanks to a reduction in land used for grazing and a smaller need for land to grow crops. Plants are kinder to soil than livestock grazing, and don’t come with the feces run off problems that are plaguing our fresh water supply – I always thought that fecal smell out the car window was natural in the countryside, but it’s not – it’s in fact a sign of a major ecological dilemma that we are no closer to solving. We are struggling for both land and water, these are finite resources but we act as if the opposite were true – a mass shift towards plant based diets would go a significantly long way to solving these issues. The scientific support for plant based diets for the environment is beyond extensive at this point, for example, researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73 per cent.
Secondly let’s touch on performance, as we are runners after all. As Christopher Mcdougall put it in his best selling book, humans are ‘born to run’, and are largely plant based in doing so. In fact the best runners in human history have all largely eaten a plant based diet, with the rest of their diet being mostly vegetarian foods. From the Kenyans and Ethiopians of Eastern Africa to the Tarahumara of Mexico’s Copper Canyons – plants are king, meat is consumed on special occasions but not at all frequently, dairy intake is more frequent but almost exclusively sourced from a truly organic local source due to the lack of fresh water supply – very much unlike here in the west. Similarly Blue zones, regions of the world thought to have a higher than usual number of people live much longer than average, are also largely plant based in their eating habits alongside some locally sourced dairy and meat on rare occasions.
It is not a coincidence that almost all plant based athletes report the same anecdotal benefits; I have experienced significantly less inflammation, better sleep (20-30% more REM and no more waking up during the night!), a rise in good cholesterol alongside a decrease in the bad, reduced intake of trans and saturated fats, I’m notably leaner, stronger, can simply run quicker, for longer and recover from those sessions quicker. I have more sustained steady energy levels throughout the day meaning no more peaks and troughs or urges for mid day naps which used to be a regular occurrence for me. Finally I also no longer get colds, a survey recently found that those who did not eat animal products were 73% less likely to get seriously ill from COVID 19 – and in several studies a plant based diet was shown to be significantly more effect at reducing the chance of being hospitalised with Covid than being double jabbed – but there’s no money to be made in preventative lifestyle changes so no wonder big pharma and Boris are pushing the jabs out! I am not the only person who reports the above experiences.
A common argument for eating meat is for a complete protein source – I believed this for many years. However you can get a complete protein source from plants, in fact that’s how the animal got the protein in the first place. Cut out the middle man, and the saturated fats, high caloric density and various pro hormones often injected into the animals as well – it just makes more sense. The human body pools amino acids throughout the day, so getting a complete source of protein in every meal is not needed as long as you eat a variety of plant based sources throughout the day – this is easy to do.
When going plant based I thought that my diet would become more restrictive, but actually since making the switch my diet has grown in diversity, I now eat a significantly wider variety of foods now than ever before. Plant based eating opened a world of super tasty vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, beans, oils, plant milks and cheeky vegan alternatives – things I wouldn’t have tried before. This diversity has made me not only a better athlete but a healthier human, from a mind body and soul perspective.
Now for some common sense; humans are admittedly omnivores by nature, our stomach and digestive tract is a hybrid between that of a carnivore and herbivore. However it is evident that with time humans are shifting towards being more herbivore than carnivore if on a sliding scale, we don’t have incisers or long shaped faces like carnivores (canines are not for eating meat like commonly mis thought), and our molars are perfect for chewing plants. Our jaws are shrinking with every generation and our faces getting flatter, agains things associated with plant based eating. Think gorilla not hyena.
I also no longer understand what the appeal is behind eating the flesh of a dead animal. It’s gross. It’s weird. Simply put, I don’t think that my life is anymore important than another, whether human or not. I hate to break it to you but humans aren’t particularly special, in fact we are pretty unremarkable going by our ‘leaders’ at COP 26 or the, do as I say not what I do behaviour during the pandemic. Seriously Matt Hancock! I don’t see as to why someone else’s life should end for the sake of my enjoyment, irrespective of whether they are human or not, it’s just about being a good person. A side thought – If it wasn’t for eating meat, covid 19 would not have emerged in a Chinese meat market.
Plants don’t feel pain, but even fish have been proven to feel pain and have complex emotional behaviour. Chickens can form strong emotions, recognise faces, form social bonds and even enter the deep REM cycle of sleep – dreaming when doing so. Most cows and pigs are smarter than your average household dog. On the topic of fishing, seaspiracy is a great documentary about how fucked the oceans are due to unsustainable fishing practices, in fact, we may be out of fish by 2050 – I don’t think that a mercury ladened cod is worth the bycatch and illegal trawling practices that got it near my plate. Other documentary’s to watch include What the Health and Cowspiracy.
Processed meats are a type 3 carcinogen – you know, the cancer causing molecules. But fuck it, bacon right?
The vast majority of meat and dairy in this country come from factory farms and systems of mass exploration. Pigs tails are cut off, teeth clipped and chicken beeks are removed on an industrial scale without any pain numbing medication. I don’t know about you but as a dog dad I couldn’t imagine that happening to my dog, so why would I support an industry doing it to equally smart animals? I’m not exaggerating here for dramatic effect, these practices are RAMPANT. The dream like notion of a picturesque British farm with happy cows running around a field is a simply non existent notion when trying to feed a country of roughly 70 million people. We are also the only species that regularly drink another species milk outside of survival situations (hyenas sometimes drink the milk of dead kills in desert/arid climates – understandable they can’t exactly get water out of a tap), drinking another species milk is just plain weird. Milk contains pus and sex hormones from cows that is so substantial in quantity it has to be regulated. The mass British public also don’t seem to understand that a cow only produces milk when pregnant or recently given birth, therefore the dairy industry relies on the repeated and constant forced insemination of cows so that they are in a non stop cycle of pregnancies until premature death, each time the calf being taken away, mostly to slaughter with a ‘lucky few’ going back into the diary industry itself or very rarely to the meat industry. This is the most widespread abuse of the the female reproductive system in our planets history, so if you are a feminist you better be plant based – otherwise you’re full of shit. The same can be logically applied if you care about the environment, your health, performance or your pet.
So there’s some of my story and thoughts around being plant based – give it a try! It is what being a good human is all about, and we are rooting for you (excuse the pun).