Leozette Roode and Donovan Wills are both vegan trail runners. Leozette is also the author of The South African Vegan cookbook. Together they organise various trail, wellness and yoga weekends in Cape Town; and we’ve been thrilled to be one of the “fuel” partners, providing our plant based Nakd and Trek bars to fuel weekend adventures.
On the heels of their Greyton Trail and Yoga weekend, we sat down with them to chat about how to get in more plants at every meal and how they fuel their runs.
What are your tips to eating more plants at every meal?
It is no secret that eating more whole, plant-based foods can help improve our health, however, one of the reasons most people don’t eat enough vegetables, and other plant-based foods, might be because they assume it won’t taste great (or they lack the knowledge of how to include it into their diet in a tasty way).
The easiest way to ensure you eat more plants is to stock up your pantry and fridge. Root vegetables (like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beetroot and onions) can be bought in advance, but fresh fruit and leafy greens should be bought weekly. Buy wholegrains (brown rice, whole wheat pasta and quinoa), legumes (dry lentils and dry or canned beans and chickpeas) and other go-to items (like boxed nut milk and dried dates) in bulk and keep a few frozen fruits and vegetables options (spinach, banana, berries, peas, corn) in your freezer in case you run out of your fresh stock.
One of the easiest ways to eat multiple portions of fruits and vegetables in one go, is to blend it into a smoothie or soup. By adding a small handful of spinach, kale, cauliflower or broccoli to your smoothie, you reap all the benefits, but won’t even notice the taste.
Cook your favourite recipes, like your mom’s lasagna or chicken a la king, and try swapping some of the animal-derived products (meat, dairy and eggs) with plant-based alternatives. Dairy can easily be swapped for soy, nut or coconut oil based dairy free alternatives. Meat can be replaced with vegetables like mushrooms, aubergine, baby marrow or meat alternatives.
Always try to add an extra portion of vegetables to your every-day meals, like sandwiches, wraps, pastas and stews. It is an easy way to get more nutrition without compromising the taste of your dish. Baby spinach, tomatoes, carrots, beetroot and sundried tomatoes are merely some of the vegetables that are easy to add to dishes. Legumes, including chickpeas, black beans and lentils, are also great to bulk up meals and add nutritional value.
What are your favourite plant based snacks?
- Fresh fruit or vegetable crudités with a bean dip or guacamole is the easiest and healthiest no-fuss snack.
- Leo loves corn or rice cakes with nut butter and sliced banana or smashed avo, baby spinach, tomato and spices.
- Nakd bars are fantastic on-the-go snacks especially if you, like Don and I, travel a lot. I always keep a few Nakd bars in my car and in my laptop bag.
- Another great on-the-go snack is home-made trail mix with dried berries, chopped dates, mixed raw nuts, roasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
- Don is a sucker for Fry’s chicken-style nuggets, cooked in the air fryer.
- Falafel balls with hummus are always good.
How does your diet effect your performance on the trails?
Both Donovan and I saw an improvement in our athletic performance since going vegan. A plant-based diet reduces inflammation in the body, which speeds up recovery time. This means we can cram in more, and longer runs without putting additional strain on our muscles. Our diets also improves arterial flexibility and reduces blood viscosity, which allows for more oxygen and glucose to reach the muscles – helping them to work harder during a run. Since going vegan, Donovan has completed two Comrades marathons, a half-Ironman and a full Ironman. I stick to the mountains, but have increased my distance and time tremendously.
How do you fuel your trail runs and races?
Don and I love playing in the kitchen and experimenting with various recipes, but we follow a (mostly wholefoods) 100% plant-based diet that including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, seeds and legumes. The quantity of food depends on the amount of training we do – especially leading up to a big race. I follow a very specific meal plan before, during and after a run or race, whereas Donovan is a bit more easy-going. It is important to remember that everyone is different and just because something works for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you. Play around with nutrition during your training but NEVER try anything new on race day. A typical meal plan would look something like this:
Day before a run or race: Lunch will be a baked potato or sweet potato topped with hummus, quinoa, steamed broccoli, baby spinach, diced tomato and cucumber, roasted pumpkin seeds and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast. The evening before a run, I like easing a high-protein pasta. At the moment I love my Lemon Pepper Protein Pasta with Happy Earth People chickpea pasta and a big leafy green salad. Don usually opts for a Fry’s Chicken-Style Burger or Schnitzel on a whole-wheat bun with baby spinach, hummus, tomato and caramelized onions.
Pre-run breakfast: This depends on how far we are running. For a short run, we simply eat a Nakd bar each, but for a race we need something more sustainable. Coffee and two slices of white bread with peanut butter, banana and Silan date syrup or maple syrup just works for me, every time. It is the only time I’ll eat white bread – I find that whole-wheat bread, rye, or oats has too much fibre and ends up being problematic during the run (if you know what I mean). I will also have a raw Nakd bar in the car on the way to a long run or a race and another Nakd bar during the race (I take a bite when I feel I need a bit of power).
Post-run snack and breakfast: Don and I both love a Trek Protein Bar immediately after a race to fuel our bodies with protein, which assists in muscle recovery. We also immediately drink water with L-Glutamine powder. When we get home, we will whip up a recovery smoothie made with bananas, frozen blue berries, a dash of turmeric powder, cacao powder, flax seed powder, Almond Breeze almond milk and dates. I have a variety of smoothies on my website with different flavour combinations for you to try. TIP: If you don’t have dates, or fruit to sweeten your smoothie, add a chopped Nakd Bar to the blender. The Berry Delicious flavour works best!