Athletes need protein. For most people, this translates into an overabundance of skinless chicken breast and broiled salmon. But Matt Frazier, the ultra-marathoner behind the No Meat Athlete blog and book, is schooling people on how a plant-based diet can fuel better results.
Frazier, who made the transition from meat-eater to vegetarian to vegan, is the driving force behind a movement of like-minded folks who "run on plants." We spoke to the speedy herbivore on common misconceptions, his daily diet, and how best to make the meatless switch.
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When Frazier made the decision to go meatless, he'd been unsuccessfully trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon for several years. At the time, be believed athletics and veganism couldn't co-exist, so he gave up on his Beantown dream.
"I thought it was basically impossible for athletes [to be vegan], even at an amateur recreational level. I thought you couldn't get enough protein or calories. That was the misconception that I myself had bought into," he said.
Much to his surprise, the move to vegetarianism helped him cut ten minutes off his marathon time and meet the qualifications. These days, he's running ultra-marathons -- 50 or 100 miles at a time -- all fueled by plant-based proteins. Here's what he learned along the way.
5. Protein really isn't an issue.
The concern about lack of protein is more a myth than anything else. When Frazier made the switch, he started incorporating protein into every meal and snack to make sure he was getting enough. It was easier than he expected.
"If I was having a salad I added beans or tofu, if I was drinking a smoothie I added protein powder or nuts and seeds, if I was having a bagel, I made sure to put almond butter or hummus on it. I was making an effort all the time to include something that was high protein and often also high calorie," he says.
Per the recommendations of pro athletes, he shoots for 15% of his calories from protein, and it's not hard to meet those numbers if you're including it in every meal.
4. Whole foods are where it's at.
Frazier credits whole foods for his transformation and health.
"If you're eating lots of whole foods, you'll get protein," he says. "Frankly it's harder to get calories than protein. When I made the switch to vegetarianism, I dropped about seven pounds, but I didn't lose any strength."
Dropping the weight also helped make a difference in his run time, he adds.
3. He has more energy now.
Plant-based foods make him feel lighter, partly because they're easier to digest, Frazier says. A dinner with animal protein weighed him down. Now, he has more energy, both after dinner and throughout the day.
"I have noticed since going vegan that I don't have that afternoon lull that I used to have, it really just disappeared. I'm not saying everyone who goes vegan is going to experience that, but anyone who switches to a diet that's high in plants and based on whole foods is going to start experiencing more energy."
2. Smoothies and salads are a daily must.
Two of his staples are a morning smoothie and an afternoon salad. His blog and book offer recipes for both, and they're tailored to personal preference and whatever he has on hand. The two meals have similar ingredients, he says.
"They're almost completely raw. The smoothie is fruit, spinach, nuts and seeds and water and ice. The salad is really similar to that -- mostly vegetables, nuts and seeds, then a dressing made with a food processor with nuts and vinegar."
1. Beans > Meat.
"Really, it's almost normal meals, but with beans replacing meat. In general, vegetarians and vegans almost always eat one dish meals -- beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds," he says.
This contrasts with the idea of a meat mainstay paired with various sides. Staples like Indian, Thai and Asian dishes often meet these needs, he says.
And for those looking to make a switch, Frazier says gradual is always good. Over time he cut out four-legged animals, then two-legged, then fish, then dairy. "I think really that's the way to do it. By doing it in phases, you learn how to eat out, how to shop, how to plan for meals."
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