Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Vegan?

Going into the start of ironman training on Saturday this new vegan lifestyle has an important purpose.  I wanted to write something up that explains the expected benefits and reasons behind why I made that switch.  We've had plenty of stints with vegetarianism before, usually lasting about 6 months and resulting in weight loss and a more ideal body composition.  Sometimes we just get to poor to afford to buy meat at the grocery store.  It is a great thing to cut out to save some cash.  But this time was very specific.

Being vegan means cutting out meat as well as all other animal products including dairy and eggs.  I love eggs.  Even doing the vegetarian thing I would still take in sometimes 9 eggs a day.  And for the record, as long as my body weight was in a normal range and I got plenty of exercise my cholesterol stayed at normal levels.  Every day since I was a kid I finish off with a bowl of cereal in milk about 10 pm.  As a family we used to go through a gallon of milk every day.  And don't get me started on cheese.  Lowfat colbyjack, pepperjack, and american cheese are staples in the fridge.  I also had yogurt almost every day.  These things are much harder to cut out than chicken or pork.

So why do it?
Some people go vegan for ethical reasons. They think it's wrong to kill animals just to eat them or drink the lactation of another species.  I come from a family of hunters and am squarely not in the ethics camp.  I'll gladly take the head off of that chicken for you, just don't put it on my plate please.  Farms raise animals that are meant to become tasty morsels on our dinner plates.  Say what you will about factory farms vs free range chicken, that's another debate.  I'm not going vegan for ethical reasons.

The other primary reason people choose vegan is for their health.  A vegan lifestyle has been used to correct the body's imbalances and purify or flush out things like excess body fat and impurities stored from HFCS or the chemical additives in a McDonald's hamburger.  Like in the China Study book, veganism is used to extend life spans or fight cancer.  I am a huge believer in anything that is going to keep me in optimal health for as long as possible.  So I started doing my research.

Here's my sources:
The Paradigm Diet - written by an MD in California, very medically oriented
The Thrive Diet - written by retired pro triathlete Brendan Brazier who started Vega One
Forks Over Knives - documentary covering the China study and lots of other studies. If you only take one thing from my list watch Forks Over Knives. It is amazing and eye opening.
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead - incredibly interesting study of juicing and weight loss
Food, Inc - study of farming and organics
Food Matters - incredibl documentary about farming
Freakonomics - made me shift the way I interpreted things
Eat & Run - Scott Jurek, I'm still reading this one now

My Focus
The breakdown of an ironman training plan is to workout twice a day six days a week for about 9 months.  It starts to get a bit long in the build phase.  There are two main keys to surviving this regimen, fuel and recovery.  Typical whole food vegan fare breaks down to about 80% carbs, 10% protein and 10% fat, also known as 80/10/10 or 811.  It's all fruit and veggies.

The Paradigm Diet does a really good job of explaining fuel and digestion.  The primary purpose of the book is to identify the foods that can be easily consumed, taste great, need minimal cooking or prep, and fuel up for a tough day.  It comes down to sweets, greens, beans, and seeds.  By sweets, he means fruits.  Berries, apples, bananas, etc.  The best thing about paradigm foods is that you can eat unlimited quantities, the more the better.  In fact if you can get 3000 calories a day from paradigm foods go for it.

All foods have to be liquified in the stomach before they can be absorbed.  If you find chunks of steak or mushroom floating through a blood vessel then something has gone horribly wrong.  The stomach has to produce acid that liquifies animal products, and that acid actually breaks down most of the protein anyway.  It leaves the body in a more acidic state and promotes indigestion and reflux.  Fruits and veggies get absorbed in the small intestines, carry lots of water to keep the body hydrated and tons of vitamins.  Keeping the body alkaline has lots of benefits too, including helping with fat burning.

The Thrive Diet promotes recovery.  It's a much looser stance on vegan than just paradigm foods.  Since the author was a pro triathlete he knows what it takes to train and race on plant power.  The stomach digestion stuff?  The body has to work very hard to produce all of that acid and get rid of it after the food has been broken down.  Animal products including meat eggs and dairy are very hard for the body to handle.

I don't want the body to work that hard to digest my food.  I want the body to work very hard to recover from my workouts.  All those carbs are going to give me plenty of energy to fuel the next workout.  So faster recovery times means that if I hit the bike before work, I should be totally recovered by the time I hit the pool in the evening.  Get plenty of sleep after that and I'm ready to do it all again the next day.  The extra fuel means that I can push this workout hard, and the faster recovery times means I can push the next workout even harder. 

Whole foods vegan also means nothing out of a box.  This means my beloved breakfast cereal in cow's milk is out.  Regular vegan CJ could still do cereal with almond or soy milk.  But whole foods means no dried pasta or cereal or anything processed or out of a box.  Shopping at the farmer's market time.  Tofu/tempeh is about the limit of processed that I want to do.

Kelley's in as well.  We went vegan as of Jan 1, and absolutely love it.  I love it!  Vegan meals have so much flavor.  It's all new textures, new combinations, there's nothing plain or boring at all.  And we really haven't gotten into too many salads yet.  I bring my lunch to work a lot more.  One of my favorites has to be 3 bananas and 2 apples, plus whatever other fruit we have laying around the house.  Tons of energy and hydration.  I've been working out pretty hard, and the recovery times are a lot faster.  Scott Jurek talked a lot about recovery times in Eat & Run.  And he put lots of recipes in there too. 

So if you take the best parts of Paradigm in fuel and digestion, and combine it with the recovery aspects of Thrive and Eat and Run you get my basic plan.  I want to stay healthy, happy, and awake during the entire training plan, and I really believe that a whole foods vegan approach is the best way.

The Plan
So getting my ironman finish time into the 11 hour range is going to come by volume.  There is no substitute for miles.  and miles and miles and miles.  Training for IMFL I was putting in 300 mile + months on the bike, and this time in the build phase I'm going to be staring down some 200 mile + weeks.  On the bike, volume breeds speed.  You don't put in 200 miles a week going 15 miles an hour.  It's only possible by reaching up into the 21 or 23 mph range.  In running, you can do speedwork, intervals, hill work, etc to speed up without volume.  For swimming, volume leads to a more efficient form so you end up getting in more yards per workout in the same amount of time = speed.  But on the bike miles are miles and you just have to hit the volume to get fast.  And if you do enough volume you get fast. The key is being able to keep the heart rate low.  When a zone 2 effort starts to produce 21 mph instead of 18 mph, you've got an 11 hour ironman.

Guess what maximum volume workouts take?  Patience, time, and fuel.  I'm starting Ironman training on Saturday with a very small swim/bike brick, 1000 yards in the pool and a 15 mile ride.  The 2 week warmup period is very low volume, but it will help my body get adjusted to the pattern of working out twice a day.  I'm going to tweet every workout - @SendCJToKona - just to be really annoying.  My build phase is 12 weeks.  6 of those saturdays will have 80 mile rides and the other 6 will be 100 mile rides.  That's going to take a lot of veggies to fuel those rides.  And I'm going to have to recover quickly from the bike saturdays to get in my bike run bricks on Sundays.  I'm not going to do 6 20 mile runs or anything that crazy.  But it's going to take a lot of fuel and really fast recovery to get in the volume that I'm looking for.  I really think that the vegan lifestyle is the best way to achieve that goal.


hebba said...

AWESOME!!! I've never really been able to stick to it, but i keep trying.

Amy - the gazelle said...

I think that there is a different optimal diet for everyone, and I am so glad this is working for you! (My body doesn't process plant proteins v. well, so I need to eat of the delicious animals.)

I am super interested in hearing how your training goes over the next months. I received a copy of the Thrive Diet (as well as a bunch of Vega One stuff) in the mail today, for reasons unbeknownst to me, and am interested in it.

Go You!

D.R. said...

This is awesome!! I am a pescatarian and have thought about going vegan. I really hope you will consider posting some of the things you eat, I would be very curious!

Big Daddy Diesel said...

I find it interesting to see how people tweak their training for their Ironman's after they already done one. I am going for my first this year. See you in Wilmington

Tea said...

Good luck John! I am looking forward to the tweets

Hugh Jass said...

One of the best parts of going vegan and getting my husband on board with it, is the meals we've been preparing have been incredible. Drenching your food in butter and cheese really just ruins the variety of flavors in the vegetables. And you seriously just make your own nut milk. It is sooo easy. I like to reach into the fridge and just swig straight from the jug of my pecan milk.

Karen said...

Good for you! It is so hard to make such a drastic change but it looks like you have done your research. I have recently cut back on sugars and grains which is something I never thought I could do but am already feeling the benefits.

Amber said...

Very interesting! I am planning on reading Crazy Sexy Vegan when I get back from Mexico and experimenting with it for a couple of weeks. I've been pesco-vegetarian for almost three years now and I've dabbled in veganism. I do eat a lot of dairy products though which reading the China Study and watching Forks over Knives has made me more wary of.