TRIBE 10% Project: My Vegan Secret Weapon

We believe in the idea that making small changes can help us perform better and be happier. The 10% Project is our challenge to each other - the TRIBE community - to improve each day. This is a piece from the TRIBE 10% Project Book - a collection of personal journeys that inspire us. Real TRIBE people telling stories about how small changes in nutrition, lifestyle and training have helped them change their lives. Tamsyn Forsyth, Nutritional scientist & TRIBE runner and cyclist since 2015 challenges you to go vegan one day a week - it could be your secret weapon too!

“My plant-based diet is not a hindrance, it's a secret weapon." – Rich Roll, ultra-athlete.

This quote deeply resonates with me, and represents just how powerful changes to our diets can be in terms of the benefits we experience. The more I challenge and test myself, both physically and mentally, the more I realise just how much I can help facilitate my performance, for example through my diet, the amount of sleep I get, or by simply giving my brain some ‘time out’. This is why the TRIBE 10% project is so fantastic. The idea that achievable, practical everyday changes can improve my overall performance – count me in!

I am a 34-year-old runner and road cyclist now living in the Cotswolds, having recently moved away from the London life. My love of running stems from school competitions and I took up road cycling around five years ago. Invigorated, free, invisible and rewarding are just some of the ways I feel whether on the bike or pounding a trail.

I have had an interest in nutrition since my studies at university, and my philosophy has always been to eat wholesome, eat real, and eat flavour. Food should be a celebration! From a performance perspective, I have increasingly learnt the importance fueling my body with the best sources possible at the right times. What can help me to run and cycle faster, recover quicker, feel fresher? Having experienced the dreaded ‘bonking’ half way up a mountain on a road cycle from St Malo to Toulouse, it’s not the greatest feeling, and it was my motivation to fuel myself better that led me to find TRIBE, their fantastic range of products and their community-driven philosophy.

Over recent years, a plant-based diet has become increasingly appreciated as a healthier option versus an omnivorous diet, with veganism now widely adopted. During my childhood, meat or fish was pretty much always the centre piece of my plate. Vegetables were there, just on the side, a bit like a supporting act at a gig. However, my opinion of plant-based foods was transformed whilst living in San Francisco for two years. This is a city that celebrates plant-based foods, and it is not uncommon to find a menu featuring pickled strawberry soup, farro grains and crispy Brussel sprouts. My taste buds were given a makeover! I experienced just how delicious, fresh and wholesome my meals could be solely based around plants.
My experience of the food culture in San Francisco really provoked my curiosity into exploring more about the benefits of substituting animal- for plant-based foods. It turns out there are plenty, ranging from environmental and sustainability, to the important long-term health benefits, such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease due to an increased fibre intake and an increased number of protective microbes that live in our gut, which may have significant benefits to our general health.

I have to admit I am a bit of a science geek, and, as a general rule, seek the clinical trial evidence for almost everything. However, I soon learnt that, while there is a whole host of scientific evidence on the effects of diet and nutrition on athletic performance, the specific research on vegetarian or vegan diets athletic performance is comparatively lacking and I would love to see research take a turn in this direction as there is so much anecdotal evidence from a multitude of very successful vegan or vegetarian athletes. To name but a few, Scott Jurek (ultra-runner), Brendan Brazier (pro Ironman triathlete and ultra-runner), Hillary Biscay (pro Ironman triathlete), Tim Van Orden (US Master’s Running Champion), and Rich Roll (top ultraman finisher); living proof that a plant-based diet helps to achieve their true best.

I made the decision to start substituting animal- with plant-based foods in my diet on a gradual basis to the point where I was having completely vegan days every couple of days. Initially I found it hard, I love Greek yoghurt, fish… and used to coif a pint of milk on a daily basis. To begin with I also felt more fatigued. However, I became increasingly aware of the difference in how I felt on a day-to-day basis. I am fresher, have more energy and my digestion feels better. I refer to it as feeling ‘zippier! …and the cherry on the cake, I experienced the knock-on improvement to my training and performance.

I did a lot of reading around how I could achieve a well-managed plant-based diet that could support my activity. Compared to omnivorous diets, vegan diets generally tend to be higher in carbohydrates, fibre, micronutrients, phytochemicals (biologically active compounds found in plants) and antioxidants. However, they are generally lower in calories, protein, fat, vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium and iodine. Therefore, it’s important that a vegan diet is managed properly and includes a variety of sources to provide the body with everything it needs. It’s now appreciated that a well-managed vegan diet can achieve the needs of most athletes adequately; some recent helpful guidance can be found in the 2017 review by David Rogerson published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition called ‘Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers’.

So…why not set yourself a challenge and strive to achieve 10% better! Go vegan one day a week – who knows, it could be your secret weapon too!

Photos by the fantastic Tom Price