At the beginning of this year (2013) I was training for the Paris marathon. While training I was experiencing abdominal cramp and bouts of diarrhea during or immediately after running. These symptoms had been going on for years at a low grade level and I suppose it only became an annoying issue when I started training again for a marathon. It had been 5 years since my last marathon. In the 5 years between Dublin 2008 and Paris 2013 I learned a lot about the human body and alternative health, having spent 5 years studying to be an Osteopath, 3 years previous to that studying Physical therapy and one year studying human nutrition.
So I recognised something was wrong as I am sure most people would have. However instead of running to the doctor which a lot of people might do, I took control of the situation and implemented Hippocrates adage "let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food". When doctors take the Hippocratic oath, they leave this piece out. Why is that?
I knew the most likely suspects were either gluten or lactose both of which I was all too fond of. During late February 2013 I switched from regular milk to lactofree milk and to no surprise at all my symptoms virtually went away over night. After about 2 weeks I was running with about 80% reduction in symptoms and I felt much better day to day. 4 weeks after switching to lactofree produce I switched to soya milk and butter and it was then that the symptoms went away completely.
Sometime during those 3-4 weeks I saw a post on twitter that caught my eye. A guy who I follow who is also a runner re-tweeted a post by @RichRoll, I'd usually have scanned over this without paying it any attention but on this occasion I opened the link. It was then that my whole view on nutrition changed dramatically. It would do a great disservice to Rich Roll if I was to contextualise his message, so here is a link to his website, blog, podcast and book.
Since I was ramping up the miles on the pavement and my music list was driving me insane I needed a new audio wave and the Rich Roll Podcast came at the perfect time. Any time I was heading out for a long run I put the latest podcast onto my iPod shuffle and go. It was new content every time and the discussions were right on my wave length; nutrition, performance, long distance events, running, triathlon and disease prevention. There was a new light shining at the end of the tunnel and I liked the look of it.
I'd been off dairy over a month and the next step I took was to introduce a green juice or smoothie into my daily routine. Here is a link to what I do and what goes into each juice. I played around with that for a few weeks and the more and more I listened to Rich Roll interviewing amazing guest the more and more I learned. The more I learned the more I changed and as I changed, my habits did too.
I starting eating more raw food, carrots or cucumbers dipped in humus, bananas, raisins, seeds and nuts. I was enjoying the food and I just kept feeling better and better. I was still eating meat, fish, chicken and eggs at this point and hadn't really considered being fuelled totally by plants.
During the final few days leading up to the Paris marathon I reduced the animal products in my diet considerably and my energy surged. I was far from plant powered but it felt good. After the race I continued reading and researching nutrition, performance and disease prevention. I continued listening to podcast while running and I stumbled upon the ultrarunner podcast, it was after listening to those guys interviewing Christopher Mc Dougall that led me to read Born To Run and therefore discover the superhuman powers of Scott Jurek who in my opinion is the best runner this planet has ever produced. After finishing Born to Run I immediately read Scott's book Eat and Run. This was the tipping point that changed my whole thought process. Here were 2 guys (Rich and Scott) with enormous physical and mental strength who seemed like really nice guys (unlike most elite sports persons), they were both vegans and both doing really well in endurance sports.
The more time I spent researching these guys and their message I kept coming across the plethora of confounding facts that suggest this lifestyle is the way to health and the most likely to avoid the 2 main killers of the western world, Heart Disease and Cancer, disease of affluence. Both those disease processes along with many other western diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Crohns, Ulcerative Colitis, Rheumatoid and Osteo Arthritis (and many more inflammatory conditions), multiple sclerosis, dementia and depression seem to have a strong link to ingestion of animal products. Without trying to over simplify the message in the China study, these diseases are far more prevalent in regions that eat more animal products than those that don't. And the bell curves of the two variables follow each other remarkably close as you move from an area of low to high animal product consumption while watching amount of people suffering from those diseases.
Slowly over about 5 months I morphed into a vegan without setting out on that path. It really snow balled when leading up to the Dublin marathon I discovered Brendan Brazier's 7 day vegan challenge. It's a useful tool aimed at getting people more mindful about what they eat. I took the challenge and you can too here.
I came across Brendan Brazier and the vegan challenge while listening to @RichRoll interview @Drgarthdavis here #50. The content of this message should be curriculum in high school years, that is how you tackle the health problem.
For 15 days leading up to the Dublin marathon I ate only plants, I felt great and I really enjoyed the food. After the marathon myself and the rest of the guys in my running club went out for dinner to celebrate our achievements. I ordered some pork ribs for starters and a chicken pad thai for mains. That night I couldn't sleep, I felt like crap. For the next few days I my diet contained some animal products and my energy plumeted again, I didn't feel like exercising and my joints began to hurt.
So without ever really planning it or even contemplating that I would ever want to be a vegan, I became one.
What is a vegan?
The word Vegan comes from the first 3 letters and last 2 letters of vegetarian. Vegans don't eat animal products. That means no meat, chicken, fish, dairy, cheese or any other animal source food. The simple way to look at it is to ask a question of the food you are eating. Did this come from a source that had a face? If it did vegans don't eat it.
Why choose a vegan diet?
I chose a vegan diet because it yields enormous health benefits and reduces the risk of some of the well known killers significantly. I didn't come into this lifestyle with an animal ethics or welfare view point. However once you open that Pandora's box it is impossible to turn a blind eye to some of the practices of large scale farming. The much publicised what came before video highlights these acts.
As a primary healthcare practitioner I don't believe it is possible to consider health without balancing, nutrition, fitness and spirituality. In osteopathy we investigate the biological, psychological and social aspects of every condition before diagnosing and treating. Ignoring the animal ethics would be a contradiction for me.
Is it a boring way to eat?
I asked the same question too but once I got started I really enjoyed exploring new recipes and ways to cook food. It made me a much better cook and opened my eyes to so many tasty foods I had never eaten before. Below are some links to what I use.
No Meat Athlete recipes
Mind Body Green meal plans
My Vega meal plans
The Happy Pear videos of easy foods
How do you get enough protein?
The protein question is the most obvious question you'll get asked by people who don't understand a vegan diet, or any nutritional matters. We as a species just like all other animals don't need any specific protein in our diet. We can not ingest proteins through our intestinal wall and its a good idea that we don't. Foreign proteins would kill you in minuets. What we need and use are amino acids. Plants contain proteins just like animals only the percentage in plants is far lower and the structure of these proteins is much simpler. These simplier proteins can be dismantled far easier in our intestines and assimilated far quicker, requiring less energy and producing far less free radical damage. Animal proteins are always accompanied by saturated fats, plants are not.
The proteins in plants yield more than enough amino acids for our liver to build the proteins we need to live and thrive and if you don't believe me check these guys and girls out.
Scott Jurek ultra distance runner, winner of Western States 7 times in a row
Mac Danzig Mixed Martial Arthist and UFC fighter
James 'Lightening' Wilks UFC Champion
Brendan Brazier Ironman endurance athlete
The list is endless here
Over consumption of high protein foods accompanied by saturated fat is a guaranteed way to develop heart disease, high blood pressure and many cancers. It is for those reasons primarily that I have chosen a plant based life style.
Thanks Rich Roll.