I have been a runner for about eight years now, a year more than I have been a veg. When I first became a vegetarian, I had experienced dramatic changes in my energy levels, muscle building and endurance. I’d say it was a true struggle being only 16 and having no idea what to do about not eating meat, not to mention wanting to be the best track runner on the high school team.
It took hours of research and years of experimenting. Seven years later, I have been successful at running 10-mile runs and numerous 5k runs, not to mention winning races all throughout my time on the track team.
I am still running long distances today, so not only is my story proof that it is possible to be a successful vegetarian/vegan athlete, but another man by the name of Matt Frazier has even more of a story to tell as the “No Meat Athlete.”
Q: What motivated you to start a website like “No Meat Athlete.com?”
A: Well, I had been a runner for several years and was really focused on qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I started to not feel right about eating meat, mainly for ethical reasons, and I also thought that the standard athlete diet might not be the best thing for long-term health. But I was also concerned about what going vegetarian would do for me as a runner.
Like so many others, I was stuck in the idea that you couldn’t get enough protein (or enough calories of any kind) without eating meat. So I tried to do some research but noticed that there just wasn’t much available online, at least not that was presented in a way that I thought was fun, engaging, and trustworthy. So I started No Meat Athlete, mainly to share my experiences, and it evolved from there!
Q: What benefits are there to being a vegetarian?
A: I really think that depends on who you ask. Some people will tell you it’ll make you a better athlete. In my own experience, that has been true, but I don’t like to make that promise to people who are thinking about it — everybody is different and I think different diets work for different people and lifestyles.
But I do think everyone could benefit from eating less meat and other animal products, simply because it makes you think more about your food. Sure, it’s not as convenient when you can no longer, say, stop at a fast food restaurant on a car trip. But that forces you to plan what you’re going to eat, perhaps even prepare something ahead of time to bring with you, and that option is almost always healthier.
So I think the biggest benefit to being vegetarian, for me — ethical and environment issues aside — is that it has caused me to make better choices for my own health. For some people, that’s not the case; there are plenty of junk food vegans out there! But I like to tell people it’s worth a try to see how you like it and see how it changes you. You can always go back if it’s not what you had hoped.
Q: What do you feel is the best thing about being a vegetarian?
A: Well, I feel so much better just knowing now that I don’t eat animals or support their mistreatment. I really think being satisfied with your actions in that way can come to permeate everything you do, and just plain make you happier!
Physically, I noticed more energy from the very beginning. I don’t know that it was necessarily the meat and dairy that were dragging me down, but I do know that as soon as I went vegetarian, I started eating lighter meals with more whole foods and more vegetables than I ever had. After dinner, instead of feeling like lying down on the couch until it was time for bed, I realized I still wanted to do things — take a walk, go for a run, work on my blog … and then I noticed that I had more energy in the mornings, too! Increased energy has been the biggest difference I’ve noticed, even after three years now.
Q: Which cuisine do you enjoy eating? Is there a specific dish that you like most from that cuisine?
A: Actually, it’s Italian food! Before I went vegetarian and then vegan, I was really into cooking, and Italian food was always my favorite. Homemade pastas (gnocchi was my specialty), ragout that would take all day long to cook, lasagne with bechamel …
But after I went vegetarian, I kind of drifted away from this because I found it just wasn’t the same when I made adapted versions without meat or dairy — this is why I’m excited to have discovered your blog!
These days, I eat a lot of Indian food and Asian food, cuisines that have a lot of meals that are naturally vegetarian, without many adaptations. I like the simplicity of a dish like red lentil dal with rice and just a few spices that provide a tremendous depth of flavor and tons of nutrition.
Q: I noticed on your website that you have a lot of great recipe ideas- is there one recipe that’s your favorite?
A: One that comes to mind — and I’m sure you’ve got a version of it somewhere — is pasta with pesto, potatoes, and green beans. (The version on my site uses parmesan cheese; nowadays I make a vegan version.) It was one of those meals, like many I discovered when I went vegetarian, that seem like a weird combination the first time you hear about it (pasta with potatoes?) but is actually really authentic and delicious. It’s loaded with carbohydrates, so it’s one of my favorite pre-race lunches or dinners.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is athletic and interested in becoming a vegetarian?
A: Great question! So many people focus on protein and think that’s the important thing you need to worry about, but really it hasn’t been an issue for me. Eat a wide variety of whole foods, and make sure to include just a little protein at eat meal or snack — maybe nuts on a salad, quinoa instead of rice, protein powder in a smoothie, almond butter on a bagel — and you’ll get what you need, even as an athlete.
I’d also say pay attention to how many calories you eat and make sure you’re replacing a lot of what you lose when you remove the meat (and possibly dairy) from your diet. Those are some of the most calorie-dense foods, so it’s easy to have a big dip in your caloric intake. If you’re doing intense training, you need to take in the calories to rebuild your muscles, so make sure you eat enough!
Q: What are the next moves for the “No Meat Athlete?”
A: We have such an amazing community of plant-based athletes who read and comment on the site and our Facebook page, and I’m starting to focus more on doing everything I can to facilitate that. Rather than NMA being about my writing, my experiences, my information, I want it to be more about the community and a place for lots of people to share what they’re accomplishing and what they’re learning about using a diet like this for athletic training. I think we’re at a point where the community is what’s it’s about, and I think that’s the best way to grow this movement and help it to go mainstream.
For more information about the “No Meat Athlete” visit http://www.nomeatathlete.com/.