On switching to a plant-based diet in 1999: "My blood pressure and triglyceride levels dropped to all-time lows, my HDL, 'good cholesterol', shot up to an all-time high.
I had virtually no joint inflammation, even after miles of pounding trails and roads, and on the rare occasions I sprained an ankle or fell and whacked my elbow or knee, the soreness left faster than it ever had before.
I was running in the morning, working eight-to 10-hour days, then running 10 miles in the evening—yet I woke up with more energy every day.
Was it the fiber that sped food through my digestive tract, minimizing the impact of toxins? Was it the food I was adding--the vitamins and minerals, the lycopene, lutein, beta carotene? Or was it what I wasn't eating?
"I wasn't sure of the answer, but I had never felt better.
On training: "I learned patience while doing tedious tasks, but more important, I learned to find joy in repetitive physically demanding work.
Scott's disciplinarian Dad repeatedly told him, "Sometimes you just do things! There is no free lunch!"
-"Eat and Run, My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness," by Scott Jurek-
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Plant Power to Fuel 135 Mile Runs? You Betcha!
"I'm a serious vegan. (I usually avoid that word; to many people it connotes a certain crabby, self-righteous zealousness.)
And I'm a serious athlete. But, I won't starve for my principles.
To my delight, subtracting some things from my diet actually allowed me to discover incredible and delicious new foods. My new diet included fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts and seeds, and soy products like miso, tofu, and tempeh.
I was blown away by the bounty of Japanese sea vegetables, that I discovered when I later raced in that country, the simplicity of a homemade corn tortilla, and the complexity of Thai red curry."
If Scott Jurek can run insane ultramarathons, all powered by plants--you can bet I wanted to know more!
I can't fathom the strength & endurance needed to run for 25 hours straight, covering 135 miles through blazing hot Death Valley, California and then climbing up a total elevation of 13,000 feet to reach Mt. Whitney. Crazy, huh?
Here's how I look at it. If 38 year-old world-class ultramarathoner, Scott Jurek, has been winning grueling trail races since 1999-- all fueled by a plant-based diet, I definitely want to know more about "how that's working for him".
Lucky me. Two weeks ago I had a chance to ask Scott all the questions I still had, after reading his book. Too bad I only had 40 minutes to "power-quiz" the poor guy. I only got through half of my questions. Admittedly, I was a little nervous about talking to Scott--but his humility and enthusiasm instantly chilled me out. What a mensch he is! I was very impressed.
Scott Jurek is in a perfect position to test out how well a plant-based diet compares to the standard American Diet--putting the diet to the hardest test of all--grueling 100 mile+ ultramarathons.
He didn't start out as a plant-based believer back in the late 1990's--and he had plenty of concerns about getting enough protein, just like all the rest of us. He's a former hunter & fisherman, who used to live on typical Western meals--pizza, double McChicken sandwiches & extra-large fries. He competed first, as a meat-eater, before slowly switching it up to plant-based. It took him about 2 to 3 years to test out his "food as fuel" theories. And he's never looked back.
Jurek based his diet switch on research, backed up by his own-evidence-based experiences. He was his own running-Lab Rat--testing which fuel would be the winning formula. And having a degree in physical therapy gives his n=1 experiment a little more credibility. He knows something about treating injuries, diet, & the speed of recovery.
Bottom line, here's what motivated Jurek to switch to plants:
"What Jurek realized during his remarkable winning streak is that eating vegan allowed his muscles to heal faster between training sessions, a discovery that in turn allowed him to train more.
'On race day everyone is looking for the magic bullet, but it really comes down to training harder. If you can bounce back faster, you can train more,' said Jurek.
[His] results aren't backed by any significant studies, but his theory is sound. Extreme exercise inflames muscles and builds up free radicals that lead to what's known as exercise-induced oxidative stress.
High-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables are rich in naturally occuring antioxidant vitamins minerals, carotenoids, and flavonoids, which help limit inflammation in [the body, and in the] arteries. Animal fat, on the other hand, is pro-inflammatory..." (From Men's Journal, Kevin Gray, "The Power Vegans" October 2010)
And don't miss this link to the Men's Journal Guide to Going Vegan that includes the "ground rules", what to expect, a shopping list, and some of Scott Jurek's recipes, click here.
Jurek on staying healthy while training hard:
"Years of eating plants had convinced me that the best way to get well and to stay well was to eat simply and to avoid processed foods whenever possible.
After my epiphany in my first (physical therapy) internship with an old man and his hospital food, I tried to treat injuries and illness with natural remedies whenever possible.
Food was my medicine. I even avoided anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, which other long-distance runners gobbled by the handful. I thought it masked pain so much that I might risk serious injury by running when I shouldn't.
I had also heard too many stories of runners taking so much ibuprofen that they damaged their kidneys. It was a classic case of treating symptoms, of wanting the quick fix. It was, in many ways, typical Western medicine.
For Jurek's Strawburst Anti-Inflammatory Smoothie click here
I haven't tried it yet--but, I know this will be the perfect smoothie for the Lab Rat to test out after his next long run.
Toughness Training - Starting at Age Nine
If you want to understand what drives ultrarunner Scott Jurek--and enables him to win grueling long distance races, that would be impossible for mere mortals--you have to understand his difficult disciplined childhood. That's where Jurek got his basic training.
Scott was nine years old when his mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. With his father working two jobs just to make ends meet, at a young age Scott was expected to take over the daily cooking chores, mow the lawn, pull the weeds, stack the wood, keep an eye on his younger brother or sister, as well as keep a close watch over his mom. And still do well in school. He even made valedictorian of his high school class! There wasn't time nor money for luxuries, like after-school sports.
I was so excited to receive an advanced copy of "Eat & Run" & it hooked me right from the start--even though sports memoirs aren't my go-to-sort-of-book.
The Lab Rat, a long-time runner & a three-time ultramarathoner, gobbled the book up in one giant gulp--enjoying Scott's philosophical-meditation leanings, his training & diet advice, & and his "survival war stories": vomiting from the extreme heat of the Death Valley race, or running with a sprained ankle and swollen broken toe. Guys eat that stuff up!
The Hardrock Ultra: As least one sleepless night and usually two waist-deep river crossings. Harrowing exposure to heights, fixed ropes, and steps cut into snowfields, tundra, and rock, hopping cross-country where no trail exists, and scree fields that crumble under you feet as you spin in place. (H.L.: told you this was grueling stuff)
Inspiration. Adventure. Food. Training Tips.
Photo: Runner's World June 2012
You don't have to be a runner to enjoy "Eat and Run". I'm not--and I did!
Jurek offers easy-to-follow tips on exercise for rank beginners, like getting starting, finding the time, sticking it out, stretching, posture, breathing, getting enough protein, and getting enough calories--along with his favorite trail-tested recipes that keep him fueled and winning races.
Jurek started cooking at age nine. He knows his way around a kitchen & judging by his recipes--the guy seriously cares about how food tastes! My kind of guy.
- Lentil-Mushroom Burgers. Jurek says, "These are as delicious as they come!"
- Apple-Cinnamon Granola
- Long Run Pizza Bread
- "Buttery" Omega Popcorn
- Green Power Pre-Workout Drink
- Minnesota Winter Chili. Says Jurek, "The night I tasted this chili is the night I decided I could be a happy athletic vegetarian."
- 8-Grain Strawberry Pancakes
- Western States Trail "Cheese" Spread. Spread on Ezekiel 4:9 Bread this a great source of carbohydrates and protein. Tahini give the "cheese" a bite.
- Chocolate Adzuki Bars. "If you're going to eat a moist, sweet dessert on the run, this one is ideal." Carbs & protein.
- Indonesian Cabbage Salad with Red Curry Almond Sauce
- Tamari-Lime Tempeh and Brown Rice
- Coco Rizo Cooler--a thick homemade sweetened coconut-flavored rice milk with chia. Drink before, during, or after exercise. It sounds delicious.
- Holy Moly Guacamole. Served on warmed corn tortillas--not chips.
- Pre-Run Incan Porridge--made with quinoa, almond milk, pears or bananas, coconut flakes & spices
- Kalamata Hummus Trail Wrap--"on the run food"
- Carob Chia Pudding--silken tofu, chia, miso, maple syrup, carob/cocoa, & vanilla
- Smoky Chipotle Refried Beans--Jurek uses Kombu seaweed & dried epazote to make the beans more digestible
- Salsa Verde
- Xocolatl Energy Balls--WOW! Raw cacao, cashews, dates, mesquite powder, red pepper & more!!! Yum!
- Rice Balls (Onigiri) Perfect running fuel in the heat. Sushi rice, miso, nori seaweed. Jurek's a big fan of these.
The Healthy Librarian & Scott Jurek Dish about Plant-Based Fuel
1. Your parents & your hard-working childhood/adolescence shaped your character in such positive ways---but, did your mom’s multiple sclerosis or your dad’s later health problems influence your move towards a healthy lifestyle--running & a plant-based diet?
My mom’s illness--MS had a major impact on my decision to exercise, eat right, & train to be a physical therapist. “Living with a chronic disease in the family does one of 2 things---you either run away from the idea that you have the power to change your health--or you do everything you can to make sure you can stay healthy. Reading Andrew Weil’s “Spontaneous Healing” had a profound influence on me. I realized we have the power of good health in our own hands. Then, reading Howard Lyman’s (The Mad Cowboy) book completely changed my mind about meat. If a Montana cattle rancher can stop eating meat --& knew the evils of factory-farming--then certainly even I could stop.
2. I've got lots of food questions for you. Favorite soy yogurt? Is your tofu sprouted? Do you eat seitan? Do you buy the new-on-the-market sprouted grains? Do you choose the whole grains like wheatberrries over whole grained flours? In your book you talk about grinding your own grains for the flour in your pancakes. Tell me more.
I'm a fan of Wildwood & Whole Soy yogurts--but for taste I prefer So Delicious Coconut yogurt, and now So Delicious has just come out with (So Delicious) a new almond Greek-style yogurt. (HL: we just sampled it in St. Louis & it's really good--but it has too much sugar for my taste. Too bad it doesn't come "plain".)
I don't drink soy milk anymore since I already get plenty of soy from tempeh, tofu, & miso. I stick to traditional whole soy products, & avoid as much as possible isolated soy protein, although I'm not crazy rigid about all of this. I'm not a big fan of seitan--I'll eat it mostly in vegan restaurants--but, I don’t cook with it myself. It's meat-like texture does make it a good transition food for someone starting out, though. I'm just not a fan of faux meats.
I eat all kinds of grains. When it comes to using flour, though, I do like to (when possible) grind my own with a grain grinder. It’s fresher, and I learned about using a grain grinder when I was in Europe. But, like with everything, I'm not extreme about food. I'll eat whole grain packaged flours, too, when it's more convenient to do so.
3. How do you refuel right after a run?
With real food! It's very easy to do. Just do it within 20-30 minutes of exercising to get the most benefits. I try to be sure that 10-15%, or sometimes up to 20%, of it is protein. The rest of it, should be carbohydrates. It's really very easy. I'll eat some tempeh & rice or bananas or potatoes. Just real foods. Mostly carbs--some protein.
4. Would protein requirements be different if you were weight-lifting---or do you need the same amount for weight-training as you do for endurance sports? Advice? One of my sons is convinced he needs more protein after lifting weights.
The protein requirements for weight-lifters aren't that much higher than they are for runners or the endurance sports. Maybe slightly higher protein requirements, over the 10-15% protein that I consume--but, nothing like you see going on in the gyms. What you really need is to eat more calories---it’s not about the protein. It's all about the calorie count--and that’s what you see in the vegan ultra-fighters & boxers--it’s calories. If you consume enough calories--you'll get enough protein.
5. As a trained physical therapist--not as Scott Jurek, ultrarunner whose in the middle of a big race---is it wise to run on a sprained ankle, a broken toe, as you've done in some races?
I've learned to read my body--weigh the pros & cons of whether or not it’s something that is fine to run through--or something that will cause more damage if I run through it. I'm definitely smart about it. Yes, I've run in air casts and splints, but, only when I knew it wouldn't make things worse.
6. What’s your body barometer that tells you you’ve over-trained--or need more rest? A cold? Crankiness? Poor sleep quality?
After all these years I can read what my body is telling me--I know when I need a rest & I dial it down. I have no problem listening to my body & taking a day off, if I need it. That’s entirely different than believing the false “siren song” of your brain that says, “Take a break, stay in bed, stay home, relax--why work so hard?" You have to know the difference!
7. When you travel & you know there won’t be any big stores with all your usual must-have foods---what’s on your MUST PACK list? What do you take to eat on the plane?
I'm moving more toward figuring out how to adapt to airport food that's healthy, instead of needing to bring all kinds of special foods with me. I'm working toward making it easier to be a vegan. It should be user-friendly. If more people are going to eat this way--I'd like to show them how they can do it anywhere--easily, without too much work. But, I always brings protein powder with me. I make my own "blend" by mixing up brown rice & a legume protein powders--I don't buy the "pre-mixed combos". These days I use NOW brand Pea Protein for the legume & Nutribiotic brand Brown Rice protein. They are easy to find in most health food stores. I also bring along dehydrated hummus--which is also easy to find in bulk or even packaged at Safeway. It's a terrific, easy-to-take-along product. You just add water if that’s all you have. You don't even need the tahini. I often bring some kind of energy bars along, too--but it’s hard to find really good ones that aren't loaded with ingredients I'd rather not eat.
8. I know you use chia--is it something you eat everyday?
Yes, I really like & use chia often--but not necessarily daily. I love its texture & all the omega-3’s. But, it's funny--even though many people were first introduced to chia in Christopher McDougall's "Born to Run", I didn’t really see it used much when I was in the Copper Canyon of Mexico.
9. Tell me about Udo’s Oil? I know you're a big fan of the 3-6-9 oil. Why the need for Omega-6 & Omega-9 when they’re so abundant in your diet, already?
Honestly, I first learned about it by seeing it on the shelf at a health food store. It just makes it easier for me to not have to worry about getting enough of the essential fatty acids. I take 3 TBS a day of Udo’s 3-6-9 I've read the research that Udo Erasmus based his formula on--it’s packaged so no light can get through it--it’s refrigerated--and it’s date stamped. I trust the careful quality control that's involved in this product. I've seen some athletes not do well when they aren’t getting enough fat in their diet. Plus, taking Udo’s oil helps me to get more calories--and the right oils into my diet.
10. What about nuts? Any concern about their high levels of omega-6's?
I eat them for calories & protein. I'm not concerned about the omega-6s that come from nuts, as opposed to those that are in processed oils--which I strictly avoid. The omega-6's in nuts aren’t heated, or chemically extracted as they are in most seed oils. They aren't producing free-radicals. And with all the energy I burn during training--I need the extra calories. I make a big effort to include enough calorie-dense foods in my diet--nuts & nut butters, seeds, avocados, starchy root vegetables, coconut milk, and oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and sesame oil.
11. What do you think about the top four doctors who write about the benefits of a plant-based diet? Namely, Drs. Esselstyn, Campbell, McDougall, & Fuhrman.
I've read many of their books and I respect them all. I've testified before Congress with Dr. T. Colin Campbell and I've done plant-based promotional work with Dr. Neal Barnard & the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. I'm not a strict follower of anyone in particular--I do my own diet tweaking--and experiment with what works best for me.
12. Do you limit your oil intake to coconut, Udo’s, & olive oil?
I use coconut oil mostly when I'm cooking at high temperatures, because it’s more stable, and in spite of its saturated fat, it appears to not be of any harm. Most of the research on coconut oil shows it to be mostly neutral--not harmful nor particularly beneficial. (H.L.: Dr. Chris Gardner of Stanford University would agree with him--and clearly Scott doesn’t need to worry about the calories he's getting from the small amount of coconut oil he's using.)
13. Are you still changing or altering your perspective on diet and training?
I'm moving away from the rigidity of bringing everything with me when I travel and I'm enjoying the challenge of “how to make this work” wherever I am, whether it's in an airport or in some remote locale. These days I'm thinking, "How can I get by with what I have “here”'? I don’t want to make this “extreme dieting”. I really want to show people that a plant-based diet can be user-friendly for everyone.
14. What do you fuel with before, during, or after a race? What are the easy-to-absorb fueling foods that you take with you on your long runs? Do you use the gels or chomps?
During a run I use gels, like Clif Shots--but, I'm moving toward packing real food with me on my runs. Of course, further into the race, I definitely don’t want the real food--it's just too hard to eat. But, early on, I likes to bring beans & rice burritos, or hummus wraps. Those rice balls work well, too.
15. What do you see yourself doing at age 60?
I don’t see myself running many ultras at age 60--but, I’ll be jumping in now & again. Popping into races. I see myself as healthy, fit, enjoying life, and being an example to others--how you can age well if you start early to live a healthy lifestyle--instead of waiting until you get too old, or sick. Yes, I see myself still running--but not the grueling kinds of competitions I'm currently running in.
16. What do you say to people who ask you if you can get enough protein just from plants?
Here are a few tricks: In my breakfast smoothie, I add some nuts and a hit of plant-based protein powder (brown rice, hemp, pea, or fermented soy protein).
For breakfast I'll have a grain source, like sprouted whole-grain toast with nut butter or sprouted grain cereal or porridge.
For lunch I always eat a huge raw salad--I love Lacinato kale--and I'll up the protein content with a soy product (tempeh, tofu, or edamame), a big scoop of hummus, or maybe some leftover cooked grain like quinoa.
For dinner, it might be beans and whole grains, maybe some whole-grain pasta. If I didn't have soy for lunch, I might have it with dinner.
For snacks I'll have Clif Bars and trail mix throughout the day and some soy-or nut-based vegan desserts--and I get more than enough protein to maintain my muscle tone and help my body recover.
I stick to traditional soy foods, like tempeh, miso, and sprouted tofu--which are all more digestible and have less phytoestrogen than isolted soy protein.
I prefer sprouted-grain breads & tortillas--and when I'm at home, I soak my whole grains & beans before cooking, to help breakdown the indigestible cellulose in plant celll walls.
Average total calories consumed when Jurek is training: 5,500
Average total protein consumed: 80 grams
A big thank-you to Christina Mamangakis for the advance copy of Eat and Run, and especially to Scott Jurek for the generous time you spent patiently answering all my questions!
The interview was a delight and I learned so much!
If you have a chance--I know you'll enjoy Scott's book.
I hope you all found Scott's story & the interview as interesting & helpful as I did.
For many of you who are on the Esselstyn diet, I'm sure you're surprised by Scott's consumption of nuts, seeds, & oils--but, he's been eating "clean" since he's been 25 years old, and he's a life-long exerciser. He burns calories like it's no tomorrow. His diet can't be compared to that of someone who's eaten a Western diet for most of their life, is overweight, doesn't exercise much, has the beginnings of heart disease, hypertension, and is perhaps pre-diabetic. Jurek's a fuel-burning machine! Just saying....