Fuel with Plants: Plant-Based Nutrition for Athletes Podcast Series
Are you an endurance athlete considering adopting a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle? Or maybe you’ve already taken the plunge or have been on the plant-based train for a while but want to make sure you’re doing it right, sort through the confusion, and check the boxes, without sacrificing your performance.
Well hey. Welcome. You’re in the right place. I recently completed a multi-part education series on my podcast, In The Flow, dedicated to this exact topic and wanted to share it here.
Whether for ethical, environmental, health, or performance reasons, or a combination, many athletes are opting to adopt this style of eating. Personally, I’ve been completely vegan for nearly 7 years, primarily out of concern for animal welfare and the environment, and during that time I’ve competed at the professional level in road cycling, transitioned to gravel racing, dabbled in trail running and backcountry skiing, finished an undergrad degree in physiology and a master’s in nutrition, and more recently a post-grad in performance nutrition to become an accredited sports nutritionist. I’ve also made all the mistakes in the book during my 13 years as an endurance athlete when it comes to nutrition, and feel qualified to offer some support and guidance on the subject.
So without further ado: I present the essential guide to plant-based nutrition for endurance athletes, podcast edition.
An important caveat: this is a generalized and simplified guide meant to provide education and insights into the fundamentals of this topic. Nutrition is highly individual, complex, and filled with nuance that can’t be applied to a single article. Consider working with a qualified sports dietitian or nutritionist who is knowledgeable on the topic of plant-based nutrition. Shameless plug: I offer 1:1 nutrition coaching for endurance athletes through my company, In The Flow Nutrition.
Chapter 1: Getting Started
To kick off the series, I present an overview primer on the essentials of getting started down this path. I cover everything from the differences in the definition of vegan vs. plant-based, why eat in such a way in the first place, and the basics of what you need to start walking on the path.
Any style of eating, whether vegan or omnivorous, has many shades of healthfulness and nutritional optimization
Chapter 2: The Tenets of Sports Nutrition, Plant-Based Style
When it comes to fueling for athletic performance, there are some central tenets that are critical, regardless of what way one eats. As a sports nutritionist who believes in looking through both the evidence-informed lens and the experiential, “in the field” lens, my goal and job is to apply the science into practice by meeting the athlete where they’re at, whether they eat meat or no meat, or are self proclaimed keto or vegan.
The truth is, despite what the Gamechangers documentary may promote, we don’t have any conclusive evidence that following a plant-based diet will improve athletic performance. Anecdote ≠ evidence. However, we do have decades of sports and nutrition science to determine how best to eat for endurance performance, and we can apply that to the plant-based paradigm. Truth #2: if you’re keen on going full plant-based athlete, there certainly are some key considerations to be aware of. Let’s get it.
This second installment in the series covers the need-to-know-nutrients and how to structure your meals and day around training and competition with sample meal planning guides. I break down what you need to know about carbs and protein, iron and fiber, and the “focus foods” for any plant-based athlete.
Chapter 3: Plant-Based Nutrition FAQ
To complete the series, I recruited my friend, fellow mountain athlete, longtime vegan, and future dietitian Vic Johnson to join me in answering some of the most frequently asked questions about plant-based nutrition as it relates to athletic performance and health. We covered all the big ones: how to put together meals, where do we get our protein, iron talk, fasting, timing around exercise, fiber periodization, and tons more. We split this into two parts since we covered so much ground! Check out more from Vic on Instagram @vegantrailrunner.
Shifting towards eating more plants and fewer animals isn’t going to take you from the weekend 5k to the Olympic marathon, but it sure as heck can support you in your training and competition goals. It’s also incredibly healthy if done right, and likely the most practically environmentally friendly way to eat. If you care about the wellbeing of animals, it makes sense not to eat them if we don’t have to, and we can get everything from a nutrition perspective from the plant kingdom. This is the purpose of my podcast and the work that I do: to figure out how these things — nutrition for health and performance, environmental sustainability, and compassion towards animals — intersect and where we can find the perfect balance between them to live better. That’s In The Flow.
Jackson is an accredited sports nutritionist, coach, and passionate mountain athlete who specializes in helping plant-based athletes perform at their best. When he’s not coaching junior cross-country skiers or consulting with athletes, you can find him backcountry skiing or riding his mountain bike in Sun Valley, Idaho. Learn more at In The Flow Nutrition and subscribe to his podcast, In The Flow.