Monthly Archives: May 2013

Veganism and running

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I  have been a vegetarian for 14 years, and a vegan, on and off for about 6. I’ve been a vegan for about 6 months now. Before this for about 2 years I was an ovo-vegetarian, eating vegan most of the time except for eggs. Sometimes I would eat vegan for a month or two during this time period.

Besides this, I have always been an avid runner, even before I became vegetarian. By nature, I am a shy, very reclusive person, so I’ve had little interest in races, marathons or running clubs. This may change soon. I’ve been a joggler for only a few years, and I believe it has improved my running.

But has my vegan diet improved my running ability? As far as I can tell, no, except that I am slimmer as a result which means less weight to carry around. Many people I know kept claiming I would soon die from protein or iron deficiency. I never expected any miracles as a result of my diet. Most athletes are omnivores, and there doesn’t seem to be a strong correlation between athletic ability and vegetarianism in professional athletics.

Sure there are some great athletes who are vegetarian or vegan, like Fauja Singh, but to what extent is their success due to their vegetarianism? Some will claim it does give them an advantage, but how exactly? Does it help with recovery? I think in virtually all cases they would be just as successful if they weren’t vegetarian, and I have a pro-vegetarian bias.

Which brings me to this new article: Does being vegan affect your running performance?

He brings an interesting perspective and mentions Scott Jurek, vegan ultra-marathoner who holds the U.S 24 hour running record. Here is an article by Jurek about his amazing running accomplishments:

Ultramarathon running: How a vegan diet helped me run 100 miles.

So it turns out, an athlete, even one who trains up to eight hours a day, can do just fine with a plant-based diet. It also turns out that spending a little more time and money to eat healthy is incredibly cost effective; I think of a plant based diet as essentially the cheapest health insurance around. Being vegan wasn’t a matter of subtraction, but addition. I discovered foods I had never known existed and experienced flavors and textures I had never imagined. Have you ever tasted a juicy lentil mushroom burger, or a savory bowl of veggie chili? If not, you should.

While he does credit his vegan diet for his accomplishments, this isn’t very scientific. Regardless, even if a vegan diet doesn’t help you run faster, it’s far healthier than the way most Americans eat. And eating healthier can certainly improve your athletic ability, though you need not eat a vegan diet to become healthier. A vegetarian diet that minimizes consumption of animal foods like dairy and eggs is about as beneficial as a vegan diet.

Joggling across the Brooklyn Bridge

Last week, I joggled across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn for the first time on a slightly warm, sunny day. I didn’t blog about this earlier because I was hoping some good photos that were taken that day(not by me, but by the many people on the bridge) would surface, but unfortunately this hasn’t happened.

Since the span of the Brooklyn Bridge is a little over 1.1 miles, this is by no means a great athletic achievement, though it felt amazing since this was the first time I joggled from one New York City borough to another. The views and the crowd support were priceless. I’m sure other jogglers have done this before.

I kept thinking I was going to drop the balls due to the crowds, the cyclists, the noise from the cars, the occasional beautiful woman, and the temptation to keep spinning(I did this a few times) around to see the Manhattan skyline, but no, I didn’t drop any of the balls even once. The incline toward the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t much of a challenge if you’re an experienced runner, though it did tire me a little. The wind was light to moderate.

I mostly ran on the bike path(or the line between the bike path and pedestrian path) of the walkway, since this was mostly clear, while the path for pedestrians was very crowded. I had to maneuver my way around a lot of tourists and occasionally some slow cyclists on the bike path, shocking many people as I zoomed by, but eventually made it to downtown Brooklyn in one piece where I took a break due to all the traffic and because my throat suddenly became very sore. It may have been due to all the traffic on the bridge and because my lungs aren’t used to running in the city(I mostly joggle in the suburbs or wilderness areas). On the bridge I only had to slow down just twice due to the crowds, but did my usual speed almost the entire way across.

I resumed joggling along the Brooklyn waterfront, and almost fell in the water a few times. You can get amazing views of the lower Manhattan skyline from here, especially the new Freedom Tower, which is nearly completed. This is the skyscraper that is on the former World Trade Center site, so it’s nice to see we have made a comeback from that dark, horrific day on september 11, 2001. I mostly enjoyed running around there, in spite of my throat, and memories of that day.

After another short break, in which I just power-walked instead of running or joggling, my throat felt better. I made my way along Atlantic avenue and many side streets to Parkslope and then to Prospect Park, joggling about half way there, dropping the balls a couple of times, coughing occasionally, then taking a few water breaks since I was sweating a lot and to help relieve my scratchy throat.

Prospect Park is basically Brooklyn’s Central Park, and I joggled around the entire main running path which forms a big circle around the entire park, then had lunch in a shady spot. After this, I explored Parkslope for a bit before heading home. Like Central Park, Prospect Park is full of runners and cyclists(and weirdos and muggers), including some barefoot runners, more than I see up in the suburbs. Many people were amazed by the joggling, especially because I was running faster than usual, though it isn’t all that new to Brooklyn or New York City. The kids down there love it, and I loved their Brooklyn accents.

So yes, you can joggle across the Brooklyn Bridge if you’re an experienced joggler, and it is not too crowded. It is likely much easier on a weekday(I did this on a thursday) than during the weekend. And Parkslope looks like a great neighborhood to be a vegan. The sore throat was likely due to pollution, and was gone after a few days. Luckily, it didn’t interfere with my running all that much while I had it.

Grapes versus blueberries for health

Not all fruit was created equal. Some are simply better than others when it comes to health benefits or exercise recovery. Generally, it seems the darker the fruit(or vegetable for that matter), the more beneficial. Hence the superiority of cherries and blueberries over grapes. Let’s see what the science has to say.

According to the Dept. of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, in the study Grape Consumption’s Effects on Fitness, Muscle Injury, Mood, and Perceived Health:

Six weeks of supplemental grape consumption by recreationally active young adults has no effect on VO2max, work capacity, mood, perceived health status, inflammation, pain, or physical-function responses to a mild injury induced by eccentric exercise.

This doesn’t mean that grapes are bad, just that they aren’t among the better fruits. Let’s see what the science says for blueberries. The Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damagein the J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9: 19 found that:

Results

A significant (p < 0.001) decrease in isometric, concentric and eccentric torque was observed 12 hours following exercise in both treatment groups. During the 60 hour recovery period, a significant (p = 0.047) interaction effect was seen for peak isometric tension suggesting a faster rate of recovery in the blueberry intervention group. A similar trend was observed for concentric and eccentric strength. An increase in oxidative stress and inflammatory biomarkers was also observed in both treatment groups following EIMD. Although a faster rate of decrease in oxidative stress was observed in the blueberry group, it was not significant (p < 0.05) until 36 hours post-exercise and interestingly coincided with a gradual increase in plasma antioxidant capacity, whereas biomarkers for inflammation were still elevated after 60 hours recovery.

Conclusions

This study demonstrates that the ingestion of a blueberry smoothie prior to and after EIMD accelerates recovery of muscle peak isometric strength. This effect, although independent of the beverage’s inherent antioxidant capacity, appears to involve an up-regulation of adaptive processes, i.e. endogenous antioxidant processes, activated by the combined actions of the eccentric exercise and blueberry consumption. These findings may benefit the sporting community who should consider dietary interventions that specifically target health and performance adaptation.

Impressive. I’ll stick to eating blueberries instead of grapes for exercise recovery and for general health.