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How This Ultrarunner Fuels Her Body On A Vegan Diet

When ultrarunner Laura Kline competes in a 50-miler on the trails, she says her vegan diet is an advantage. Here's how she does it.

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Kline during the Lime Kiln Trail Runs

When ultrarunner Laura Kline competes in a 50-miler on the trails, as she will do in December, her vegan diet is an advantage, she says.

“When you [choose] a whole foods, plant-based diet you are eating foods that naturally provide you with clean energy and also speed recovery, which is the key for endurance athletes,” Kline said.

With four long races completed this year, including a third-place finish among women at the USATF Cayuga Trails 50-mile championship in June, Kline is definitely an endurance athlete. And her diet—featuring curry, kale, quinoa and coconut milk—is part of how she prepares for long runs, including the upcoming North Face Endurance Challenge Championships 50-miler in Marin County, CA on Dec. 3.

“In order to string productive training sessions together over days, weeks, and months you need optimal fuel to keep your energy stores primed and muscle soreness to a minimum,” Kline said. “Eating animal products saps your body’s energy as it focuses on digestion and causes inflammation. A diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, and unprocessed grains provides you with all essential macronutrients so your body can focus on muscle repair and growth.”

Kline’s advice comes from 11 years as a vegan. She fuels herself through recipes such as kale and chickpea curry, and spicy peanut noodle stir-fry, which she posts online.

“With a packed daily schedule of work, training, and recovery my favorite recipes are those that are quick, flavorful, and contain simple whole food ingredients,” said Kline, who works in sales and marketing for Aetna. “I really enjoy curries—on top of the excellent flavor coconut milk provides essential electrolytes and curry spices are the best anti-inflammatories you can find in nature.”

Several years before she became a vegan, she had already switched to a vegetarian diet, saying that she “grew disgusted by the thought of eating animals’ flesh.

“A few years later I read a book which explained why humans do not need dairy, why we shouldn’t consume it, and also shed light on the horrors of the dairy industry,” she said. “I became vegan that day.”

Not only has Kline stayed vegan, in the decade since her decision she has excelled in two separate athletic disciplines – duathlon and ultrarunning.

“Physical effects of going vegan include increased energy, increased recovery, and I rarely ever get sick,” Kline said. “On a conscious level it has really opened my eyes to matters such as animal welfare and environmental impact. Choosing a compassionate lifestyle has improved every aspect of my life and I only wish I had made the connection sooner.”

In duathlon, Kline has won three World Championship gold medals, a World Championship title and a National Championship title.

“Duathlon was my first love and always will be,” said Kline, whose background also includes road races and triathlons. “I have a blast on my bike and love the challenge of run-bike-run format.”

However, this year the New Paltz, NY resident has been transitioning to ultrarunning, particularly on trails.

In one of her duathlon offseasons, Kline joined a running group in Lancaster, PA for nighttime runs on what she described as “gnarly trails.”

“Little did I know I would get hooked and just as they predicted would be running my first ultra within a year,” she said.

Kline began this season with the 50K National Championships road race at Caumsett State Park, NY in March. She was second among women and 19th overall with a time of 3:40:17.5 (7:06 pace).

One month later, she switched from road to trails for the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K in Washington, DC. With a time of 4:36:27 (8:45 pace), she was the top female runner, and 10th place overall.

Going back to duathlon, she experienced what she described as disappointment in the Long Course National Championships in Cary, NC in April. She was the sixth female finisher, 52nd overall.

“As I feared that race didn’t go so well and showed me that my heart wasn’t in it,” Kline said.

She returned to ultrarunning and became the third-place female finisher at Cayuga Trails. (Last year, she was the fourth woman overall to finish and third for the USATF National Championship.) Her 2016 finish “gave me the boost of confidence I needed to continue on this path,” she said.

Kline during North Face Challenge Ontario
Kline during North Face Challenge Ontario

Kline’s path would take a northward turn in July for the North Face Endurance Challenge in Ontario. The course of the appropriately-named Atmosphere 50K trail run is described as having the most pronounced elevation gain in Ontario. She was up to the challenge, becoming the first female finisher (eighth place overall) with her time of 4:46:18.

“This is the most ultra racing I’ve done in one year and having four successful races leaves me feeling confident for December,” she said.

Since Ontario, Kline has been taking a break from competitive running as she prepares for the championships. But she’s doing training runs six days a week.

“I am lucky in that my training grounds here in New Paltz offer me varied terrains to run on,” she said. “In these last few weeks leading up to the event I will focus on running the carriage roads to focus on speed and elevation.”

Kline has no plans to slow down. She will open 2017 with the Bandera 100K, the national championship in that distance. Then, in April, she will run the Boston Marathon, which she calls “a bucket list race that I have put off for far too long.” She also hopes to run the 101-kilometer, 5,950-meters-of-ascent Courmayeur—Champex—Chamonix (CCC), part of the Ultra-Trail Mont Blanc, and tackle a 100-mile race.

There will be one constant: the nourishing fuel of vegan recipes such as coconut quinoa and sweet potato curry.

“I would absolutely recommend that athletes and even the general public give the vegan diet a try,” Kline said. “You will explore new foods and ways to prepare them while also learning where your food comes from and why it is important to make choices that support compassion and sustainability. Try swapping out animal products in some of your meals and see where it takes you!”

In Kline’s case, a vegan diet has helped her run hundreds of miles. And chances are it will help her run 50 more miles on Dec. 3.

Make one of Kline’s favorite recipes yourself! Here’s how to make her Coconut Quinoa and Sweet Potato Curry.