I am beyond excited about this Q&A. If anyone read my post about my decision to become a vegetarian, you would have read about how Matt Frazier’s blog, No Meat Athlete was a HUGE help and is still (and probably will be for a long time) my go-to for information, recipes and general support! I emailed Matt with some questions I had wanted to post in this section of my blog and he is freaking awesome and got back to me with very detailed and informative answers! I am very excited to share this with everyone!
1. Who inspired you to share your story (and to continue to share your story to tens of thousands of people) on NMA?
I’m half-embarrassed to admit that the push to get started with something (anything!) was Tony Robbins, the motivational guy from those infomercials. I went to one of his seminars and actually really enjoyed it, and learned a lot about the nearly-vegan diet he advocated.
When I got home, I did a 10-day challenge to eat essentially vegan + fish, and I felt so great about it that I decided to go completely vegetarian after that. I was worried about what it would do to my training — I was working towards qualifying for Boston at the time — and when I did some research, I couldn’t find any great sources of information for plant-based athletes. So I figured I’d start something myself to write about my experiences and what I was learning, and that became No Meat Athlete.
2. For readers who do not read your blog, can you please share how transitioning to a plant-based diet improved your times as an endurance runner?
When I decided to go vegetarian, I was dealing with some IT-band syndrome that kept me from running for about six weeks. So it was probably a month of eating vegetarian (or eating mostly-vegetarian while transitioning) before I did my first long run on the diet, and I’ll never forget it. I ran a 12-mile route that I ran a lot back then, and I ran it faster than I ever had and felt better than ever. And this was after six weeks of almost no running!
From there, I started training for what would be the marathon where I qualified for Boston. Over that six or seven months, I was able to workout harder and more frequently than I had been before, without having any injury issues. I’m always hesitant to say, “Yes, that was directly the result of my diet,” because there were lots of new things going on then. But it certainly played a part, and many of the vegan athletes I’ve talked to have confirmed that they notice the same recovery benefits.
I ended up running a PR (by over 10 minutes!) in that marathon and qualified for Boston by one minute. To this day, it remains the single most gratifying moment of my life as a runner; I had worked so hard at it for something like seven years and couldn’t believe that journey was over. It was a relief too, because finally I felt free to train for other things. So from there I got into ultrarunning and ran my first 50-miler the next year, and that’s where I am now.
3. I know you did not become a vegan immediately, any advice for vegetarians trying to make the transition to vegan?
For me, going vegan was an entirely different experience when my heart was fully in it than the first time I tried it, about a year and a half after going vegetarian, when I felt that I “should” go vegan but somehow wasn’t ready yet.
But I don’t think the approach I took, even that first time, was bad. What I did was just what I did when I went vegetarian and recommend to others: commit to a time period that you’ll stay with it, and once that’s up you’re free to do whatever you want without feeling like you failed.
What I did the first time I tried to go vegan was commit to just one month (and for some, maybe a week or 10 days might be a better fit). When I reached the end of that 30 days, I knew I wasn’t ready. It was still hard and it didn’t feel right, so when the month was over, I went back to eating cheese occasionally. But that month taught me a lot, and only a few months later, I decided again to go vegan, this time for good.
A big part of the difference in the two attempts was the motivation. The first time, I wanted to go vegan, but didn’t feel that I needed to. Honestly, if you’re vegetarian and want to be vegan but can’t quite make it happen, I’d suggest reading or watching documentaries about how dairy cows are treated. For me, hearing about what goes on there made it very easy to go vegan.
4. Can you please give an example of your diet on a typical day?
There are a few constants in my diet each day — a smoothie in the morning, and a salad or plate of cooked greens (some type of kale, usually) in the afternoon. Making sure I get at least these two things each day helps to keep me on track for the rest of the day, since after a smoothie or salad, you tend to feel good and not want a bunch of junk food.
For lunch, I almost always do leftovers of whatever the previous night’s dinner was, just because it’s quick and convenient.
And dinner, usually, is something pretty simple but healthy and varied. Beans and rice are a favorite of mine, and we make lots of lentil dishes too. Usually it’s some combination of grains and beans or lentils — even if we’re having a pasta dish, for example, we’ll add chickpeas to red sauces, or white beans to pesto sauces (a lot of authentic Italian dishes, actually, mix beans and pasta).
And throughout the day, I fill in the gaps with snacks – hummus in a pita, lots of fruits, nuts or trail mix, almond butter on a bagel, for example. Even though I don’t worry much about protein, even as a vegan, I do try to make sure that every meal or snack has at least some good protein source in it, even if’s just a little bit. That keeps me from just eating carbohydrates all the time, a mistake a lot of vegetarians make.
5. Does your diet change at all when it becomes closer to race day?
It does. About a week or so before the race, I start to increase my portion sizes, and I focus more on carbohydrates. As the week goes on, especially in the last two days before the race or so, I start to take in significantly more carbohydrates, sipping on sports drinks instead of water just to get more carbs wherever I can to top off the tank. And the day before the race, I eat my really big, carb-loading meal at lunchtime, and then just a light dinner so that I sleep well and have more time to digest the big meal. I actually wrote a post on my blog that goes into more detail about what to eat the week before a race; you can check that out if you’re interested.
6. What was your favorite finish line?
It’s got to be the one at my first marathon, Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego back in 2002. The Rock ‘n’ Roll races always do a good job of creating a party atmosphere at the finish, but more than that, it was that I was so miserable for the last 8 miles of that race that nothing has ever looked so beautiful as the finish did then. I made so many mistakes during the training for that first race, it was a wonder I finished at all. But the worst part was that, even knowing that my training hadn’t gone well and I had struggled a lot with injury, I was still naive enough that I let my adrenaline convince me I could run a 3:10 and qualify for Boston that day! Instead, it was a 4:53.
7. I was an inaugural member of “Run Your BQ.” Can you give everyone a brief explanation of the program?
Sure! The goal of Run Your BQ is what it sounds like — to help our members run their fastest marathons and qualify for Boston. Rather than put that information into a book, it’s an interactive experience. So in addition to articles and training plans, there are videos, audios, live Q&A sessions, and of course the forums where members can get help from each other or from me and Jason.
Jason and I are a good combination — he’s super fast (2:39 marathon PR) and he’s a running nerd who knows tons about technical aspects of getting faster. I, on the other hand, tend to focus on the bigger-picture things that I had to use to go from 4:53 in my first marathon all the way down to 3:10 to get to Boston. So we bring different skills and approaches to the table, and I think that’s extremely valuable for our members.
8. Do you have a running blog and/or veg blog that you consider a go-to for information and resources?
Honestly, I don’t really read many blogs. There are only 1 or 2 that I subscribe to and read every post from, but they’re not about running or food. Strength Running is my favorite running blog and I learn a lot there; Jason (also from Run Your BQ) has a way of presenting technical running information in a way that makes it interesting. Choosing Raw is my favorite vegan blog, even though I’m far from a raw foodie. But Gena makes some great food and writes a lot of thought-provoking posts.
I want to extend a HUGE thank you to Matt. His blog is full of helpful posts about running and being active on a plant-based diet! His recipes are also amazing, there are recipes for every meal (make sure to check out the smoothies)! Please visit No Meat Athlete for some wonderful blog browsing!