Vanessa is an Australian ultra runner who follows a plant-based diet. She runs long distance races and recently achieved 3rd female overall at the Hume & Hovell 50km ultra trail run. She tells us what she eats to fuel her big training runs and keep her in fighting form for competing over such long distances.
5:30am – Pre-Workout
2 Medjool dates
Hot drink (1 tsp cocoa, ½ tsp instant coffee, 1 tsp coconut sugar, hot water)
6am – Workout
1-2 hour run (no nutrition or water during) on most days
Pilates, yoga and/or walk on rest days (with no coffee on rest days)
8.30am – Breakfast
A variety of cooked and raw vegetables as a salad when the weather is warm, with a small piece of fruit after if I want something sweet.
When it’s a cold day I’ll have 3 x gluten-free Weetabix with 1 tsp cocoa, 1 tbsp dried fruit and nuts, 2 tsp slippery elm powder and hot water stirred into a porridge consistency.
Mid-morning – Snack
I occasionally snack on carrot, celery, apple or orange and drink green tea if I am hungry.
Afternoon – Lunch
A variety of cooked and raw vegetables, legumes and rice or sweet potato as a curry, ratatouille, or salad. Afterwards I have berries or citrus if I want something sweet.
I occasionally snack on carrot, celery, apple, orange or Weetabix if I am hungry. Sometimes I have the same hot drink as breakfast around 3pm if I am training in the late afternoon or evening.
5pm – Workout
I do a training run if I didn’t do one in the morning, otherwise it's Pilates, yoga, a walk or Barre class most days.
My dinner is the same sort of thing as lunch: a rainbow of vegetables, greens, rice and legumes most days. Lots of fresh home-grown or market produce, fresh herbs and spices and quick home-made salsa, sauces, pickles, chutneys and dressings. We don’t use any oils for cooking or dressing in our house and my meals are low fat, high nutrients. I have fruit for dessert.
Sometimes in summer I’ll do a smoothie bowl for dinner instead. It’s like cutting straight to dessert!
Bed by 9pm for at least 7-8 hours sleep!
5.30am – Pre-Workout
2 Medjool dates and a couple of teaspoons of seeds or a date and nut bar or bliss ball
Hot drink (1 tsp cocoa, ½ tsp instant coffee, 2 tsp coconut sugar, hot water)
6am – Workout
Up to 7 hours run. My training fuel depends on the weather, but can include Tailwind, Medjool dates, date and nut bars, bliss balls, banana, orange, wholefood gels.
It depends on the time of day but ranges from a variety of cooked and raw vegetables, legumes and rice as a Buddha Bowl, or gluten-free toast and jam with a weak soy cappuccino or soy banana smoothie and/or Tailwind Recovery Shake, or an Acai bowl.
I snack on fruit.
A variety of cooked and raw vegetables, legumes and rice or gluten-free pasta as a Buddha Bowl, curry or ratatouille. Medjool dates, smoothie bowl or bliss ball for dessert.
Bed by 8pm for at least 8-10 hours sleep!
About the author: Vanessa Cullen is a plant-based ultra runner from Australia and a Sundried ambassador.
If you're trying to lose weight, improve sporting performance, or improve your physique, knowing about macros could help you. We're here with everything you need to know about this important aspect of fitness and health.
What are macros?
The word 'macros' in a fitness context is short for 'macronutrients' and refers to the three building blocks of our food: fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Every food in existence is made up of varying ratios of these 'macros'. Macronutrients aren't what makes a food inherently 'healthy' or 'unhealthy' – for that we instead look at micronutrients which refers to vitamins and minerals. Fruit and vegetables are rich in micronutrients which makes them healthy, whereas junk food contains little to no micronutrients which is why it's unhealthy. Of course, this isn't the only thing that makes junk food unhealthy, but it explains that it's not unhealthy just because it's high in fat or carbs.
Sub-categories of macronutrients include fibre and sugar, which are classed as carbohydrates, and alcohol, which is sometimes referred to as 'the fourth macro'. Macros have set calorie amounts – 1g of carbs contains 4 calories, as does 1g of protein, while 1g of fat contains 9 calories. This is why foods high in fat are naturally higher in calories, but not necessarily more unhealthy. For example, nuts and seeds are very calorific because of their fat content but they are very good for our health. Just don't eat too many in one go!
Ultimately, weight loss or weight gain is dictated by your daily calorie intake vs expenditure, however looking deeper at counting your macros can help you make sure you're getting enough of the right nutrients as well as improving your fitness and sporting performance. Someone who is slim due to not eating lots of calories may seem healthy, but if they're not eating the right combination of macros and micronutrients, they aren't really healthy at all.
Each macronutrient is important for our health for a different reason. Fat is important because some vitamins are can only be absorbed by our bodies when we consume fat, it also insulates us and helps our brains function properly. Carbohydrates fuel us while protein repairs damaged muscles and promotes new tissue growth. No single macro should ever be vilified and we need all of them to have a healthy, functioning body. The ratio you choose will depend entirely on your lifestyle and fitness goals.
Which macro split should I use?
One of the most extreme macro splits that is popular at the moment is the keto diet. People following the keto diet aim to enter a state called 'ketosis' whereby the body uses fat for energy instead of carbs. The most common keto macro split is 70% fat, 25% protein, 5% carbs, but some people are known to have gone as extreme as 90% fat with only 5% reserved for each carbs and protein.
Keto is a very extreme diet and the long-term health effects have not been conclusively studied. For the average person, it is definitely better to follow a more traditional macro split.
Macros for weight loss
The average adult when trying to lose weight should focus primarily on their calorie balance – how many calories you eat versus how many you burn on a daily basis. Being in a calorie deficit is the only way to lose weight, and how much of a calorie deficit you're in will dictate how quickly you lose weight.
A safe and well-trusted daily deficit of 500 calories will see you lose around 1lb per week. Any weight loss diet must be sustainable for it to work and for you to see real results. Therefore, an extreme macro ratio will not be helpful. Instead, you'll want to opt for a very sensible macro split of 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat. This will ensure you are getting enough of each macro and will not feel deprived and can still eat delicious, filling foods such as brown rice, quinoa, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. It will also ensure you still have plenty of energy and can exercise safely.
Macros for bodybuilding
When bodybuilding or powerlifting, an athlete will need more protein than the average adult due to the necessity to build more muscle. A classic macro split for bodybuilding or powerlifting is 40% protein, 40% fat, 20% carbs. Like the keto diet, this is a relatively low carb diet, albeit nowhere near as extreme. Another high protein macro split which is more balanced is 40% protein, 30% carbs, 30% fat. Both of these ratios would be beneficial for someone who lifts heavy weights regularly (5-6 times a week) and doesn't do much cardio (such as running).
If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)
A diet/lifestyle often touted on social media is something called IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros. This is the idea that so long as the foods you're eating fit your daily macro outlines, you can eat whatever you want. As touched upon above, some foods are far inferior to others due to their lack of real nutrients (vitamins, minerals, fibre).
People who promote IIFYM claim they can eat chocolate, pizza, fast food, and porridge oats smothered in peanut butter every day without any negative side effects, and are often in very good shape themselves. Unfortunately, the truth is this isn't possible for the average adult. Without adequate fibre, vitamins, and minerals, you will become very unhealthy very quickly and will suffer from all number of health issues from constipation or diarrhoea to headaches, lethargy, and vitamin-deficiencies.
While it's true you could maintain your weight on an IIFYM diet, you would not be getting the nutrients you need from junk foods like chocolate, chemical flavour drops, and other products popularly pushed by these social media stars. This is one to be avoided by most people.
James Mitchell @iifymitch regularly posts photos like the above on Instagram, but eating half a bar of chocolate on top of porridge oats for breakfast every day is not a good idea for anyone.
How to count macros
Once you have decided on the best macro ratio for you, you need to know how many calories you should be eating in a day. The easiest way to do this is using a TDEE Calculator. Your TDEE is your Total Daily Energy Expenditure and takes into consideration your daily activity level, your age, weight, gender, and other factors which will affect how many calories you burn on a daily basis.
Once you know your TDEE, you can adjust your calories in accordance with your goals. As mentioned above, if you're looking to lose weight, you should take 500 calories off your TDEE. If you want to pack on muscle, you should add calories.
So let's say your TDEE is 2,000 calories and you want to lose 1lb a week. Your daily calorie goal will be 1,500 calories.
If you've chosen the sustainable weight loss macro split of:
- 40% carbs
- 30% protein
- 30% fat
40% of 1,500 is 600
30% of 1,500 is 450
This will equate to:
- 600 calories from carbs
- 450 calories from protein
- 450 calories from fat
As we know, there are 4 calories in 1g of carbs and protein and 9 calories in 1g of fat. So that means our macros would be:
- 150g of carbs
- 112g of protein
- 50g of fat
You will need to keep a food diary and track exactly what you're eating so that you know what macros you are consuming. The easiest way to do this is with an app like MyFitnessPal as everything will be automated to make it easier.
It may seem like a lot of work at first, but once you have a routine in place and you know the calories and macros of the foods you eat most, you will find it much easier to count your macros.
The Zone Diet was developed by American medical researcher Barry Sears. Its main aim is controlling the hormones of the body by eating lean protein and unprocessed foods in order to achieve weight loss. While the logic makes sense, does this diet really work? We take a closer look.
How Does The Zone Diet Work?
The Zone Diet is pretty complicated, and to follow it properly you would need to do a lot of research into macronutrients, hormones, and blood sugar.
When following the Zone Diet, meals are split into 'blocks'.
7 grams of protein = 1 block. 14 grams = 2 blocks. 21 grams = 3 blocks.
9 grams of carbs = 1 block. 18 grams = 2 blocks. 27 grams = 3 blocks.
1.5 grams of fat = 1 block. 3 grams = 2 blocks. 4.5 grams = 3 blocks.
A one block meal would consist of one block of protein, one of carbs, and one of fat. There are then two block meals which are two portions of each, three block meals which are three portions, and so on. The blocks work on the rule of consuming 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat at every meal.
Followers of the diet are encouraged to eat at regular intervals in order to keep the hormone levels balanced and to weigh out their food. The Zone Diet classifies carbohydrates by the Glycemic Index which rates them according to how quickly they raise the blood sugar. Slowly-absorbed carbohydrates have a low GI rating (55 or below), and include most fruits and vegetables, milk, some wholegrain cereals and bread, pulses and basmati rice. The Glycemic Index is usually used by diabetics to manage their insulin levels.
The logic of controlling the body's hormones in order to lose weight and stay healthy is a great one. Many people do not realise the effects that their nutrition has on their hormones and the effect that those hormones have in turn on their mood, weight, and other lifestyle factors. The Zone Diet focusses on three key hormones: glucagon, insulin, and eicosanoids. Glucagon tells the body to release stored carbs at a steady rate which stabilises blood sugar levels. Insulin is the storage hormone and an excess can cause excess weight gain. Eicosanoids control various other hormones in the body.
This diet also encourages people to weigh their food and eat at regular intervals which are excellent healthy eating habits. The macronutrient split is not as harsh as other people may insinuate, as 40% carbs is really not that low.
For a start, this diet is probably too confusing for most people to follow, and when people can't understand something they won't stick with it. Another major flaw with this diet is that it classifies carbohydrates in a way that would tar tomatoes with the same brush as rice or pasta, even though they have a completely different effect on the body. This diet implies that a portion of vegetables would count towards as many carbs as a bowl of porridge or something similar, which simply isn't true.
Additionally, this diet encourages people to cut corners. One source states that if a snack bar were to contain 8g of protein, 29g of carbohydrates, and 6g of fat, you would only count the carbs and so this snack bar would be a '3 block carbohydrate' which we can clearly see it isn't. The block system over-simplifies counting macronutrients, and rounding down 8g of protein and 6g of fat to zero is not a good habit to get into as it'll lead to overeating and frustration.
While the roots of this diet make sense, the execution is very poor and it risks leading people into bad habits. For those who have no prior understanding of nutrition, macronutrients, or hormones, this diet would be far too complicated and could lead to them becoming wildly misinformed. Weight loss and healthy living do not have to be complicated! Eating healthy, whole foods in moderation and not exceeding your daily calorie allowance is all you need.
We live in an age where food wastage is unprecedented and the modern conveniences of pre-packaged foods combined with ever shortening expiry dates means we throw away and waste a third of all food produced worldwide. Take a look at how you can eat healthily and cut back on waste, two things very close to our hearts here at Sundried.
Be savvy with expiry dates
Unfortunately, for those trying to stick to healthy eating it's the fresh fruits and vegetables which expire the quickest while the artificial junk food lasts for months or even years thanks to its many additives. However, it's important to be savvy when it comes to expiration dates so that you don't waste food for no reason.
Many foods have 'sell by' dates as well as 'use by' dates. The sell by date is simply a marker for the supermarket or store and you don't need to throw away the food by this date. Even some expiration dates can be taken with a pinch of salt as the food will last a lot longer, especially if refrigerated in some cases. You can also freeze foods which are close to their expiration dates to help them last longer.
Tip to reduce food waste: Don't throw away food simply because it's close to, on, or past its expiration date.
Use your common sense to decide when a food is past its best rather than sticking rigidly to expiry dates
Avoid pre-packaged foods
Enter any supermarket and the closest aisles to the door are always packed with pre-packaged food. Shops are now selling ready-made everything from packaged smashed avocado to stir fry kits with packaged chopped vegetables.
Many of these packaged foods are more expensive than their whole food counterparts because you are paying for convenience. But do you really need to buy smashed avocado in a plastic packet? Can't you just buy a whole, fresh avocado with no packaging whatsoever and smash it yourself?
These pre-packaged foods are adding single-use plastic unnecessarily and causing a lot of damage to the planet as well as being more costly to you as the consumer!
Tip to reduce waste: Always choose fresh, whole foods and don't put them into single-use plastic bags – they have their own natural packaging in the form of skin!
Why buy avocado in a wasteful plastic packet when an avocado comes in its own natural, biodegradable skin?
Make use of leftovers
A lot of food waste is caused because we cook too much and then throw away what we can't eat. Instead of making huge portions according a recipe and then throwing away what you can't eat, you can save the leftovers to have for lunch or dinner the next day or even for the rest of the week.
Planning your meals for the week ahead is a great way not only to reduce food waste but also to improve your health. By having a meal plan in place, you are less likely to just grab a ready meal or order a takeaway. You can make sure you have the right ingredients from your weekly shop and then eat everything you make without wasting any.
Tip to reduce waste: Plan your meals at the beginning of the week and use leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.
Make use of store cupboard staples and canned food
So many people are guilty of grabbing a plastic bag of pre-packaged lettuce, never eating it, then throwing away the slimy remains at the end of the week. You need to be realistic with your meal plans and make use of food that can sit in your cupboard indefinitely. Many of the most healthy foods will last for a very long time; foods like rice, pasta, quinoa, and oats. Other foods such as beans, peas, and chickpeas can be bought in cans and will also last months if not years in your cupboard. Just eat them when you want and no need to waste anything!
Health and fitness can be a tricky minefield to navigate as advice is always changing and something that is considered healthy one week can be demonised the next. We bring you our top 4 foods that are and always will be good for you and should be staples in your diet.
1. Forest fruits: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries
Most people will agree that fruit is healthy and is very good for you. Various fruits have health benefits ranging from anti-inflammatory properties, promoting healthy skin, hair and nails to helping keep you regular thanks to the fibre content. However, some fruits are vastly more healthy than others and sugar in fruit is always a controversial topic.
Some fruits contain a lot of sugar and not much else – not many vitamins or minerals and therefore do not have the health benefits of others. Take plums for example, they contain 10g of sugar per 100g (roughly 7g of sugar per plum) and only 1g of fibre. They do not contain any calcium, vitamin D, Iron, Vitamin B6 or Magnesium and they only contain tiny amounts of Vitamin C and Vitamin A. Therefore, from a purely health-based perspective, there is not much point eating them.
This is where forest fruits come in and why they are top of our list. Fruits like strawberries, blueberries and blackberries could be considered the healthiest fruits out there due to their superior vitamin and mineral content, relative low sugar content (compared to other fruits), and high fibre content. Take strawberries for example, they contain only 5g of sugar per 100g, so half that of plums. They also contain 100% of your daily recommended intake of Vitamin C per 100g. Meanwhile blueberries are packed full of antioxidants which are proven to be great for your health as they offset the negative effects of oxidisation on our bodies (kind of like how rust affects metal).
So, if you're keen on fruit and want to make it part of your healthy lifestyle, opt for these forest fruits and you'll be on to a winner.
2. Dark green vegetables: spinach, broccoli, kale
Another group of foods which are objectively great for your health and can be eaten in abundance is dark green vegetables. Foods like spinach, kale, and broccoli are unrivalled in their health benefits and you should definitely add them to your diet.
In this modern age, it can be easy not to get enough Iron into your diet. For women especially, Iron is vital for health as it keeps your energy levels up and boosts your immune system as well as helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale are thoroughly rich in Iron and will help you feel energetic and full of life, not to mention keeping your blood healthy too.
These dark green vegetables are very low in calories for their volume so you can load up easily without worrying about high sugar or calorie content. Additionally, spinach is as rich in calcium as dairy despite products like milk and cheese being marketed heavily for this benefit. Spinach is also one of the best sources of dietary magnesium, which is necessary for energy metabolism, maintaining muscle and nerve function, regular heart rhythm, a healthy immune system, and maintaining blood pressure.
Guidelines state that we should try to eat one or two portions of oily fish per week due to the health benefits. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, and tuna are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which are great for heart health as well as being a good source of Vitamin D.
Other types of fish include white fish such as cod, plaice, haddock and tilapia. White fish is low in fat and high in protein making it a healthy choice and could even be better than fatty meats like beef.
Shellfish such as prawns, lobster, mussels and scallops are rich in minerals such as selenium, zinc, iodine and copper which can promote a healthy immune system, prevent high blood pressure, and promote increased brain function.
Fish is one of the healthiest foods on the planet due to its low fat content, rich mineral content and high protein content.
Oats are among the healthiest grains on earth. They're a gluten-free whole grain and a great source of important vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants. Studies show that oats and oatmeal have many health benefits including weight loss, lower blood sugar levels and a reduced risk of heart disease.