Vegan diet: Scott Jurek’s secret weapon?

Right after the new year, I received a review copy of a book by a fellow extreme endurance athlete, and although there was a lot to love about it, what stopped me in my tracks was the author’s insistence that a vegan diet was the secret to his success.

Honestly, just the mention of tofu makes me crave a steak.

Anyway, no, it wasn’t Scott Jurek‘s book, which comes out this spring. It was one by a lesser known and less accomplished athlete. But it got me thinking again about how much runners tend to seek out the silver bullet and how quick we are to seize on diet as the answer.

So let’s dismiss that first illusion: “If I could just do/eat/think this ONE THING, it would make me a monster. I’d crush my old records and stomp the competition.” True, there are a few elements of form and some nutrition facts that, if you don’t follow them, tend to hold you back. When you fix and follow them, then your performance tends to improve. (Indisputably, hydration is crucial, for example, as performance suffers the most when you don’t hydrate and use sodium to balance fluid retention — easy enough to fix, right? Proper shoes make a difference too, despite the current affection for “barefoot” running. A topic for another day, perhaps.)

But what sets apart the superstars, the Scott Jureks and the rest, isn’t that “one thing.” It’s all about training and talent. Hard work and good genes. That ain’t news, and it ain’t sexy, I know. But it’s the truth.

Which leads me to the second illusion, that food is the be-all and end-all of performance. Discipline yourself to train well and work hard, and it doesn’t matter all that much what you eat. Crazy talk? Maybe. But I’ve always subscribed to something I call the “incinerator theory,” which posits: when you work the body hard enough, it will burn any kind of fuel you give it.

Okay, okay. Please don’t write to me about cholesterol and digestive issues and food sensitivities. These are important to consider in some cases, not all. Sure, I have high cholesterol, but then so does my good friend who’s also a highly accomplished endurance athlete as well as a vegetarian. And no, I don’t have digestive problems — I’m blessed with an iron gut — so I don’t have to worry about how foods will affect me. Some people do. I get that.

So let’s accept that genetics and predispositions make dietary choices highly individual.

There are some things we all share, including ancestors who developed large brains mainly because they had access to animal protein. In short, when we no longer needed the bigger belly of an herbivore, we got smarter. Being an omnivore is part of what makes us human, what put us at the top of the food chain. It’s a privilege to be able to eat whatever we like, especially pork chile verde burritos.

If someone’s a vegan or vegetarian because they object to the way we raise or butcher livestock, that’s one thing. But if you’ve given up meat because you think it will make you run stronger or longer, think again. There’s simply no evidence of this.

My personal dietary theory is based entirely on listening to my body and letting it direct me to foods that will sustain me during long (5- to 50-day) endurance events. Our old Eco-Challenge teams would sometimes go for days with water but no food, burning body fat and doing well. To be frank, during my 9000-calorie-per-day, 52-day, 3,063-mile run across the U.S., I’m sure I couldn’t have made it without listening to what my body was telling me to eat. I lost a grand total of four pounds during that endeavor, so I’m pretty sure I was doing something right.

Normally, I have a simple, balanced diet with limited fats, more protein than most, and limited carbs. During endurance events, it can be kind of bizarre, and when I climbed Mt. Everest, it was perhaps stranger still, higher in fat and protein than at any other time in my life.

My point is not that you shouldn’t try a vegetarian or vegan diet if you feel drawn to that. Most of the elite runners I know, including me, have given it a whirl at one time. But I counsel you to pay attention to what’s working and what isn’t, to listen to your instincts and be aware. Just because someone else says it’s their secret weapon, don’t assume it’s the best for everyone including you. Circumstances, environment, and genetics all matter.

So for the vegan badasses like Jurek, who eat their competition for breakfast instead of bacon and eggs, I have to wonder what might change if they had a steak every now and again.

What about you? Are you a vegetarian or vegan runner? If you aren’t, would you try it because of the success of some endurance athletes? If so, why? If not, why not?

Postscript, added 2/6/12: Thank you to everyone who has commented, including my good buddy, Terri Schneider, who was prompted to write about her passion for the pork chop in her blog. Folks, I don’t profess to know all the answers, but experience and 30 years of practical running, including 13 years of racing more than 1,000 miles per year with an additional 2,000 or 3,000 miles training, just leaves me suspicious of “miracle diets.” In no way did I say that animal protein is the only suitable protein; neither should someone urge that a vegan or vegetarian diet is the only way to be successful in races–or healthy, for that matter. Whenever we present ourselves as “experts,” it’s especially crucial that we are accurate and look at both sides. No one can argue with Jurek’s success. But we can agree to disagree about his dietary choice as the best solution for all runners.

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73 Responses to Vegan diet: Scott Jurek’s secret weapon?

  1. Andy says:

    Good post!

    I’m constantly experimenting and refining my diet for performance and health. I don’t have an iron gut. A lot of animal foods leave me feeling sick and awful. I eat most of my food raw – mostly fruit and vegetables. I like fish and try to eat a little each week. Can’t do dairy and even wheat (gluten), corn and especially not soy. Occasionally I’ll eat a bit of duck, turkey or chicken. Even more occasionally I’ll have some red meat, but that ends up being a bad idea according to my digestion later. I keep trying to eat the foods that make me perform well, both on the trail and in class (working on a masters and a doctorate).

    There are things I do to help digest meals I know I shouldn’t have eaten. I’ll take a betaine HCl pill (stomach acid) and some digestive enzymes.

    On race day all bets are off. I eat whatever garbage is at any aid station that I crave. It’s a battle out there. And while I’m a newer runner still and certainly no fast runner (still trying to run 50 under 10 hours and 100 under 24) I don’t want to upset my body by adhering to too strict of rules and ignoring my cravings.

    I’m always interested in how other runners eat, think and perform out there. It’s fun to see how different we all are in some ways. I’ve met some runners who could eat the chrome off their bumper and put in such a fast time at a race with no stomach trouble and I’ve met others who can barely eat anything without it wrecking their run. For me, just like the way I train, if I feel good I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. If it doesn’t feel good I’ll make a change.

    • Marshall says:

      Andy,
      Thanks for your comments. I think you are accurate on many levels. I think you have a reasonable diet and it sounds like it is working for you, that’s what we are all after, right?

  2. eric says:

    Hi Marshall,
    Interesting observations and who can argue with your success.
    Vegan or not you’re an inspiration to runners of all diets and distances.
    I’m a vegan myself, at first for ethical reason and no equally so for performance and recovery – I have definitely noticed a difference. I think people lose sight of the fact that some meat eaters are very meticulous in their diets and enjoy great health benifits (low cholestrol, blood pressure, high energy…) and some eat junk and (sooner or later) suffer ill health. The same is true for vegatarians and vegans – junk is junk no matter its source. So PROPER vegan diet (or non vegan) is where the benifits lie.
    Just my thoughts on the matter.

    Eric

    • Marshall says:

      Eric,
      Spot on, junk is junk whether Vegan, Vegetarian or not, a reasonable diet that gives us what we need will get us though.

  3. Randi Young says:

    Back in 1984, I identified red meat as the one thing that seemed to sit in my gut like a brick (for days). Simply removed that one item from my diet and all has been well. Like you, Marsh, I’ve gone through periods of veggie/vegan eating. It never seemed to make any real difference in either performance or the feeling of well-being. These days, I eat anything that isn’t nailed down with the simple exception of red meat. Each person needs to be attentive to what works and what doesn’t FOR THEM – and stick with it.

    • Marshall says:

      Yep, a good balanced diet goes a long way. Lean red meat is something that I eat on occasion and it works for me. I LOVE fish, pork, lamb…well you get the idea. As I get older I feel that what worked for our forefathers, makes sense…hey my great grandfather and grandmother lived well into their nineties and just ate healthy. I agree that the fast food craze has done nothing to help us out. Having said that, I’m not going to spend too much time obsessing about ingredients, but more paying attention to living a full life while enjoying healthy foods (and meat fits into that equation).

  4. Todd J says:

    You could almost sum up this narrative with the title “Different strokes for different folks”, as food – either for general nutrition of to support athletic performance – is a very personal thing. I have been eating mainly vegetarian for about 2 years now, and the only thing that I can say has changed (aside from the fact that fewer animals are being killed on my behalf) are my elimination habits. I tend to drink more water now, too, which may account for my ability to run longer than I’ve been able to in past.

    But I agree with your main point, that being that a vegan or vegetarian diet is not the ultimate solution for bettering athletic performance in endurance events.
    Todd J´s last blog post ..“Fly” Me A River

  5. Ann says:

    This is awesome. I just had the same conversation with a person who was looking for that magic bullet.
    Ann´s last blog post ..Is My Coach a Mindreader?

    • Marshall says:

      Ann,
      Yea, that’s what bothers me…a healthy diet will help, but there is no substitute for training and taking care of ourselves. I object when people make claims that are unsuported and a case study of one.

  6. David says:

    I was convinced to try a Vegan diet a while back. My performance went way up. I would rather eat more meat, fat and protein but when I do, my performance goes down. I have never trained or ran Ultramarathons as I can’t seem to get to point where I can do one without injury. Maybe if I could get to the Ultra training and Ultra racing level then I could perform well with a richer diet. This is going to be my goal for this year 100+ mile weeks and enjoyment of yummy food. I just hope my 50 year old legs can take it. Wish me luck…….

    • Marshall says:

      David,
      Good luck, I like your attitude, you’re doing what works for you and willing to listen to your body. Have fun out there and changing up your diet may be the ticket to long distance success. Cheers to you!

  7. victor van epps says:

    There is a great deal of question in the scientific community if it was meat that gave us our brain development. I think it is wrong to quote something like that as a truth. Meat did not make us who we are. Our capacity to adapt to our environments did. Dietary variety requires greater memory and thought process. all omnivores have higher cognition. If meat made us who we are-why aren’t baboons better off-closer to humans? They are avid hunters after all.
    Perhaps s greater reason to adapt a plant based diet is not for self-centered reasons of how I can run better. That is a privilege.
    There are countless athletes beyond Jurek who have moved to a plant based diet and are thriving well beyond old pbs. Humans were fruigivores before they were hunters. Every cell in the body runs on glucose, not protein. There are a percentage of humans who are known to still carry neanderthal genetics, about 3-5% of humans; especially those with family from the neanderthal valley (modern day Germany). A strict plant based diet may not work well for those people as neanderthals were not born fruigivores.
    The vegan diet may have very well be Scott’s silver bullet. People who thrive on a vegan diet claim less inflammation, less injury, faster recovery and easy weight control. Not all vegans eat tofu either. Why make generalizations? Why knock it and mock it because it didn’t work for you?

    • Marshall says:

      Thank you for your comments. You said: “Meat did not make us who we are. Our capacity to adapt to our environments did.” and “Dietary variety requires greater memory and thought process. all omnivores have higher cognition” I’m not sure where you got this information or how accurate it is?
      At any rate, the jury is still out on whether or not Vegan, Vegetarian, or eating meat improves performance (although I know what works for me)…there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove this one way or another. One thing is for SURE, and this is my point, there is no substitute for training. Same for maintaining weight, it’s a simple matter of calories in and calories out. Do what works for you and my best wishes to you!

      • Alex says:

        Isn’t the greatest advantage we have over other animals our ability to cook food? The article ‘Food For Thought: Meat-Based Diet Made Us Smarter’ on the NPR website argues that it is not meat that made us samrter but the fact we developed the ability to cook food, meat or otherwise.

        • Marshall says:

          Yes, that seems to be the case. Cooking food outweighs raw as it takes too much time and energy to eat raw foods. It may kill some of the good stuff, but making it tender and digestable outweighs not cooking. Thanks.

  8. Jen says:

    Vegetarian here!! Works great for me!

  9. Over 11 years ago (06/25/2000) I went on a Tour De Cure 100K bike ride.
    The meal at the conclusion of the ride was provided by the Outback
    Steakhouse. After looking at what was served, I made the decision to never
    eat meat again. Subsequently, I stopped eating poultry and seafood as well.

    Although this choice was made primarily for health reasons (as opposed to any
    ethical ones), the thought of eating dead animals (as well as the smell, taste
    and texture) never really appealed to me that much either. I do not miss these
    foods at all, ever.

    No one should adopt my eating habits in order to complete an ultra. I often say that I am able to run ultras despite what I eat. I have, however, completed 43 ultras and 105 marathons since I eliminated meat, poultry, seafood, etc., from my diet. I feel better as well.

    • Marshall says:

      Thanks for your comment. If ever a Red Lobster were to sponsor a race, I would be there! All kidding aside, I’m glad your diet is working for you. My best.

  10. Matt Hart says:

    It can’t go unnoticed that a vegetarian or vegan diet does not provide a human with enough Iron or B vitamins. As a coach I can’t tell you how many spun out vegetarians/vegans I see. Marshall I’m sure you’ve seen your share of anemic ultra-athletes as well. It can be managed with supplements, b12 shots and the like, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s a deficient diet for humans. We evolved eating meat and it’s quite simply part our optimal diet. If you listen to your body as Marshall suggests – it will ask for or crave these foods. That doesn’t mean someone can’t be successful with a wide range of diets (humans are pretty amazing that way). However if you look at it from a nutrient density perspective you can’t improve on meat, veggies, nuts/seeds and fruits, by adding grains and tofu (or dairy).

    • Marshall says:

      Great post Matt and yes, my friend Ted Corbitt was a vegetarian and had to go to a bit of meat because of his doctors recomendation that he should. He couldn’t stop bleeding when cut…he started eating meat and problem was solved. I have seen others “spun out” and they don’t look healthy. Some is simply that they are trying to maintain what they think is a healthy weight (which in fact is underweight). That’s a big problem too. People need to be reasonable in their lives and do what is tried and proven. It’s taken us years of evolution to get to where we are and eating meat put us at the top of the food chain. I’d like to see that we stay there. Thanks for being such a good influence for our kids!

  11. Ed Ettinghausen says:

    I’ve been a vegetarian since the age of 12. I really can’t say whether or not my running ability would be any better or any worse off if I ate meat, since this is the way I’ve always eaten, and therefore the only way I know. But I do agree with Marshall, it’s the overall healthy diet, proper training, and the right attitude that seems to be the factors the affect the difference between those that can and those that can’t, in an ultra. And even though a vegetarian diet works for me, I have plenty of ultra friends that are meat eaters, and do quite well with it . . . and can very handily kick my but in a race!

  12. I am vegetarian for more than 20 years now and I think I am injury free because of that. But I can’t prove that off course. In general I think that vegetarians or vegans think a lot more about their nutrition and their own behavior than meat eaters, so they overall behavior might be healthier as well.

    I vegetarian diet probably doesn’t make you faster but you might live a healthier life.
    Markus

    P.S: Yannis Kouros the world greatest road ultra runner is vegetarian too.

    • Steve says:

      Kouros was a vegetarian too? WTF!

      I know Lance and Contador eat vegan to lean up for big races. Cant help. I mean Scott Jurek is the worlds GREATEST ever ultra trail racer to have lived in the sport and he is a vegan so I guess you MIGHT be able to be a vegan and do ok. 😉

      I was just reading the China Study. Pretty amazing science.

      • Steve says:

        Marshall, your cholesterol is HIGH??

        Bro, I enjoy reading your blogs. Dont do a Jim Fixx on us and have a heart attack! You and your vegetarian friend with high cholesterol need to do a vegan diet for a year to help detox all the excess saturated fat and cholesterol out.

        Sure if you have good genes you can eat junk and run well but your heart will suffer and high cholesterol is a BIG indicator something is wrong ESPECIALLY if your as fit as you 2 are.

        Take care bro. 🙂
        check out http://www.heartattackproof.com Would be interesting to see how much faster you would run on that programme with your arteries getting more NOxide to them.

        • Marshall says:

          Cholestrol is more a genetic thing. I would hate for those who are vegetarian or vegan who have high cholestrol to go off medication or avoid taking medication (I know a couple of vegetarians who do have high cholestrol and run lots, but don’t properly medicate). You can bring down your levels by diet, but only to a certain extent. Do what is right for you, thanks for your comment.

      • Marshall says:

        Scott is top notch, still has to win over in Europe on those trails, though. I’ve been around one who won the race one year came in second the next. And as for Kouros, not that I know of and I know him, had lunch with him a few years back. Thanks!

    • Durianriders says:

      Ive won 5 out of 5 running races Ive done in the last 2 months. From 10k to 34k trail race.

      Ive been vegan for coming up 11 years. All my bloods are always good. I only take 1 supp (due to a genetic issue) and all my running mates take at least 20.

      Ive had 4 of my athlete friends die from heart attack in recent years. All were under age 35 and single digit body fat. The notion you can fill up on steak burgers cos you train a lot is very dangerous advice.

      Time to start eating properly MU. You have lots of good stories to share and I agree with the other readers that we dont want to lose you early!

      Come on mate, grab a big gourmet tofu burger and shove it in ya gob! You know you want too!

      Fruit salad?
      Bean burritos?
      Cholesterol free, guilt free soy/rice/oat milk?
      Get to eat extra food and stay extra ripped?

      • Durianriders says:

        Check out my video

        running tips for weight loss: 2 vital tips. Thats what I look like all year long for almost 11 years now. 15miles a week average training too. Vegan gives you a better runners body naturally.
        Durianriders´s last blog post ..1. Woodstock Fruit Festival 2012!!

        • Marshall says:

          Sure thing? Right? Well, the jury is still out and for the long runs being a vegetarian did nothing for me. I’m glad it is working for you.

      • Marshall says:

        Thanks but no thanks, been there done that. I eat a balanced diet including lean meats. I enjoy life and expect to live a long one (as my grandparents who ate a balanced diet lived well into their 90’s). I’m glad the Vegan diet is working for you. Check back with me when you are 70 and let me know if it worked.

    • Marshall says:

      Hi Marcus,

      Thanks for your post. I think as we get older we figure things out. How many long term folks who have tried alternative diets (in their 70’s and 80’s) have had success. And who is to say diet has anything to do with longevity. I think about the oldest women at 122 years old who has been smoking 2 cigarettes a day all her life? If being a vegetarian works for you…great, I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work for me.

      I sat down and had lunch with Yannis a few years back and he was eating a normal diet as I recall. I asked him what he ate when he races and he said “anything at all”. I have read his early race accounts when he was setting records and his intake was not vegetarian or vegan. Additionally I have read lots on him and his diet from the web and cannot find anything one way or the other when it comes to diet. Where did you get this information? Do you know him personally?

      • While he was at the top of his game in the 90s I heard that. Yannis was supported from Sri Chinmoy and his SCMarathon Team. They are vegetarians. So may be he was vegetarian at that time.

        I met Yannis twice but we didn’t talk about this.

        • I had to think about this for a while: I read that Kouros mostly eat a vegetarian diet ( meat once a month) in a German Ultrarunning Handbook in the mid 80s.
          Personally I asked Kouros about this 1992 when he visited the Spartathlon finisher party in Athens. He answered that he was vegetarian. But this was almost 20 years ago of course.

          My guess is that he was vegetarian while he was with the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Group.

  13. dep says:

    This is an interesting post and i’m tempted to to think that this book you were sent was Ultra Man….

    I understand the point about taking issue with veganism being a secret to performance – but i think that got lost in this post in favor of “people need protein and it must come from an animal or be worthless”. You did comment about genes/putting in the miles being crucial – yes, but books are sold by…idk, appearing to have something new but totally ‘reachable’.

    Having said that i truly believe that different things work for different people so hey, it’s highly likely eating a certain way impacts on their performance. One way is not better than any other way for individuals, it’s trial and error.

    • Marshall says:

      Yes, and that is where I came from (having been a vegetarian), what works for me is a bit of protein, that being a meat source. Doesn’t it take a lot of time and effort to shop for ingredients to substitute what is missing in Vegetarian diets? Isn’t it simpler to eat a balanced diet? Those are the questions I ask myself. I try and simplify my life and yes, I agree everyone is different and what works for one person doesn’t work for another. At 60 years old, I know my body and I’m done experimenting 😉 .

      • Andy says:

        “..time and effort to shop..”? That’s a strange criteria to consider. With that type of thinking we should all just stop at the local 7-11 and stock up. No time or effort wasted there. You also constantly mention “balanced diet”. Balanced for who? Are you saying that anyone who isn’t marching to the same beat as you is imbalanced?

  14. scott ormond says:

    Hi Marsh, thank you and everyone else for your comments on dietary choices-just what I needed to hear and think about. My comments are about food and exercise used together. I have found that my digestion, metabolism, and bowel movements are much better if combined with lots and lots of cardio exercise no matter if I eat meat or not. My body seems to forgive me for poor eating choices the more exercise I get.

    Seems like when you burn several thousand calories in a cardio workout your body begins to say thank you for the food you eat(meat or not) and put it to work rather than wonder what to do with the extra calories that it doesn’t need or want.

    When I am working out hard my body says to me, “Thank you for the truckload of veggies, but please add to that something I can sink my teeth into.” That may be meat for many people and something else for others. Your body will tell you what it needs but you must pay attention and then execute the smart eating choices for yourself. Outstanding conversation. Thanks again! scott ormond/Aspen, CO

  15. Terri Maio says:

    Great article Marshall! I say if it feels good do it, and if it doesn’t feel good don’t do it. I’ve tried all types of diets over the years and the conclusion I keep finding is a balanced diet including red meat is what my body works best on.

    • Marshall says:

      Thanks Terri, I have found those of us who have turned to other diets come back to a balanced one…time usually guides us.

    • Marshall says:

      Yes, that is the conculsion I have come to also. Things became clear especially when doing up to 12 day adventure races, climbing for 6 weeks on Everest (wow the meat protien and fat cravings were through the roof, for good reason), and of course running across America. I don’t mean to sound all knowing, but the shorter ultrarunning races that take under 5 or 6 days don’t really require anything special as far a diet. Thanks for your comment!

  16. Just one more thing about running vegetarians or vegans. I think that most them following their diet not for health or sportive reasons in the first place.

    In our modern world most people don’t hunt their own meat anymore but buy it in the supermarket. This meat got produced mostly under not so nice circumstances ( to say it nicely) and I believe that is the main reason why vegetarians or vegans eat what they eat.

  17. Mike says:

    Hey Marshall,
    Great post and it is always good to see the different feedback.
    As for my feedback, I can only attest to what I feel is a balanced diet for me. Lean meats, veggies, fruits. If its in a can or box I don’t eat it. On my 4424 mile run in 2010 I only lost 2 lbs the entire way. Host families fed me well. Chicken, fish, fresh fruit and veggies and yes A LOT of ice cream and I also consumed 40 gallons of chocolate milk.
    I had no injuries, never got sick and stayed on schedule. I believe that for us ultra-runners protein consumption is so important for repair and recovery. I choose to get mine in the meat and egg area. I believe timing is very crucial too. Replacing those lost carbs in some form in 30 min. and in the next 90 topping the tank off with a similiar 60-20-20 approach has always worked for me. It is great you have the insight to know what is best for you as do so many other people on here. Unfortunately in our society the latest, greatest, food, drink, diet is always popping up. I say keep it simple, keep it whole and listen to your body and really research. Know exactly what a carb and protein and fats do and not by just reading yahoo…Best of luck!!

    • Marshall says:

      Mike,
      Congratulations on your run…you are spot on with your dietary observations. It was great to hear from you after so long also. Good luck on your next 2012 2100 mile run!
      marsh

  18. Where’s wine/beer fit in a balanced diet :o) Great posts all around. I’ve read every comment; nice job Marshall, and everyone that interacted.
    Best Always,
    Jake

    • Marshall says:

      Jake,

      During Running America I drank at least two bottles of O’Douls a day, I was SO sick of sweet drinks but needed calories and O’Douls hit the spot (along with pop corn at 50 miles into the day/night…it was my “happy hour”.

  19. Tan T. says:

    My vegan diet has improved my health immensely, but can’t comment on its performance as a runner because I’m not a runner at all. I work out 4 – 5 times a week and it’s working out fine. My big issue is getting sleep; it’s always been an issue.

    I understand that a lot of people believe humans grew bigger brains from eating meat; however, that’s debatable as some researchers attribute the “bigger brain” to eating starches among other things. I don’t want to get too deep into this, but just want to throw it out there that the “big brain/small gut” theory is debatable.

    Anyway, Marshall, I read the article and your posts here. I think you have a great attitude and best wishes to you, your athletics, and you health.

    • Marshall says:

      I understand what you are saying…but we are omnivores afterall, we should be thankful we can exist on eating just about anything. That is what we have evolved to and we are at the top of the food chain. There is NO proof that a vegan diet is healthy for the long term.

  20. David says:

    I like what you say Marshall–well thought out and expressed. I know what I am about to say will initiate a fury of angry responses but it needs to be said. I guess I should say first that I have been a vegetarian for 42 years,I am now 62 years old.I have studied diet and nutrition for the last 40 years and have tried many,many different diets. I eat some organic dairy including eggs and cheese. The vegan diet is the latest in a long line of fad diets. It is not conducive to long term health and there is absolutely no proof that it is the be all,end all in ways to eat. It is nutritionally deficient,those adopting this diet have to watch out for B-12 deficiencies. It is a diet filled with foods that are incomplete proteins. I’m sure people know how essential complete proteins are to overall heath and growth. If you look for a people that have lived long healthy vigorous lives on a vegan diet you will find none. And please,spare me the stories of tribes that live 7,000 ft atop some mountain range in an obscure country as proof. If you want to find where the best diet is then search out the people who live the longest and have the most active lives. Studies show that the highest number of centurians live in Okinawa. They are the healthiest people,as long as they haven’t begun adopting a western style of eating. If you look at what you eat you find that they are active and do eat some meat and fish. I am sure the responses will come in saying how wrong I am. The tone and sometimes nastiness I get remind me of what you will hear if you ever question a person’s religion. But say what you will,I don’t have to prove it to anyone,I’m just stating the truth. The problems with a vegan diet will manifest themselves to those following it eventually,I just feel bad for the babies and children now being raised on it.

  21. Hi Marshall,

    I like your article, although there are some things that, as far as I know, are just not wright.

    You state that we are omnivores. Well, searching through the thousands of websites out there, I always found that we are actually herbivores. Omnivores, herbivores and carnivores have different bodies, and looking at our bodies we are actually herbivores.
    Here on one of my sites is a chart that is quite interesting:Why
    a Healthy Vegetarian Diet?

    Besides that, I do agree with a lot what you say, I like the “tone” of your article.

    I am a runner myself, a small time one, and being vegetarian did help my performance. As I can see though, if you have a balanced diet, and I mean a healthy balanced diet, as you seem to have, then eating some meat will probably not harm your performance.

    Being a strict vegan on the other hand just seems to bring more problems as benefits. There are so many things that you have to watch out for, as for Vitamin B12…

    Being vegetarian does help your health, especially in the long run. Having a well balanced omnivore diet as well. I saw that when I was working in home-care with people over 90. I asked them their secret. Their answer always was the same: 1. Positive attitude towards life. 2. Some daily exercise. 3. A balanced diet. Seeing their daily diet, I saw there was meat, once or twice a week, a lot of vegetables and daily fruit.

    So, I guess, being vegetarian or vegan is mainly a decision of the heart and conscience one has towards animals and the environment, not so much for health reasons, if one follows a healthy, well balanced omnivore diet.

    Again Marshall … great article!

    Have a great day!
    Chris

  22. Junko says:

    “My personal dietary theory is based entirely on listening to my body and letting it direct me to foods” — this is the best sentence of the entire post. Being a carnivore, vegetarian or vegan is a personal choice based on your needs. I agree that being plant-based is trending high with documentaries like Forks Over Knives, Engine 2 Diet, etc. circulating the mainstream. And I’ll admit that I drank the kool-aid, and have adopted a largely plant-based diet (btw, I don’t like “vegan” b/c I know too many vegans who eat meat supplements and potato chips and think their diet is superior to carnivores). My energy level skyrocketed in the mid-afternoon and I don’t feel “heavy”. Is it because of the plants or b/c of the deliberate focus I’ve placed on eating clean? Probably the later but that’s fine. And yes, I take iron, B-12 and Vit D supplements — but not b/c of my diet (I had deficiencies before changing my diet).

    My nutrition and training regiment are constantly evolving to meet my aging body (alas) and racing objectives. Know thy body and be honest about what you’re eating. My diet won’t give me results like Jureks, Armstrong, etc. b/c they’re awesome freaks of nature. But it does fuel my body to respond when pushed — what more could I ask for?! 🙂

  23. anonymous says:

    In the interest of full disclosure, don’t you have financial ties to the meat industry? I once heard that you have always been somewhat “well situated” (well, its all relative, of course) thanks to a large family business in the meat industry (separate from the Pet Food company that you started out of school. Well done!). Just curious and hoping that you might clarify.

    • I do own farmland, where we grow mostly corn, wheat, and beans, but there’s no connection to the meat industry, meaning the raising of livestock for human consumption. My comments regarding plant-based diets come from having been a vegetarian at one point and my first-hand experience in multiday sports when that diet didn’t work well for me.

      I’m guessing that you made some connection between my farming background and my pet food business and concluded I must be a Company Man for Meat, Inc. Let me clear that up: I grew up on a dairy farm, got a college degree in fine arts, then started my “used cow dealer” business right after college, picking up dead cows from (mostly) feedlots and dairies, selling the hides for leather, and selling the boneless frozen beef for pet food (not human food). The rest goes for rendering, which end up in more products than you might think: livestock feed, pet food, foods and food flavoring, soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo and conditioner, deodorants, photographic film, crayons, glue, solvents, shoe polish, inks, rubber, lubricants, paints, esters, candles, toys, anti-freeze, wax paper, pharmaceutical products (ointments, nasal sprays, OTC and prescription drugs, etc.), and cosmetics (lipstick, liquid makeup, hair dyes, hair sprays, nail polish, etc., including those not tested on animals). You could say the business is the ultimate in recycling!

  24. Philip says:

    I have lost about 100 pounds so that I could run again. I still eat most of the same foods I ate 100 pounds ago, if only occasionally. Typically, I eat what I crave in type and quantity, though I sometimes keep a food journal to track macronutrients and calories and such.

    The thing that’s happened to me is that I crave less protein than before. However, when I pack my lunch (eaten at work) with protein, usually chicken, I feel better and have better workouts. Not to mention, I drop more weight.

    For me, in particular, I put on muscle very quickly. So perhaps I need more protein than a lot of other people. The point is, there are no magic bullets, and even if one existed, it would be different for each of us.

    Excellent post, I enjoyed reading it and the comments.

    Philip
    Philip´s last blog post ..Kids Running

  25. David Griffin says:

    Marshall,

    This topic keeps going round and around in my head. I will probably buy Jurek’s book and I guess you have already read it. I heard him explicitly say in 2010 that he did NOT attribute his success as a athlete to his vegan diet. He specifically said that he choose to eat a vegan diet for longevity and health reasons and was convinced that the vegan diet was not necessary for optimal running success.

    Personally I have been more on than off of a Plant-based diet for the last year or so and have noticed more health and running success when on than off. I say plant-based as Vegan comes with certain religious and save the world tendencies that just don’t sit well with me. Plant-based food has brought me to a weight of 180-190 lbs and 6’1″ so maybe it is just the weight loss that is helping me and not the plants. I understand that Jurek is 6’2″ and 165 lbs. That is a lean mean running machine right there. All the more Kudos to him as it appears to me than people of shorter stature are usually the ones winning these long races. Scott Jurek definitely is extraordinary.

    Then there is Stefaan Engels who ran 365 marathons in 365 days and in a podcast I heard him say that he ate a fine restaurant meal every night with about two bottles of wine after each marathon run day. Now that is something I would really like to aspire to. He did go on to say that he did not recommend the above as a lifestyle but found that during the 26.2 mile calorie burn per day the furnace was so hot that it would burn off all of his indulgences.

    So for the rest of us mere mortals we are back to trying to find a way to stay lean, stay healthy and happy while balancing the choices we have for food.

    Do we need to be Vegan or not?

    I don’t know but I have been trying it.

    Can we eat plants with some animals?

    I don’t know that either but don’t really deserve I have the right to try until I get to be be at least, somewhere close, to as lean and strong as Scott Jurek or Marshall Ulrich.

    David

  26. Lyn Mooers says:

    Really? At our studio there was a big finding that eating an extra chocolate protein shake gave that performance boost to really make the difference.

  27. carole says:

    Have you ever considered that your genetic heritage has something to do with the fact that you are successful eating meat and training? Whereas, there are others who, as individuals, are successful just eating plants?
    Obviously you are very in touch with your body to have accomplished such amazing levels with your athletic skills.
    One note, however, animals train better and live longer on better food also, not just the remains of frozen carcasses. (and does the corn and wheat grown on the farm get sold for animal food?

    • Marshall says:

      Hi Carole,

      Our gentic heritage as humans comes from eating meat as we are omnivores, so yes, I agree with you. And exercise is essential.

      Grains fed to animals from farms is NOT good for them, they are carnivores! The reason the pet food industry has convinced people that grains and veges are good for pets only because they are CHEAP. I know because I am in the dog food industry.

      thanks for your comments!

  28. David Meyer says:

    Marshall,

    Good article. Kind of misleading though. You forgot to mention James Fixx dying of a heart attack at 52, and Brian Maxwell dying of a heart attack at 51. You forgot to mention the Tarhuamara who consume a diet that is 90% vegan and are the best runners on the planet. I have followed a vegan diet for 11 years and my total cholesterol is 116 last time I had it checked. For the last five years it has been below 150.

    The website is where Dr. McDougall’s patients talk about all the diseases they cured on a diet with no animal products or vegetable oils. I am going to read your book now after reading this article. Please take the time to read some of these people’s stories.

    I started following this lifestyle because my uncled died of a heart attack at 37, a boss of a heart attack at 42, a co-worker at 51 from a heart attack, a teacher at 38 from a heart attack, another teacher at 56 from a heart attack, my mother from cancer at 44, and a neighbor at 58 from colon cancer. I think if you like meat that is great, but that is not an argument that we should ignore the plant-based diet movement. Even our own governemnt is recommending that 60% of our plate is from plant foods.
    Dr. McDougall has helped patients cure many different diseases with a 100% plant-based diet like lupus, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, IBS, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and other health problems. Please read about his work even if you do like meat, because it is important. I have lost alot of people in my life to the Western diet. Jack Lalanne followed a 99% vegan diet and outlived my uncle by 59 years. Jack’s father passed away from a heart attack at 42 and that is what prompted Jack to be so committed to his lifestyle.

    • David Griffin says:

      David,

      No the Tarhuamara are NOT the best runners on the planet. The best runners on the planet are………..and this should be obvious…………the Kenyans and they frequently consume Beef and Milk. Actually I have been on a Plant-based diet for 86 days now. But I am beginning to wonder if Marshall might be right. The Plant-based diet for me has improved a lot of things but I am still not convinced that it might have been the subtracting of processed foods and oil and etc and so on that we Americans eat that might have fixed things for me and not the subtraction of Animal products. In history there is no denying that we evolved by eating other animals. I am in the middle of Marshall’s book right now and there is no way I could teach him anything about running which must also include the food that fuels it. Whether I end up being a plant eater or a mostly plant eater with some Seafood or lean meats is still left to be determined. For now I am all in with the plants and running, cycling and checking Body weight and vitals like cholesterol and BP and so on. I really believe that each of us should figure this out for ourselves and not let some internet voice lead us into some super restrictive diet without personally knowing the results are true for each of us.

      Good Luck,

      David

    • Marshall says:

      Hi David,

      Jack LaLanne was one of my heroes, but not a vegan or even a vegetarian, note his comment about grains and I agree with what he had to say:

      http://singularityhub.com/2011/02/16/jack-lalanne-made-longevity-a-simple-science/

      “For diet, LaLanne advised us to ‘Start eating food in its natural state,’ and ‘If man makes it, don’t eat it.’ He believed that we are an animal, and advocated a diet more like that of our primitive forebears; after all, that is how we were designed. ‘Cooking kills,’ he urged. ‘Eat more fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, more lean cuts of meat.’ He advocated lean meats, the kind which are now called ‘grass fed.’ He was a fan of raw vegetables, or ones lightly steamed – in short, the raw food diet now trumpeted by people like Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson. He did not believe that eating grains was natural to us, but it would be decades before low-carb diets caught on. People in those blue zones do eat that way; the centenarians on the Greek island of Ikaria eat fish and locally-grown produce; they suffer only one half the rate of heart disease and 20 percent less cancer than do Americans.”

      thanks for your comments!

    • As a health care professional, people are vastly different genetically and this dictates different dietary needs explaining why one person can sustain health on a vegan diet and someone else cannot. Plus, beans/legumes are extremely diuretic and when consumed in excess can dry out and up bodily fluids like blood, plasma and synovial joint fluid- contributing to osteoarthritis in the long term. Dairy is really more hydrating. Some physical builds are really affected by all this.

      In addition to this, high cholesterol does not come from dietary fats and has nothing to do with veganism. It is a liver dysfunction issue and a bile congestive disorder, hence some meat eaters have super low cholesterol and some vegans still have elevated cholesterol off the charts. It is purely genetic, but animal fats do NOT contribute to liver dysfunction. See my article on the pros and cons of vegetarianism on http://www.realnaturalmedicine.com.

      • David says:

        Pat, I have been monitoring my cholesterol for 13 years now. For me specifically my cholesterol level is directly related to the amount of fat in my diet. Lately I have been testing the Scott Jurek recommended Udo’s Oil and even though this product claims to lower your cholesterol with me it also raises my cholesterol in amounts averaging about 2.5 TBSP per day. Plant-based diet with no oil = 140 Total 75 LDL. Plant-based plus Udo’s Oil (amounts above) = 197 Total 125 LDL. Standard American diet = 240 Total 150 LDL. Very little Heart disease in my family. The real question maybe is: “Does high cholesterol cause Heart Disease in all people?” But fat in the diet DEFINITELY raises my cholesterol. Next test for me is what will Udo’s oil in smaller amounts do? As I realize the importance of Omega-3’s and a strict plant-based diet in my experience lacks enough O3.

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