From Chicken-Fried Steak to 26.2 Miles on Plants: Wendy’s Story

wendy oct 2011 722x1024It’s hard to believe that at the beginning of this year, Wendy Fry was a gluttonous, lazy slob. (Her words, not mine.)

From just the email interactions we had as she trained for her first marathon, I knew there was much more to the enthusiastic, motivated woman I was talking to than those words conveyed.

And there was: Wendy, back in 2006, had made some drastic changes to her diet and fitness level to get ready for a 48-hour dance marathon to benefit pediatric cancer research (The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, aka THON).

To get in shape, she ate a pescetarian diet (that’s vegetarian + fish) and exercised regularly by walking 4-5 miles every day and doing some cardio and light weightlifting. She even cut caffeine out of her diet.

It worked — Wendy successfully completed what she had trained so hard for. “It’s the healthiest I had ever felt in my adult life up to that point,” she says, “and raising so much money for pediatric cancer research was the best part of it all… I felt really accomplished and maybe even a little invincible.”

Back down to Earth

If you’ve experienced the feeling of accomplishing something like this before, you probably know that this sort of thing has the power to — no exaggeration — change the course of your life.

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Could You Be at Risk for Protein Deficiency? 6 Simple Rules for Protecting Yourself

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Post written by Susan Lacke.

The doctor with the disheveled hair leaned in, inches away from my face:

“To be honest, Susan, I’m not really sure what to make of this.”

In her hand, she held the results of my lab tests. A lot of things were out of whack.

I had been feeling like absolute crap lately, but chalked it up to a heavy load of work, school, and Ironman training. All of a sudden, it looked more serious than that.

In the past, I had some major health problems, which contributed to my decision to become vegetarian, quit my unhealthy habits, and start running. As I sat in the doctor’s office that day, I began to question that – had all of my healthy activities been pointless? I considered picking up a pack of Marlboro Lights and a giant jug of wine on my way home to tell my partner, Neil, I was dying.

The doctor ordered more tests and told me to stop being a drama queen – it wasn’t time to jump to conclusions just yet.

The two words every vegetarian dreads

When I went back to the doctor the following week, I got the verdict: I wasn’t dying. But my diagnosis still didn’t give me much cause for celebration.

I had extreme protein deficiency.

Read more »

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Get Inspired with Vegan Bodybuilder Robert Cheeke on NMA Radio

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When Ben and I sat down to talk about possible guests for the No Meat Athlete podcast, there was absolutely no question as to who should be the first.

To call either of us bodybuilders would be an insult to the entire sport. And yet both of us are ardent fans of Robert Cheeke.

So why a vegan bodybuilder for our first guest, when for so long this website has focused largely on running?

Consider it a testament to Robert’s captivating personality and infectious enthusiasm for veganism and fitness.

Simply put: Hearing Robert Cheeke speak makes us proud to be vegan athletes and inspires us to do it better. We think you’ll agree, and that’s why we’re thrilled to have had Robert as No Meat Athlete Radio’s first guest.  

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New Eco-friendly NMA Shirts Made from Recycled Bottles

matt and skott image 768x1024Well, we survived the snow in Boston last weekend and had a fantastic time exhibiting at the two-day Boston Vegetarian Food Festival.

Just like at DC Vegfest, my wife and I met a ton of readers of the site. And as tends to happen after these things, I came back with a big jolt of inspiration. That’s probably the a result of hanging out with so many readers, as well as people like Robert Cheeke and new friends from Vegan Proteins our neighbors on the show floor.

Or maybe I just ate too much sugar, which also tends to happen at these things. Again, I proved myself too weak to turn down the rare chance to eat sticky buns, whoopie pies, and lots of other vegan versions of food I can’t get anywhere else, from places like Vegan Treats and Cosmo’s Vegan Shoppe.

As I was walking by Cosmo’s on Saturday, I heard a guy working there say, “Hey, I have a tattoo of that shirt!” Turns out it was Skott, who had sent me a photo of his NMA-carrot tattoo a few months back, but neither of us knew the other would be at the festival.

Skott was nice enough to let me take a picture with him and his carrot tattoo, so that even if I achieve nothing else in my life, at least I can show my grandkids that someone got a tattoo of a brand I came up with. Seriously, it was really cool, and Skott was awesome, like so many other people I met this weekend.

New sustainable t-shirts!

w purple sus front 768x1024We debuted some brand new No Meat Athlete shirts at the show, namely our new Anvil Sustainable t-shirts. They were hugely popular, outselling all our other products combined! Here’s why:

1. They’re made with 50% recycled polyester from plastic bottles, 50% transitional organic cotton (“transitional” means it’s from smaller farms that are going organic but are not yet certified). We like to think of them as our version of the Green Silence. Except they’re not shoes.
2. They’re softer than any other NMA shirt, and have a very retro, “heathered” look and feel to them.
3. They come in fun colors. For men: light green, grey, and natural. For women: light green, natural and — by far our most popular at the show — purple!

And hoodies!

m hoodie 283x300We’re also testing out hoodies for the winter.  We didn’t have them in time for Boston, but that means more for the internet crowd!

We’ve got a small number of men’s (blue) and women’s (celery) available. They’re made by econscious, which means 80% certified organic cotton, 20% recycled polyester. (See what they did there? eco + conscious = econscious. The cleverness never ends.)

Both men’s and women’s hoodies are full-zip and have “Runs on Plants” written on the left sleeve.

And yeah, we’re pretty pumped about them. In fact I’m wearing mine right this minute. With no plans to remove it.

You can see more info about the hoodies and sustainable tees in the No Meat Athlete store.

Huge, used-car dealership style blowout sale!

It’s crazy, crazy, crazy! While Matt was in Boston, Crazy Susan took control of the site, and now she’s marked things down waaay below what we can afford to sell them for! Our accounting department thinks she’s gone totally nuts and they’re freaking out, but until someone gets control of Crazy Susan, you get a super-duper deal on No Meat Athlete stuff!

(That didn’t really happen. It’s not crazy, crazy, crazy at all, and Susan only has author access, not admin, so she doesn’t have control of the site. But I’ve wanted to play used car dealer for about as long as we’ve been selling shirts, and it sure was worth it.)

Here’s the real story: To make room for all the new shirts, we’ve got to clear out our inventory of several other styles. No joke; we still run this operation out of our house, so when I say “make room,” I mean exactly that. We had no idea when we finished our basement that what we were really finishing was a shirt warehouse.

So a couple shirts are cheap right now, until they’re gone:

Cotton shirts for $10: Instead of the usual $17, our white and yellow cotton shirts are now available for just $10, with free shipping anywhere in the U.S.

Women’s singlets for $10: We’ve been trying for the longest time to find women’s tanktops that we’re happy with, and we’re still searching. So the women’s singlets that we have in stock are also available for $10, while they last. They’re made by A4, like the men’s, but they’re a looser fit than what we’re looking for, more like a singlet than a form-fitting tanktop.

So while we didn’t spring for a huge inflatable gorilla, these are some pretty good deals and if you’d like to sport some NMA stuff for cheap, now’s the time.

P.S. Last night Ben and I recorded our second-ever episode of No Meat Athlete Radio. We’re on iTunes now, so you can check us out there and subscribe that way. We had a special guest for this one, and we should have it available for download before the weekend so you can take it along on your long run, ride, or workout. Or Zumba class, if you really wanted to ruin it with our podcast.

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What Every Vegetarian Needs to Know About Iron

This is a guest post by Matt Ruscigno, who writes the blog True Love Health.
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True or False: The iron that our bodies require is the same element found in a cast-iron skillet.

This is a real true or false question on my college exam, and it fools a surprising number of my students. Iron is greatly misunderstood as a nutrient, especially when it comes to vegetarian and vegan diets.

The mineral is found all over the earth and is essential to red blood cells transporting oxygen and nutrients to every cell in our body, connecting us directly to the land we live on. Pretty amazing, right?

But iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in North America, with symptoms including fatigue, pale skin, weakness and inability to maintain body temperature. And as vegetarians and vegans, it’s worth paying special attention to make sure we’re getting enough.

So how much iron do we actually need?

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Introducing No Meat Athlete Radio

Podcast Radio2Surprise!

After months of meticulous planning and arduous rehearsals, the No Meat Athlete podcast is finally up and running. (Note: We didn’t actually do any of that; it was mostly just procrastinating on my part.)

Oh, and by up and running, I mean “not yet on iTunes.” But working on it, and hopefully we’ll be listed there in about a week so that you can subscribe that way.

About the show

No Meat Athlete Radio is hosted by myself and Ben Benulis, blogger at Vegan Gym Rat and the newest member of the No Meat Athlete team. Each episode (either weekly or bi-weekly), we’ll feature a guest who is doing something in the plant-based fitness world that we think is pretty awesome, or we’ll address a particular topic that we think you’ll enjoy.

And just so we’re clear, our goal with No Meat Athlete Radio is to bring you the same type of friendly, no-preach information and inspiration for vegetarian and vegan athletes that we offer on the blog, but in a format that you can bring along to listen to at the gym, on your long run, or in your car, and one that makes it easier to highlight and share the amazing things others are doing.

We’re really excited about this, and we hope you enjoy it. In this first episode, Ben and I get the ball rolling by talking about what we’re training for, what we’re eating, and the stuff we’ve been reading or watching that we think you’d like to know about.

Listen to the first episode now:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Or:

Links from the show:

We’re excited to hear your ideas about where we should go with this thing. Please leave a comment below to let us know what you’d like to hear on the show or any particular guests we should try to get!

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The Scary Truth About Energy Drinks

“Aside from the jet packs and the monkey overlords, one of the things that science fiction promised us in the new millennium was food in convenient pill form. But reality cheated our imaginations on every level. Instead of jet packs, we got Segway scooters. Instead of monkeys, we got the Bush administration. And instead of food pills, we got energy drinks.”
– Jeff Penalty, Swindle Magazine

iStock 000016043872XSmall 300x207A boost to beat “that 2:30 feeling.”

A remedy for a poor diet.

Athletic prowess like never before.

Such are the promises of energy drinks. This trend seems to be a natural evolution of our love for (and, in some cases, dependence on) caffeine, starting with coffee and progressing to cola and super-charged sodas such as Mountain Dew. You can even purchase caffeinated soap to get your buzz before your coffee is done brewing!

Let’s face it — we love being wired. But do energy drinks go too far?

What the hell is this?

I first saw an energy drink during a half-marathon a couple years ago, when someone ahead of me chucked an empty Red Bull can over his shoulder, hitting me in the head. In rage, I picked it up to throw it back at him, but the small size of the can piqued my curiosity: What the hell is this?

I thought I had discovered a runner’s secret. I’ve never been much of pop drinker, so I had missed the displays of Red Bull and Monster in the convenience store coolers. It sounded like a miracle tonic: “Red Bull gives you wings.” Wings? Awesome.

My tenure as an energy-drink consumer lasted one day. If by “wings,” Red Bull meant anxiety, shaky hands, nausea, and an eerie resemblance to Philip the Hyper-Hypo after a candy bar, then yes, I had wings.

I stared at the can again, wondering: What the hell is this? Since then, I’ve been trying to figure out the answer, even studying the drinks as part of my dissertation for my doctoral program. As I sifted through the research, I found that under the heavy data and big words, there was one common theme:

Energy drinks promise a lot, sure — but there’s a lot more they aren’t telling us.

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The Skinny Vegan’s Guide to Gaining Muscle

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You hear a lot about how to lose weight. Not so many of us are trying to gain it.

This article would be so much cooler if it had a headline like, “How I Gained 20 Pounds of Muscle in 30 Days (On a Vegan Diet).” And if it included dazzling before and after photos, it would probably do a lot to show people it’s possible.

That’s what I had in mind when, earlier this summer, I took a look at myself in the mirror, realized I had gotten too thin, and decided it was time to hit the gym.

Actually, even for a small guy like me (I was all the way down to 132 lbs when I decided it was time to start putting weight back on) a goal like 20 pounds in 30 days wasn’t as crazy as it sounds.

Twice in my life, once in college and once shortly after, I’ve gone from 140 to 160 pounds very quickly, drastically increasing my strength and staying fairly lean at the same time. The only difference now, with a vegan diet, would be the absence of chicken breasts and milk — two foods I absolutely relied on during any rapid muscle gain diets I did the past.

I knew that adding weight wouldn’t be any help to me as a runner, but that was okay. I needed a break and a change of pace, and I didn’t like being so skinny. And if in the process I could show a bunch of people that it is possible to put on a ton of muscle really quickly on a vegan diet, then all the better.

How it really turned out

I didn’t gain 20 pounds in 30 days.

I did, however, gain 17 pounds in about 6 weeks, topping out at 149. Not exactly a strike-fear-in-the-hearts-of-enemies number, I know, but it’s a lot more than 132, and a total weight increase of almost 13%. And although the point wasn’t to gain strength but to gain mass, I got a lot stronger too, increasing my chest press from 130 to 195 pounds for a 7-rep set.

But my results could have been a lot better if not for two interruptions to my regimen:

  1. I traveled a lot and was not able to maintain the volume of eating I could do at home. This killed my momentum on three separate weekends. I suppose I could have been more disciplined with my eating, but a large portion of my calories came from a “fat shake” that I just couldn’t make on the road (more on the fat shake later).
  2. I got injured when I made a careless mistake in the gym. Six weeks after I had started, I tore a disc in my back when I inadvertently loaded more weight on one side of the barbell than the other for a deadlift and tried to lift the unbalanced load. When I learned this would keep me out for three weeks, I decided I was done with muscle gain.

Still, 17 pounds is nothing to shake a carrot at, especially for a skinny guy who has always found it harder to gain weight than to lose it. So here’s what I did, the vegan-adapted version of what I found success with the other two times I’ve succeeded at quickly putting on a bunch of muscle.

If you can’t gain weight, you’re probably making this mistake

Shortly after I got interested in fitness in college, I wanted desperately to get bigger. I drank all these Myoplex shakes, ate six meals a day, and lifted like crazy. And yet I just couldn’t get past 140 pounds.

After every trip to the gym, I’d eagerly weigh in, feeling all puffed up from my lift and sure I’d tip the scales. And every time, I’d see 140. F’ing 140.

So I did some research, and came across Anthony Ellis, a guy who went from 135 to 180, and finally discovered what was wrong:

Trying to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time is completely counterproductive.

Prior to learning this, I thought the road to muscle gain was more lean protein along with more lifting, and of course some cardio to keep the fat off. Wrong.

I made three big changes as a result, and experienced drastic, immediate muscle gain.

  1. I stopped running and all other forms of cardio.
  2. I started lifting fewer times each week, training each muscle group only once per week.
  3. I started eating more fat. Way more fat. Like, getting up in the middle of the night to make a peanut butter sandwich.

And I gained weight. I went from 140 to 160 pretty quickly. I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but I figure it was about six weeks.

My approach this time

Really, putting on weight is about only two things. Lifting, which is important. And eating, which is more important. I’ll explain what I did for each.

The lifting

For the lifting, I decided to try out Tim Ferriss’ methods from The 4-Hour Body, specifically the chapter “Occam’s Protocol I: A Minimalist Approach to Mass.”

Here, Tim proposes a lifting regimen that requires less than half an hour a week of gym time per week: just two sets of exercise each session (one each of two different lifts), performed at extremely slow cadence (5 seconds up, 5 seconds down), until utter and painful failure is reached.

And not just “I can’t get this next rep, so I’ll quit” failure, but really putting every bit of effort you have into pushing that last rep up, and then lowering it as slowly as possible. (Tim quotes a funny line from Arthur Jones: “If you’ve never vomited from doing a set of barbell curls, then you’ve never experienced outright hard work.”)

There are way more details you should know about Tim’s plan before you try it, especially about how frequently to work out and how to increase the weights. And since I don’t want to get sued for plagiarism, you’ll have to check out The 4-Hour Body to learn about that stuff.

I must admit, this was fun. An unexpected benefit was what knowing that my gym time was precious helped me get amped up for it –knowing, for example, that this one set of 7 or 8 reps is my only chance all week to do chest press certainly made it easy, almost fun, to keep going until I reached that point of true failure.

And it worked. I followed Tim’s plan to the letter for about three weeks, gaining 3-4 pounds per week, until I decided I wanted to alter the plan to include some lifts I really liked, like squats and deadlifts (in hindsight, not my best idea). But I followed the same cadence, rep scheme, and frequency of workouts, and kept getting results.

As it turns out, Tim’s approach isn’t all that different from what I had done to put on weight before. Infrequent workouts, heavy weight, and sets to all-out failure. So I knew going in it would work. The diet, however, I wasn’t so sure about.

The eating

As I wrote before: The major difference between this time and previous ones was my diet. I wasn’t vegan then, or even vegetarian. When I wanted to bulk up in the past, I just ate tons of cheese, milk, steak, and chicken breasts, and it was pretty easy.

Not that I doubted it was possible for people to get big on a vegan diet. Look at Robert Cheeke or Derek Tresize. But for me, a guy whose equilibrium size is more sapling than mature oak, I wasn’t so sure.

In looking at my diet, it was pretty clear that it was lower in both protein and fat than what had worked for me in the past. So I focused on adding those two nutrients to my current diet, without reducing carbohydrates, hence increasing total calories.

I also tried to eat larger portion sizes in general, and found that after just a few days this became comfortable. I did eat fewer salads and raw vegetables, since they take up a lot of room without providing many calories. (That’s just one reason why I would never stick with  diet like the one described here long-term, nor recommend it for all-around health.)

Looking back at the journal I kept of my meals, I see that the protein and fat increases came primarily from protein powder, almond butter, flax and coconut oil.

Here’s what a typical day looked like (I don’t have calorie counts, because I just hate counting calories, even with mass-gaining):

  • Smoothie, with an extra scoop of protein powder (11 additional grams protein) and an extra 2 tablespoons of almond butter
  • 12 ounces coffee
  • Orange
  • 1 cup brown rice with 1.5 cups yellow lentils and zucchini
  • Whole wheat bagel with almond butter
  • Banana
  • Vega Sport Performance Optimizer before workout
  • Apple juice immediately after workout
  • Vegan Fat Shake (see recipe below)
  • Handful of snacks, like Mary’s Gone Crackers sticks
  • 2 servings of millet with kidney beans, carrots, and collard greens
  • Glass of red wine
  • Clif Mojo Bar, peanut butter pretzel flavor

Not a crazy amount of food, really. But way more than I usually eat, and definitely higher in fat, thanks to the “fat shake.”

The vegan fat shake

The fat shake is something else I got from 4-Hour Body. Tim’s version is about as far from vegan as a shake could be, with raw milk and raw eggs as key ingredients. My vegan version was obviously lacking in the raw animal protein category, but I found it did a nice job of providing a lot of protein and fat among its roughly 1000 calories. I drank it about two hours after each workout, and also the first day after each workout.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 12 ounces raw, homemade almond milk
  • 2-3 tablespoons raw, homemade almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon flax seed oil
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 2 scoops soy-free veggie protein powder (about 22 grams of protein)
  • 1 teaspoon maca powder
  • 1 banana
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon wheat grass powder, just to be a granola-crunching hippie badass

Blend all ingredients together in a blender.

Supplements

I also added a few supplements, in addition to the multivitamin I usually take. Each day, I added to one of my smoothies:

  • 5 grams creatine
  • 5 grams glutamine
  • 1000 IU tablet of Vitamin D3

And right before I got hurt, I realized that I was missing one thing from my earlier mass-gaining days, which was a proper post-workout carbohydrate drink. I had been using apple juice, but in hindsight I wish I would have used something that was designed to deliver quick, post-workout carbs.

Conclusion

It worked. Maybe with not staggering results, although if I didn’t have any experience with gaining muscle from the past, then perhaps I would have found a 17-pound gain to be staggering. I did start to gain some fat towards the end: my overall body fat increased by 1-2% throughout the process (that’s as accurate as I can get with my cheap body fat scale), so I probably would have stopped within a few more weeks anyway had I not gotten injured.

Just to restate, I wouldn’t recommend a diet like this long-term. I’m sure consuming that many calories (and that much fat) isn’t healthy. If you’re looking to gain weight on a vegan diet, then sure, you can look at my experience as one example, but I highly recommend checking out Robert Cheeke’s book, Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness, for diet advice from someone more experienced than I am, and Tim Ferris’ book 4-Hour Body for the details of the lifting regimen (which I have nothing but good things to say about, with the results I got in so little gym time).

And now, three weeks after my injury, I’m happy to say that the torn disc in my back is healed. I probably won’t do deadlifts for a little while, and I’m done with weight gain for the foreseeable future. But I’ve got lots more planned, and I’m excited about what’s next.

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