Saturday, January 26, 2008

Lies & Vegan Athletes

[Also posted on my home blog. I see that Matt has already posted on this and Vegan Run Amok had some great comments. I suspect lots of us have something to say about this article.]

I have to admit to wanting to absolutely scream at the top of my lungs right now so I'll attempt to calm myself to write this post about an INCREDIBLY important topic. Lies, lies, and more lies. Mis-education, deliberate or otherwise, vast ignorance, and blind stubbornness are all things that I see at work when people talk about vegan athletes. Why can't we please have people who actually know about veganism talk on these topics? Instead, the Wall Street Journal decided yesterday to run a story about Tony Gonzalez being a vegan and how it did or did not affect his ability to play football. [Thanks Mom for telling me about this story. As you might suspect, I'm not a regular reader of the WSJ.]

First lie and/or piece of misleading information presented in the article, Mr. Gonzalez is NOT a vegan. Despite the fact that the author refers to him as a vegan numerous times, he is not a vegan. Tony Gonzalez eats fish and chicken. He is not even a vegetarian! What the hell, people?! Do you not know what a vegan is? Please read my my past post on this topic. You are in no way a vegan if you eat animals. Sorry. Can't be vegan. Not vegan. No! Is that sufficiently clear? It is like calling people who don't eat cow, but eat all other animals, vegetarian.

Hence, while the WSJ article claims to be about how vegans can or cannot be serious athletes, it is not at all about that. It is about how Gonzalez has chosen to avoid some animals and animal byproducts. I am very happy about that choice. I think it is good for him, the environment, and for animals. It is important, however, that we realize that he is not and can not be a poster boy for vegan athleticism, because (as I've now said a crazy amount of times) he is not in fact a vegan. My mom knew this immediately. She said the article mentioned he ate salmon, which made no sense to her if he was supposed to be vegan. Yeah Mom! She totally gets it now.

Next. His diet seems to be no where near varied enough. Where's the soy, tempeh, quinoa, seiten? Does he even know about these products? I can't tell you how many times beefers have asked me what quinoa, tempeh, or seiten was. Today everyone seems to know about soy. Where's the flax in his diet? How varied is his bean intake?

Pasta. That is what they show us he eats! Great way to feed into stereotypes. He apparently eats pasta, smoothies, and fish. Doesn't sounds like any vegan athlete I know. Can someone who is smarter than me and famous contact Gonzalez? I think if someone actually gave him the information he needed, he would make different choices and may actually become a vegan. He needs lots of calories. So how about avocados, chick peas, and coconut milk?

I was glad to see that sports nutritionist Nancy Clark didn't say it was bad to be a vegan, but I don't agree with her comment that it is "harder" to get calcium, protein, vitamin D, and iron. It isn't harder. We just eat different things. I guess if you eat at a cow restaurant for dinner every night and can barely eat anything on the menu, then yeah it would be harder. Most of us, however, don't eat at the serious beefer restaurants for every meal.

One good thing to come out of the article was that it shows casual conversations can make a real difference. Gonzalez started thinking about his diet after a man on a plane sitting next to him told him about The China Study. That is rad for a few reasons. First, kudos to the guy for talking with Gonzalez about it and kudos to Gonzalez for actually thinking about the information (and eventually reading it)! Maybe we often make a difference and never even know about it. Maybe our answer to our coworker about why we're vegan might actually make a difference. Maybe the fact that I'm bringing delicious desserts to my omnivore book club tonight might make them all run out for spinach! He! He!

Another repugnant statement that so many people (including the WSJ author) make when talking about athletes making the choice to go vegan is that eating vegan is a "risk." Huh? Eating rotting flesh isn't a risk? Eating animals that have been injected with so many hormones that they have brought on early puberty in girls isn't a risk? Eating animals that have so many antibiotics in them that the drugs have lost their effectiveness for humans (among other reason) isn't a risk? Eating animals that have repeatedly been subject to recalls because of E. coli and other bacteria isn't a risk? Y'all are crazy.

Oh, and the football season Gonzalez reduced greatly his animal and animal byproduct intake, he just happened to break the all-time reception record. Why didn't that lead the story? Instead, it was the last paragraph of the article.

The 247-pound vegan

The 247-pound vegan

'has long been the fringe diet of young rebels and aging nonconformists.'
I guess you get what you would expect from the Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Another Introduction

Veg*Triathlete was nice enough to ask me to contribute to this group blog. I hope she doesn't come to regret it ;) I'll give you a quick background on my sportiness and veganess.

I never ran a mile until I was 30 years old. I'm now 33. The year I turned 30 my friend had died of cancer just a bit before he turned 40 and it really freaked me out. I decided I needed to pay more attention to some preventative health care. I went for a full physical and found out that I had very high cholesterol. I wasn't sure exactly what to do with that knowledge considering I hadn't consumed a bit (that I know) of cholesterol since I went vegan in 1997. Of course, genetics play a major role here. My mom also has high cholesterol. I'm pretty anti-medicine so I decided I needed to do everything I could possibly do before I turned to being on pills daily for the rest of my life. [Of course, I realize that some folks absolutely must be on a medicine for a variety of reasons and am not in anyway second guessing that or other people's choices.]

Because I'm nerdy, I picked up a variety of books and read that based on your height and body frame, if you are within a particular weight range, it was with over 90% certainty that you would not develop heart disease. To be honest, I'm not even sure that knowing what I know now that I even believe that any more, but it got me off my couch! In order to get my weight within that magical range, I had to lose 20 lbs. I never saw myself as a fat person, but I also had never felt good about my body, been active, or very healthy overall.

I set out to change. I signed up for a gym membership. I started taking aerobic classes, yoga, pilates, and lifting weights. I would combine a walk and very slow jog on the treadmill. At the end of my workouts, I would rinse off and then float in the therapy pool, which is set at 97 degrees. Oh, yeah. I loved to be in the water but didn't know how to really swim other than the regular kid's underwater breast stoke.

My workouts largely consisted of what the gym trainer had told me to do - 30 minutes cardio and then a weight routine. I started to jog more on the treadmill though and realized I really liked the stationary bike. My only goal though was a weight goal and the weight was definitely coming off. I was losing on average 2 lbs a week. I was feeling great but realized that I'd have to set a new goal if I was going to maintain my new found healthy lifestyle. Once I had reached my 20 lbs lost, what would keep me going?

About the time that I was realizing that I'd need a new goal, I found out that an acquaintance was a real life triathlete. I was so impressed. She encouraged me to make a triathlon my new goal. What the hell? What ya talking about crazy lady? I had just run my first mile ever in my life! I don't know how to swim! I don't even OWN a bike! How the hell could she think I could complete a triathlon? She was pretty insistent though. She explained about the existence of spring triathlons and encouraged me to simply pick a race and work towards it. That was March 2005.

I bought a road bike. I joined a women's triathlon training group that has a coach. He taught me how to swim. I ran my first 5K in June 2005. I completed my first sprint triathlon in August 2005. It was a wonderfully supportive women's only race in Santa Barbara, California. I sobbed when I exited the ocean swim because the feeling of accomplishment was so overwhelming. My mom even flew out from the East Coast to see me do something we all would have never believed I could do.

Since that time, my training has waxed and waned. I've done several other 5k runs and a half marathon. Haven't yet done a 10K so that is my most current goal. I did several other sprint tris and my first Olympic distance triathlon in September 2006. In October (or was that also September?) 2006 I completed every mile of Cycle Oregon (amazing, but hella hard). In 2006 I hurt my knee and pretty much let 2007 get away from me. My friend KG (not Kevin Garnett, although that would be cool) told me I let myself go last year. With friends like that . . .

If I could do this stuff, anyone can and I hope will! I'm excited to contribute to this group blog. It is great to be among other sporty vegans, but mostly I'm hoping it will help keep me on track. After all, I won't really be able to post much if I don't get myself the hell out there, right?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Vegan-Friendly Coaches and Coaching

One of the more interesting things that has come out of conversations with lots of junior cyclists (racers under 19) is that often they've been discouraged from going or staying vegan by their coaches . Most of the time these coaches have little or no actual training in nutrition.

I imagine this holds for many aspiring athletes over 19 as well.

With the growth of personal coaching through the internet, many people who have never been coached are hiring coaches to help guide them through their training.

What I'm interested in is finding vegan-friendly coaches or coaching services.

My experience is limited the very (very) small world of cycling, so I welcome hearing from athletes from all sorts of sports about their experiences.

I've been lucky and have worked with coaches from Cycle-Smart since 2004. Cycle-Smart president, Adam Myerson is a pretty outspoken vegan and his coaches are all very supportive of my dietary choices.

Adam has also written a few articles on vegetarian sports nutrition from his own experience as a supplement to the Cycle-Smart training manual.

The Vegetarian Athlete, Part I: Rules of the Road for the Meat-Free Cyclist

The Vegetarian Athlete, Part II: Micronutrients

The Vegetarian Athlete, Part III: Eating on the Road

More Articles

So, if you're coached, or have been coached, what has been your experience as a vegan athlete? Was your coach supportive? Unsupportive? Any recommendations for those in the market?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Heart Rate Training

I finally broke down and picked up a heart rate monitor. In this circumstance, I'm a slow adaptor. Do any of you have any tips or recommendations for heart rate training? I'm multi-sport and the heart rate monitor is water proof so I can wear it in the pool. Thanks!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hi! from an Aussie Trail Running Vegan

Firstly thank you to Veg*Triathlete for the invitation to contribute to the Sporty Vegans Blog! I hope I can be a valuable member of the team and have something worthwhile that I can contribute that will help or inspire people, and perhaps the process of contributing, and reading the thoughts of other vegan athletes, will help and inspire me to be my best also.

Ok, I little about myself is probably the best place to start….

I’m a 30 year old vegan Aussie girl, living on the mid north coast of New South Wales, Australia. I guess I’ve got a pretty extensive sporting resume, having competed in state and national level Road Cycling, then progressing to Triathlon. My time in Triathlon covered more events than I can list here, but most notably, 4 Ironmans (with a PB of 11:42), approximately 25 Olympic Distance, Half Ironman and long course events (with a Half PB of 5:20) and a place on the Age Group Team at the World Duathlon Championships in 2005.

In February 2007 I began exclusively running, after becoming disillusioned with the number of injuries I was continually battling as a triathlete. Running was always my weakest discipline, but the one which I enjoyed the most. I didn’t have any specific plans for some time, simply to be thankful that I could run at all, after having 2 stress fractures in as many years, one of which opened in to a fracture requiring a back slab cast for 6 weeks. So I got myself into a good routine running 4 days a week, for an hour a session. Fast forward to September 2007 and I decided that I needed some goals again, my running was going well and I was injury-free, so I decided to enter two events, the Six Foot Track (, a 45km ultra-marathon held exclusively on trail, and because of my fascination with ultra running, I am planning to compete in The North Face 100 (

Now I think I’ll leave it at that for today, that’s quite enough about me, however if anyone has any questions about my vegan diet, racing or training, either for my previous triathlon experience, or my current training as a long distance / trail runner, I’d love to help out!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Doubt and the Vegan Athlete

I think like most endurance athletes I work on doing everything possible to improve my performance. I train smart. I rest smart. I eat well. I sleep well. I invest in decent equipment.

Nonetheless, like most endurance athletes, I hit a rough patch now and then where I just don't feel fast or fit. My race results might not be where they should be. I might not be seeing the gains I want to see during training and doubt creeps in.

I start to second guess my training.

I start to second guess my racing schedule.

And most troubling, I start to second guess my diet.

This is something I haven't heard a lot of vegan athletes talk about, and I wonder why. It seems pretty normal to me that when one spends a lot of time focusing on doing everything right in order to be the best possible athlete one can be that these sorts of doubts would creep in. Add to that comments from teammates, coaches, or competitors that, "maybe you'd do better if you ate some meat," and it produces a little bit of doubt.

If this is something that we all go through, how do vegan athletes manage dietary doubt?

In my case, I think about the fact that if I wasn't vegan it's likely I would not be an athlete at all. So, rather than impede my performance, which I don't think veganism has done, veganism enables me to do what I love to do on a daily basis. Even in the times when things aren't coming together, I'm finding it helpful to think that even a bad, bad day on the bike as a vegan is better than not being on the bike at all.

How does everyone else deal with this?

Thursday, January 3, 2008


This is probably old news to most of you, but I wanted to share a few vegan athlete nutrition and training sites that I frequent:

With an Ironman in my future, nutrition and training has taken the spotlight. I had the opportunity to speak with an Ironman a few months ago and he gave me a lot of valuable information that may be helpful to you. I've pasted the highlights below, the remaining info can be found on the above link.
  • Never eat in transition. Wait to take nutrition until you are 5-10 minutes into that leg of the race. If you eat before then there is a good chance you'll get sick.
  • Take in nutrition every 30 minutes, at least. As an endurance athlete you need to take in enough to keep your performance strong (Me, being the silly girl that I am was cutting my nutrition intake down to facilitate weight loss)
  • What you eat the night before a hard training session matters more than what you eat that morning. It takes about 8-12 hours for your body to metabolize the nutrients.
  • This may not be true for everyone but he had better hard training days when he consumed a higher amount of protein the night before. A 1/2 block of tofu or the equivalent.
  • Alternate your speed work and distance work; you cannot do both at the same time. Ideally you want to build a solid base of distance and then work on speed.
  • Add at least one sprint run workout a week to your regimen. It will help you get faster. Try a 10 second sprint, 30 second walk set 10 times. Or a pyramid where you sprint 25m, walk 25m, sprint 50m, walk 50m up to 200m.
  • Bike fit is critical to a good race. Some people like a loose fit while others like it tighter, play around and find out what's best for you.
  • All those fancy aerodynamic helmets and zip wheels don't help you on race day. Studies have shown that those only help if you're maintaining 30+ mph speeds.
  • Rotate your focuses. I.e. focus on swim one week, run the next, and bike the following week. This can be done in monthly rotations as well.
  • The fastest runners have the shortest steps. The elite racers have about 120 foot falls per minute while the average runner has 80. Improve your turnover by doing high stepping drills.
  • A lot of triathletes are now moving towards the natural body movement training. This means instead of hitting the weights they do a series of push ups, crunches and pull ups. Start with 15 of each and do 10 times.
  • Never skimp on sleep. Get at least 8 hours; this is when your body recovers from a hard workout.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

My way late, waaay too long introduction

Hi guys! I've been promising Jen for, like, a month that I would post my introduction really soon! Eep. But here it is, finally. :)

I live in the Desert Southwest with my significant other and our two cats. I'm a technical writer and am also involved in local efforts to get our city and surrounding communities to no-kill.

I've been a vegetarian since I was 15 and a vegan since my 32nd birthday. I'm sure I would have become a vegan earlier had I known the why and how. Kids growing up today not even remembering the world before the internet have no idea how lucky they are. :)

To describe me as "sporty" is probably a stretch. I wasn't very athletic growing up - I was more of a hiker if anything and really more of a reader and writer than that, even.

When I was in my mid-twenties, though, I taught pre-K through 6th grade EFL overseas for a couple of years. I loved my kids, but because I was pretty young, and didn't speak the local language well, and taught the "fun" classes, they would do their gleeful best every day to Wear. Me. Out. And as my host government frowned on small-child-icide, I instead started running 8 kilometers every day after class, up and down the mountain.

Since returning to the states, however, I've been at best an intermittent runner. How I ran injury free for those two years - in bad shoes, on a rocky, unpaved, half-eroded road and knowing nothing about stretching or foam rolling - is a big mystery to me because nowadays I'm always getting sidelined by injury. I guess the obvious answer is that I was younger then, but I don't feel that much older now. It's only been, what, thirteen years? Fourteen? Not that long in terms of world or even personal history, really, but biologically significant nonetheless, apparently.

Other things that get in my way are:
  • Lack of time, real or perceived
  • Boredom
  • Frustration
I'm determined to tackle the lack of time issue this year and am developing a concrete plan for that. (Writing shorter posts would probably be a start, ha!)

Boredom has been more or less solved already by my discovery last year of podcasts. Now I can learn interesting stuff even while I'm running!

Frustration, though... that remains a challenge for me. In 2007, I undertook a real training program for the first time with the goal of finally running a sub-30:00 5K. I made some progress in that direction, but it upset me that the progress was so unbelievably slow and it upset me even more when I ended up injured yet again in November, as this scuttled any chance I might have had of running a sub-30:00 by, I don't know, February even.

This past August, though, this article on women runners appeared in the New York Times, a helpful reminder that if I just keep at it, I almost certainly will get faster, even if it takes a long time.

And more recently, my friend Pirate linked in this great blog post to this article. It cites an 8-year study of runners and non-runners conducted by the Stanford Arthritis Center, one of the findings of which was that even though "about 40 per cent of the runners experienced a running-related injury over a one-year time span," over the long haul, "runners made fewer visits to the doctor, spent about 33 per cent less time in the hospital, missed half as many work days, and - as expected - had lower blood pressures and resting heart rates, compared to non-runners."

Combining the two, the following lesson emerges:

Even if it takes awhile and even though injuries will happen, RUN... and you'll end up faster and healthier.

So that's my rather lengthy mantra for 2008.

Which I hereby condense as follows:



Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Reader Question about Weight Loss

A reader recently posted the following question:

"I am training for my second attempt at the Ford Lake Placid Iron Man in 2008. In race nutrition is what prevented me from finishing it in 2007 - I overloaded my body with calories in too short a timeframe.
I weigh more now than I did training for this years race and wondered if a Vegan diet might help me get the nutrition I need while helping me lose weight.  Thought?"

First of all, congrats for taking on an IM!  I hope your second attempt is all you want it to be.  I have a two part answer to your question about using a vegan diet to lose some weight.  It is possible to use a nutrient dense plant-based diet to lose weight while simultaneously fueling your body with the nutrients it needs while training.  That said, the key is eating nutrient dense food.  Losing weight is ultimately a matter of taking in fewer calories than you're burning, and just because food is vegan doesn't mean it'll make you lose weight.  It's possible to eat a "junk food" vegan diet, which won't help you.   The advantages of using a plant-based diet to lose weight is that if you're eating primarily whole grains, legumes, and fresh fruits and veggies, you're easily going to meet your body's needs for balanced sources of protein and carbohydrate, and (if you're preparing your foods without lots of added fats) lower your fat intake.  As CPB has pointed out on this blog before, the healthy high carb  intake is great for endurance training.  Another advantage is that the high fiber intake will help you feel full.

Some of the best books on the subject, in my opinion, are Dr. Joel Fuhrmann's Eat to Live*, Dr. Colin T. Campbell's The China Study, professional IM triathlete Brendan Brazier's The Thrive Diet, and Davis & Melina's Becoming Vegan (there's a helpful chapter for Vegan Athletes).  

Best of luck!  Keep in touch and let us know how it goes!

*A note about Eat to Live: While I recommend Furhmann's explanation of how a plant-based diet is healthy for your body, I would not recommend following his 6-week plan to the letter while training.  He's anti-snack, first of all, and I think snacks are crucial when you're in training mode.  As far as I can tell, it's the only way to get in enough calories.  His general principles, however, strike me as sound, and he provides some great recipes.