Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vegan Athlete to the Extreme!!!

Vegan Athlete to the Extreme!

     Which (you might say "who") came first...the vegan or the athlete?  For me, it was the athlete. Heck, I didn’t even know that veganism existed when I began to embrace the world of fitness many years ago.  The decision to exercise can happen overnight but to become a full-fledged vegan is a process (as it should be). The leap is a big one- a life-changing and hopefully permanent event.  We may not always have the time, motivation or physical ability to exercise but once we go vegan, most, if not all of us hope to stay that way for the long haul!!!  The plan should be sound and well-thought out, the commitment unwavering.  Our strict adherence to plant-based, cruelty-free whole foods does indeed lend itself to the fitness arena, making those who choose this path even more dedicated as athletes.  Veganism and fitness go hand in hand.  It is not to say that being a vegan athlete means being bone thin or ripped..  Sure, there are many elite vegan athletes around the world, which is certainly helpful to our cause.  But you don’t have to be famous to be respected.  Being an athletic vegan means being fit and healthy at a weight that is comfortable for you!  By eating a healthy diet, coupled with a healthy body image, active vegans will naturally exude confidence.  My personal philosophy is to maintain a pure, natural, and organic-inspired plant-based paradigm as much as possible.  That said, I am far from perfect when it comes to my nutritional intake. Furthermore, despite my consistent exercise, I will forever battle with my weight!  To that end, I have called upon some not-so-organic methods/products, on occasion, referring to synthetic rather than pure, fried instead of steamed/baked, artificial vs natural. But one thing is for certain...I am always cruelty-free (except my self-punishing endurance sports) and nothing I use is derived from animal sources (that I am aware of) from my fuel right down to my cosmetics, beauty products, apparel and shoes!  Although you know me to have very salty tooth, sometimes I just gotta have a big and fluffy white vegan cupcake or a chocolate chip cookie, or even a handful of Dots.  In a nutshell, my advice would be to do the best that you can but be flexible, adaptable and don’t beat yourself up should either extenuating circumstances or an irresistible basket of french fries present themselves.
     One such instance for me where my fuel demands stretched beyond just whole foods occurred during my first 50-mile individual race in the hot, humid and very sunny Florida Keys May 17th.  Let me just say that as a VeGAL (Vegan Girl AthLete) I do NOT claim to be a raw foodist, naturalist or holistic follower.  VeGALs are mainstream and thus we are not above utilizing modern medicine and technology as needed.  If I have a severe headache/pain, I don’t hesitate to reach for Tylenol,and for inflammation or extreme muscle aches, maybe some Advil.  This is not a daily practice but sometimes my whole foods, plant-based diet/herbal remedies are simply not enough to meet the demands of this hard core VeGAL!!  Sure, there are wonderful new whole foods products out there designed for vegan endurance athletes such as Vega Sport or Activefuel+ which I used on a daily basis.  But when I’m doing an ultra run (50k or 50 miles), my body tells me that I need more for extended endurance.  Fortunately, the aid stations are equipped with many vegan-friendly foods such as oranges, dried fruit, pretzels, peanuts, salted boiled potatoes, raw carrots, coconut water and Hammer gel.  Endurance running/sports can be very taxing on the digestive system, making it almost impossible to ingest the food and quickly turn it over to burn as fuel.  Nausea can set in at any time and the organs can protest food/thick liquids or anything, for that matter! Taking in too much water to combat thirst may lead to hyponatremia. which could then lead to the ultimate disaster. Then you go into survival mode...take anything you can and try with your might to keep it down!  
  Luckily, I inadvertently discovered a product called Drip Drop at my last ultra marathon, which is the official hydration powder of UltraSports.  When I have posted about it before on social media, a few readers were up in arms that the box says “medical grade,” as if it is medicine that is off limits to vegans.  Simply put, medical grade means pure and unadulterated, having the highest potency. Just essential electrolytes combined in a flavorful bioavailable powder form to yield quick absorption, warding of nausea, muscle cramping, dehydration, and even death!  It is non-toxic, cruelty-free and not a controlled substance.  Mixed with water, Drip Drop is recommended before, during and after workouts.  Post run/workout, it speeds recovery and overall soreness.  Same is true for the product Saltstick caps PLUS, buffered electrolyte salts plus caffeine and sodium citrate.  They come in vegetarian pill form, easily swallowed/digested to reduce heat stress, and muscle cramping, while maintaining electrolyte levels and increasing energy levels.  I turned to both throughout but at certain points during the race, I became so exhausted and queasy that the only thing I could stomach was an icy cold, refreshing ginger ale or cola served at the aid stations.  They are there for a reason.  So what if I had refined sugar from a mass-produced soda made in a factory from a large corporation? So shoot me!!!  Again...no animals harmed!  And no,  I didn’t fall off the wagon and become addicted to soft drinks (that was never my thing)!  Final result:  17th place overall out of 107, 3rd in my age group!  I had a very strong finish thanks to my training as well as my fuel!  Not too shabby for a vegan female mom of 3 approaching her late 40’s!

     Some vegan readers may be skeptical upon seeing labeled boxes or bottles resembling medicine.  If you are one to stick to whole foods/water for all your nutritional needs and it is working then good for you!  However, if you are a hard core endurance athlete, like me, potentially putting yourself in harms way due to the extreme physical demands as well as the threatening elements along the course, then I strongly suggest doing whatever it takes to not only avoid becoming road kill but to actually enjoy the event you trained so hard for as well as the celebration after! That sure would suck if you didn’t finish (DNF) or if you were too sick or nauseous to enjoy the beer served at the post-race party...best recovery drink ever!!!

     Gotta run for now!  Stay hydrated this summer!!!

Andrea VeGAL Medalie