I am not a competitive athlete. I played tennis in high school and I ran a four-mile race back in the 90’s. Exercise wasn’t a major part of my life until I moved to Arizona when I was in my forties. I just couldn’t resist the gorgeous terrain and beautiful weather. I became a regular hiker. And while I routinely hike at a pretty good pace I’m not much into timing myself and tracking my “progress”. Historically, the more I hiked the better I felt, both mentally and physically, and the more easily I could manage my weight. Not very complicated.
While being vegan is undoubtedly a gift to the body, and I’ve been starting to feel the effects of improved nutrition (better sleep, no gluten sensitivity, lighter and leaner). I hadn’t given very much thought to how the change in diet would impact my hiking. I started thinking some about this when I listened to podcasts of two very accomplished athletes discussing their competitive successes which were fueled by plant-based, whole foods diets. The first athlete, Mark Frazier, is an ultra-marathoner (his website, “No Meat Athlete” is here)and the second is Brendan Brazier, a former professional Ironman triathlete and ultra-marathoner (his website, “Thrive Forward” is here).
What I learned was that neither of these athletes went vegan for ethical reasons. While they have feelings about this now, these guys were each seeking an eating approach that would best lead to improved athletic performance. And we’re talking crazy high-level performance here. After trying out different combinations of food, they each settled on entirely plant-based diets. One often-mentioned benefit to the vegan diet was improved recovery time. Faster recovery = more training. This certainly made sense to me since I believe that our bodies have an incredible capacity to heal themselves if given the best nutrition.
So four months after going vegan, this got me thinking about testing out my own level of hiking fitness. And that brings me to the Phoneline Trail in Sabino Canyon. David and I hike all over this canyon but there’s a half mile stretch of the Phoneline Trail that has always given me fits. It’s not the steepest part, but it is a section of sustained incline with no switchbacks (oh how I love switchbacks). When we first moved into our house I routinely climbed this section of the trail and I seldom did it comfortably, even after several months. Eventually it started to dampen my enthusiasm (bad!) so I devised different trail combinations and avoided that part.
Well, this weekend I decided to get back on Phoneline. I didn’t really expect to see a big difference. Man, was I wrong! Not a huff or a puff. Zip, zip and it was done. I didn’t feel tired, winded or depleted. I finished the rest of the hike (probably another few miles) feeling totally energized. While it’s impossible to say definitively that my vegan diet caused the improved performance, the ease with which I scampered up that trail was pretty hard to ignore.
It’s exciting to consider that in my mid-fifties I can, with a change of diet and consistent, reasonably intensive exercise turn back the clock and potentially feel and perform better than I did a decade ago.
Plant power is very, very cool.