By Jyn Yeow | Tough Asia
More professional athletes are turning to plant-based diets to fuel their podium-winning ways. With the significant decrease in cholesterol, blood pressure and heart disease risk, triathlon professionals such as Patrick Lange and Jan Frodeno experience an increase in their athletic performances, surging themselves to the top of the podium at triathlon world championships.
Known as the vegan ultra marathoner, Australian Vlad Ixel has been setting new records in ultra marathons and was ranked #1 in the world in the IRONMAN 70.3 distance triathlon within a year of transitioning into the sport.
Following the ranks of fervent plant-based athletes, criminal litigator Amer Hamzah Arshad has been experimenting on his own green diet and discovered a new light of athletic prowess in his passion for running and triathlon. Within a few years, Amer – who can be easily spotted with the Wolverine-look – won the Cameron Trail (CULTRA) 30km run in Cameron Highlands, Pahang (Men Veteran category) and recorded a personal best of 03:25:17 at the London Marathon in 2018!
ToughASIA: What inspired you to go on a plant-based diet, and when did it start?
Amer: I have been on a plant-based diet for more than 2 years. It started when I was training for my Berlin Marathon in 2017. With heavy training loads, fast recovery was essential for the next day training session.
Realising that my recovery was not as fast as I wanted it to be, I consulted a few plant-based endurance athletes, and read up on the plant-based diet. I decided to give it a try with a month to go before the Berlin Marathon. At that time, I was only experimenting with the diet to see whether it suited me.
In Berlin, I completed my first ever sub-3.5h marathon (03:29:50), hence my decision to continue with the plant-based diet.
ToughASIA: What is the difference in your running performance now as a plant-based athlete, compared to when you were in your previous diet?
Amer: After experimenting with plant based diet in August 2017 and completing the Berlin Marathon, I decided to continue with diet. In 2018, I was able to better my marathon time at the London Marathon (with a personal best time of 3:25:17), and in 2019, I won the Cameron Trail (CULTRA) 30km (Men Veteran).
I also started doing triathlon and completed my first IRONMAN 70.3 in November 2018. To date, I have completed four IRONMAN 70.3s (with a personal best time of 05:47h at Langkawi recently) by relying solely on plant-based diet. So, to those who are curious or skeptical, you could still be an endurance athlete and go fast on a plant-based diet.
But diet is only one of the contributing aspects. One’s athletic performance cannot be gauged or determined solely on his or her diet. There are other factors to be taken into consideration as well, such as, proper training, proper fuelling, and having good recovery.
Speaking from my personal experience, the benefit that I gain from plant-based diet is that it helps with my recovery. With good recovery, it allows me to train better the following day, which eventually leads to better performance.
ToughASIA: What is your favourite plant-based snack or food?
Amer: When it comes to snacking, I like to eat nuts, berries with soy or almond milk.
ToughASIA: How and when did you make the transition from running into triathlon?
Amer: I have always wanted to do triathlons – especially a full distance IRONMAN – even before I started running. However, due to the fact that I did not know how to swim, I focused initially on running. I started running casually in 2013, and only decided to have proper coach and training plan in 2017.
After doing a sub 03:30h marathon, I decided that it was time for me to learn how to swim. In 2018, I took swimming lessons and started cycling, over and above running. I trained with triathletes from different clubs including from RC Coaching, Kyserun Krew and Underdogs.
In June 2018, I did my first sprint distance triathlon and to date, I have participated in few triathlon races in different categories, including four IRONMAN 70.3 races.
ToughASIA: How do you fuel your race – before, during and after a marathon?
Amer: I make sure that I am sufficiently hydrated, and fuel myself with good carbohydrates a few days before race day. On the race day itself, hours before the race, I would take either banana or dates. During the race, I would take energy gels and water from the fuelling stations. Post-race, I would take my recovery drink and protein shake.
ToughASIA: Any difference in fuelling strategies if you are racing a half-IRONMAN distance triathlon?
Amer: In terms of what I take during marathon and half-Ironman triathlon, they are more or less the same. The only difference is the timing and frequency of when I take my energy gel, energy drink, or water, due the distance of the race. In addition, as triathlon involves three different disciplines, the proper timing of my nutrition and hydration become even more important.
ToughASIA: What are your biggest achievements as a plant-based athlete in terms of running and/or triathlon?
- London Marathon 2018 – 3:25:17
- Cultra (Cameron Trail) 30KM 2019 – Champion (Men Veteran)
- IRONMAN 70.3 Langkawi 2019 – 5:47:55
With a new green vision in 2020, Amer will be aiming to qualify for the Boston Marathon by participating in the Chicago Marathon this year. In triathlon, he will be setting his sights on qualifying for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship and also planning to race his first full IRONMAN distance soon.
All photos were provided by Amer Hamzah Arshad.