Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Reader Question about Weight Loss

A reader recently posted the following question:

"I am training for my second attempt at the Ford Lake Placid Iron Man in 2008. In race nutrition is what prevented me from finishing it in 2007 - I overloaded my body with calories in too short a timeframe.
I weigh more now than I did training for this years race and wondered if a Vegan diet might help me get the nutrition I need while helping me lose weight.  Thought?"

First of all, congrats for taking on an IM!  I hope your second attempt is all you want it to be.  I have a two part answer to your question about using a vegan diet to lose some weight.  It is possible to use a nutrient dense plant-based diet to lose weight while simultaneously fueling your body with the nutrients it needs while training.  That said, the key is eating nutrient dense food.  Losing weight is ultimately a matter of taking in fewer calories than you're burning, and just because food is vegan doesn't mean it'll make you lose weight.  It's possible to eat a "junk food" vegan diet, which won't help you.   The advantages of using a plant-based diet to lose weight is that if you're eating primarily whole grains, legumes, and fresh fruits and veggies, you're easily going to meet your body's needs for balanced sources of protein and carbohydrate, and (if you're preparing your foods without lots of added fats) lower your fat intake.  As CPB has pointed out on this blog before, the healthy high carb  intake is great for endurance training.  Another advantage is that the high fiber intake will help you feel full.

Some of the best books on the subject, in my opinion, are Dr. Joel Fuhrmann's Eat to Live*, Dr. Colin T. Campbell's The China Study, professional IM triathlete Brendan Brazier's The Thrive Diet, and Davis & Melina's Becoming Vegan (there's a helpful chapter for Vegan Athletes).  

Best of luck!  Keep in touch and let us know how it goes!

*A note about Eat to Live: While I recommend Furhmann's explanation of how a plant-based diet is healthy for your body, I would not recommend following his 6-week plan to the letter while training.  He's anti-snack, first of all, and I think snacks are crucial when you're in training mode.  As far as I can tell, it's the only way to get in enough calories.  His general principles, however, strike me as sound, and he provides some great recipes.


Charlie said...

I have found that being vegan helps me in controlling my weight. I am far more careful as to what I put in my body today and as a result I experiance fewer fluctuation's.
My caloric intake while training is high.

Using a vegan diet as a weight loss plan has it's dangers. I have witnessed anorexic behaviors in a couple of people close to me who used a vegan diet for this end. Couple that with Ironman training, and you're asking for trouble.

For me the motivation to become vegan began with compassion for animals. Like sports, weight loss is a fortunate by-product of the lifestyle.

As for race day nutrition, this is something that you should constantly be experimenting with while training.

Good luck in your training and nutritional decisions.

Crystal said...

I agree with Charlie on all of his points.

When I went vegan, I did lose some weight. I find that with a vegan diet, it eliminates a lot of foods that would have otherwise tempted me. This helped me (and still helps me) to make better choices of what I would eat as a treat. So even now the treats that I eat are way healthier than non-vegan treats.

I am generally of the opinion that health is more important than losing weight. So if becoming more healthy by choosing a vegan diet coincides with losing weight, then it's probably a good fit.

Good luck with Ironman - it is a long, but worthwhile journey!

Veg*Triathlete said...

I think it's important to note that eating disorders are not attributed to veganism specifically. That's a really negative stereotype. While it may be true that some people with eating disorders find a way to use veganism as a cover for filtering out food groups from their diet, veganism itself is not going to pose a "danger."