Just when you think you're tough enough

Nutrition Running Trail Running

Iris Mak harnesses speed and athleticism from Raw Vegan diet

Most athletes believe in high carbohydrate and protein diet, which usually consists of a lot of meat. However, Iris Mak has managed to harness more strength and speed from not only a vegan diet, but a raw vegan diet.

If you diminish her believes, her accolades speak for itself with a silver award at the Hong Kong 100km by finishing under 20 hours. In 2016, she finished fifth at the Taiwan Action Asia 50km and will be participating the North Face 50km in Hong Kong this December.

After going raw vegan, she started winning races including the 2014 Night Course Raleigh Challenge in Hong Kong, a 48km race where she and her partner won in the female team-of-two category.

Iris Mak has won more races as a raw vegan. (SCMP.com)

She was first exposed to a vegetarian diet through vegetarian coach Thomas Lam, within the running community in Hong Kong. Since becoming 100 per cent raw vegan, she decided to stick with a 90 per cent raw vegan, 10 per cent cooked vegan diet, to make it easier to socialise with others at the dining table.

“I think I’m the first one (raw vegan runner) in Hong Kong,” says Iris Mak, a 41-year-old former media sales professional who left her job to complete a degree in child and adolescence nutrition degree at HKU Space.

In a city where vegan runners are rare, the raw vegan kind are even rarer. Mak had always had a penchant for fish dishes and local meat-based snacks, but eschewed red meat as it gave her digestive troubles. Mak become more interested in raw plant-based diets. But it wasn’t until early 2014, when she became a chef at Greenwoods Raw Cafe in Tsim Sha Tsui – run by raw vegan expert Dr Simon SC Chau – that she decided to take the plunge herself.

Mak is convinced her diet helps her athletically – not only to run faster, but to recover more quickly, too.

Iris Mak harnesses speed and athleticism from her raw vegan diet. (SCMP.com)

Preparing for a Race

Based on online research and advice from Dr Chau, I practise fruit-loading, which is another version of the carb-loading strategy many endurance athletes use.

A week before a race, Mak loads up on protein for three days then fruit-based carbohydrates for the next three days – more carbohydrates than her usual diet. Her daily diet would consist of 75 to 80 per cent fruit, around 20 per cent greens, and around 5 to 10 per cent fat from seeds and nuts.

A few years ago when Mak participated in a 100km race in Blue Mountain, Australia, she consumed cup noodles at the checkpoint and felt an immediate rush, but also felt sleepy afterwards.

After the race, I realised my body is too sensitive to cooked food, especially food eaten during a race, [and] that if I ate “naughty” foods, my body would respond in a strong way. This was also part of my reason for becoming a 90 per cent raw vegan.

Natual Protein Source

Mak mainly gets her protein from greens, nuts, chia seeds, goji berries and hempseed which also has good omega-3 content. She also advises to consume nuts that have been soaked overnight – as this helps rid of them of the enzyme inhibitor that prevent nuts from sprouting and it makes them easier to digest.

As a raw vegan, you shouldn’t be afraid to eat good fat. My favourites are avocado and coconut meat.

Today she is an educator, chef and speaker for raw veganism, and teaches raw vegan food preparation at Greenwoods on a freelance basis.

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