Despite most people worrying about protein intake and low energy, Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi believes that going vegan was the best thing she ever did for her health, fitness and wellbeing. She explains how plant power has made a difference in her life.
Five years ago, I was the fittest and fastest I’ve ever been. After a couple of weeks starting a new bodybuilding programme, I was squatting well over my bodyweight, running a 21 minute 5K and sleeping better than ever. While my careful training regime undoubtedly played a role, I still believe it’s what I ate that made the difference. The change? I’d gone vegan.
Half a decade on and I might not be quite at the level I was back then (because I’m no longer on the programme), but I still feel powerful. I’ve just run my fourth marathon, still sleep like a log, feel mentally balanced and have a decent load of muscle. And again, I put it largely down to plant power.
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Veganism most definitely isn’t for everyone; I know a number of people who just couldn’t get on with it or who used to be massive advocates only to then go off the boil. One vegan influencer who was one of my main sources of inspiration in the early days went from being a regular whole foods athlete to fasting for 10, 20, 30 days at a time. Inevitably, he ended up drinking his own pee and then blamed veganism when he found that eating chicken made him feel more energised for the first time in years. Who knew?
But for me, going plant based really has made all the difference to my health and fitness. Here are the four main changes its helped me to make.
It’s forced me to get educated about nutrition
When you first go vegan, family, friends and strangers want to know about your protein intake and how you’re going to avoid dropping dead from chronic anaemia. As a runner and strength trainer, that noise becomes even louder. Every time I sneeze, my mum still insists that it’s because I don’t eat meat.
In order to make sure that I can train properly, I’ve spent the past few years educating myself about food. I know what beans, pulses and wholegrains cause bloating, how many portions of veg I should eat to feel full, which whole foods are rich in iron. I know that two medjool dates count as one portion of fruit and offer a powerful carb punch, and having quinoa instead of rice gives me more protein for my fibrous buck – especially if I add a handful of peas. For high protein breakfasts, chia puddings are great; if I’m running, overnight oats are better for immediate energy.
Before going vegan, I’d done the whole dieting cycle – including a body transformation that ended in me leaving a burger restaurant in tears. I liked my food but had no real passion for it, and had never really explored how what I ate was impacting my energy, motivation or goals. But deciding to ditch animal products meant that I had to get clued up.
I’ve found a new fitness community to be part of
Very few of my friends are vegan. In fact, I only really know one other person in real life who is plant based, but I’m part of a much bigger community online. Vegan Runners is a club for, well, vegan runners, and you see them at every Parkrun, marathon and Run Through race up and down the country in their black and green vests. While I’ve never bought the merch, I have been a member and I love how any time I’ve met a member of the club, they’re so happy to meet another vegan runner.
Online, there’s a Vegan Runners Facebook group, umpteen #veganrunner hashtags on Instagram and vegan athletes are active on Twitter. Being able to share and look at content from people who have made the same lifestyle decision is hugely motivating and comforting, especially when you see a fellow vegan smash a ridiculous PB!
I feel more connected to my environment
Choosing to live a life that does no harm really does make you more aware of your surroundings. The first time I tried out veganism, I had just got into long distance running and started venturing out of the gym and onto the roads. While that meat-free exploration only lasted about six months, the fascination with moving in nature stuck.
These days, I run, cycle and walk outside as much as possible; I’d rather cycle for 90 minutes than get on the tube. I’m hugely privileged to have the time and energy to be able to make that decision but for me, seeing nature, eating plants and moving my body all go hand in hand.
Veganism has helped me to focus on goals first, looks second
One thing that always put me off strength training was the body image part of it. It always seemed like people were looking to get super lean while building certain key muscles like the glutes and abs. I used to be one of those people – that transformation plan I was on shortly before going vegan had me on a no sugar, no gluten, no fat diet for six weeks. I looked fine by the end but I wasn’t dramatically stronger, faster or more powerful than I’d been before, and my mental health had been shot to pieces.
Going vegan forced me (accidentally) to move away from the aesthetic pressures of fitness. Because I didn’t want to drink whey protein or subscribe to ‘boiled chicken and broccoli’ eating plans, I assumed that I couldn’t hope to look the same as the influencers and PTs online. As such, I was free to make up my own rules and focus on fueling and moving how I wanted. The result? New running PBs, a regular gym regime and a commitment to active commuting that has made me mentally and physically fitter.
Find plenty of vegan recipes, nutrition tips and workout videos over on the Strong Women Training Club.
Images: author’s own
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.