The Vegetarian Athlete Diet

It’s time to put an end to the idea that eating a vegetarian or vegan diet and running well are mutually exclusive.

I became a much stronger runner almost immediately after switching to a vegetarian diet.  But you don’t have to take my word for it: There are plenty of world-class athletes (and not just endurance runners) that don’t eat meat.

Running icon Bart Yasso is a vegetarian.  Scott Jurek, one of the greatest ultramarathoners of all time, is vegan.  (He now holds the American record of 165 miles run in 24 hours!)  Brendan Brazier is a vegan pro Ironman triathlete.  Robert Cheeke even makes the vegan diet work for bodybuilding.

The Plant-Based Athlete Diet

A vegetarian diet for endurance athletes is really not all that different from a normal (healthy) diet, with the exception, of course, of the meat.  If you’re switching from eating McDonald’s every day, then sure, it’s going to take some getting used to.  But if you eat lots of nutritious, whole foods as it is, there really aren’t all that many adjustments you need to make to go vegetarian.

You can take it as far as you want, and some vegetarian and vegan athletes tend toward raw and gluten-free diets, citing even greater energy gains.  There are differing degrees of health in even vegetarian diets, and mine still includes a lot of delicious cooked foods that “normal” people eat.

The Philosophy: Healthy but Accessible

There are some fantastic books out there that espouse what I consider to be an “ideal” diet, from the standpoint of athletic performance.  Vegan, high-raw, alkaline.  (See Brendan Brazier’s Thrive, for example.)

Eating that way is great.  But it’s tough.  Lots of strange ingredients, low-temperature cooking, and very little starchy goodness for the pasta lovers among us.  For meat-eaters looking to make a change (without causing their families to rebel), the chasm between this type of diet and their current one is huge.

I’d like to offer an alternative, a diet that is vegetarian (and can easily be made vegan), that’s substantial enough to support endurance training, and that’s delicious and accessible to new vegetarians.

I’ll be the first to admit you can do better nutritionally, but I believe that it’s more important to have a diet you’ll stick to first.  Once you’re used to eating vegetarian or vegan (and training on that diet), that’s when it’s time to consider taking it to the next level.

But Where Do You Get Your Protein?

Ah yes, every vegetarian athlete’s favorite question.

The answer is that protein is in all kinds of foods besides meat, but generally in lower quantities. It takes some effort to make sure you get some protein in every meal, but it’s not that hard.  While it is possible to eat a high-protein vegetarian diet, if your goal is to get the amount of protein recommended by many traditional diets for athletes, though, you’ll have a tough time doing it.

Having heard that many endurance athletes thrive on diets with lower amounts of protein than is traditionally recommended, I took a chance on it, and I’ve never felt better than I do now.  I’ll never go back to those crazy 1-gram-of-protein-per-pound-of-body-weight rules again.

If your vegetarian diet is pizza and potato chips, then you won’t get enough protein.  But if you eat a wide variety of foods and make smart choices to include some protein at every meal and ensure that you’re getting a balanced amino acid profile, chances are you’ll feel better than ever.  (See the vegetarian protein page for some numbers and amino acid information.)

Staple Foods

This list represents some common foods that will help you meet the needs of the vegetarian diet for endurance athletes.  Certainly there are many more foods one could include; the idea here is to list those that can be found in common grocery stores and whose tastes aren’t too foreign.

  • All kinds of vegetables, cooked and raw
  • Vegetable sprouts
  • All kinds of fruits, usually raw
  • Beans and other legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, adzuki beans
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Brown rice
  • Pasta
  • Whole-wheat bread, pitas, and bagels
  • Other grains and seeds: bulgur wheat, buckwheat, farro, millet, quinoa, flaxseed, hempseed, chia seeds
  • Hummus
  • Nuts, nut milks, nut butters: almonds, cashews, walnuts, almond milk, hazelnut milk, peanut butter, almond butter, sunflower seed butter
  • Agave nectar (as workout fuel, not an all-purpose sweetener)
  • Protein powder (I like this hemp, rice, pea, and chia blend)
  • Soy products (limited): tofu, tempeh
  • Tea and coffee (limited)

Caloric Breakdown

I don’t count calories, or even carbohydrate-protein-fat ratios, when I eat.  I don’t believe that there’s a need to do this.  But in general, such ratios can be met with a variety of food sources.  In other words, take your favorite endurance diet numbers and make them work without meat.  Endurance diets tend to be high in carbohydrate anyway, making a vegetarian or vegan approach especially well-suited.

Though I don’t count calories closely, I try to eyeball my caloric breakdown and stay fairly close to the proportions laid out by Lance Armstrong’s former coach, Chris Carmichael, in his book Food for Fitness.  Carmichael’s recommendations, though varying based on training period, are roughly:

  • 65% carbohydrate
  • 13% protein
  • 22% fat

If you aim to hit these numbers with a vegetarian diet, you should be just fine.  And you’ll find that it’s not all that hard to do.

How Much Should You Eat?

About as much as it takes to feel comfortably full, but not stuffed.  As endurance athletes, we have the luxury of eating more calories than more sedentary people.  We need more calories, in fact.

If your goal is weight loss, or if you train more or less than I do, your needs will be different than mine.  Figure out what size meals work for you.

Eating Around Workouts

How you eat before, during, and after your workouts is especially important on any diet.  For lots of guidelines and recipes for unprocessed, vegetarian workout foods, see the natural running fuel page.

So there you have it: A workable vegetarian diet for endurance athletes.  Not that much to it, is there?

This post is part of a series on how to start eating a vegetarian diet, for new vegetarians or endurance athletes looking to take their performance to the next level.



Pre-Race Pinole & Chia Waffles

Hello again!  This is Christine, and this week I have a batch of vegan waffles to satisfy your sweet tooth!  But these aren’t just any waffles: They’re based on the diet of the Tarahumara, a Mexican tribe of superathlete ultramarathoners.

Ok, I’ll admit it, long after Matt’s post on Tarahumara pinole and chia, I’m only half way through Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run. But I am already chomping at the bit to give pinole and chia a whirl.  While I’m sure some of the claims are exaggerated, these foods seem like the magic cure for any ailment!

Will Run For Waffles

Heading out for a 48-hour trail run?  Legend has it that a satchel of pinole on the hip is all the Tarahumara require.  Need to bound up this cliff like a mountain goat?  Have a sip of chia gel. Run yourself ragged? Drink a cup of corn gruel.

Of course, a lot of things take on mythical proportions out in the depths of the Sierra Madres.  Can pinole and chia work their magic in my world—not just for an afternoon run, but to fuel the 9-5 grind too?

I developed this recipe for waffles to give pinole and chia a chance in my modern world.  And by “modern,” I mean that anything with the word gruel in it is unacceptable.

Beyond the allure of tribal running hunks, secret villages, and mystery gruels and gels, it all comes down to foods crazy-dense with nutrients and foods lacking in junk.  That is, unless you consider blindingly-strong corn-beer to be junk.

Vegan Pinole-Chia Waffles

  • 3/4 cup medium to finely ground cornmeal or pinole
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup oats, ground
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1 cup hemp milk
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

If starting with cornmeal instead of pinole, toast it lightly in a pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until it is lightly browned and fragrant.  If you are using real pinole, grind in a coffee grinder to make a fine flour.

Preheat waffle iron.

Stir together the cornmeal, chia, ground oats, salt and baking powder.   In a separate bowl, mix together the applesauce, hemp milk, coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla.  (The coconut oil needs to be at warm temperature or warmer to mix, so you may need to microwave it to get it to a liquid state.)

Stir the wet ingredients into the dry to combine into a smooth batter.  Spray the waffle iron with baking spray even if it is nonstick, and pour batter into hot iron.  Follow the directions of your waffle iron, or wait until the iron stops steaming.

Carefully remove waffles from iron, respray with cooking spray, and repeat.  This was enough batter to fill my waffle iron 2 and a half times, making 5 small waffles.

To enjoy immediately, top with maple syrup and the fruits of your choice.  Alternatively, slice into bars, freeze and take on your next run.

These pinole-chia waffles were surprisingly delicious!  I was nervous they would be too gritty, but the pinole provides an amazing crunchiness that transform them from “pastry” to “hearty breakfast.”  While I can’t promise that these will propel you up the side of a mountain, I will tell you that Matt is planning on making them for his 50 miler!

I  originally set out to develop a waffle recipe because Caleb and Rita left comments describing vegan waffle tragedies, but now I am on a total pinole and chia kick!  I want to put a Tarahumara spin on everything— any requests for what to try next?  I’d love a good challenge!

See you next Friday!


About the Author: Christine Frazier writes vegan recipes through lots of research, trial, and error … now she is applying the same theory to her other passion, writing stories. Follow along as she deconstructs bestsellers and learns how to write a novel.



The Vegan Answer to the Meatball Sub

Show me a non-vegetarian who claims not to like meatball subs, and I’ll show you a liar.

Meatballs, marinara sauce, cheese.  All on a sub roll.  To those not averse to eating animals and animal products, heaven on a bun.

If I had to bet on it, I’d say more than one conscious diet has been ruined when a drunken vegetarian or vegan stumbled by a late-night Italian sub shop, only to be drawn by the irresistible call of the meatball sub which rivals that of Homer’s mythical Sirens.

But now, my vegetarian friends, heaven on a bun is no longer forbidden to us.

Meet the Wheatball

This one comes from Robin Robertson’s Vegan on the Cheap, and cheap it is.  According to Robin, these “wheatball” sandwiches come in at less than $1.50 per serving.

Of course, that’s if you make your marinara sauce from scratch and use Robin’s recipe for Cheezee sauce instead of paying for vegan mozzarella cheese.  When Erin and Christine tag-teamed this recipe last night, they did all of that.  (Our splurge was on the Ezekiel sprouted buns.)

But Robin recommends getting ready-made marinara and vegan cheese if you’re strapped for time (and your budget can handle an extravagant two dollars per serving).  At the end of this post, I’ve provided her recipe for Cheezee sauce, but figured I’d let you insert your favorite marinara sauce, storebought or homemade.

These are called “wheatball” sandwiches, but don’t let that name turn you off.  The base of the wheatballs is mainly chickpeas and mushrooms, with some breadcrumbs and wheat gluten included to provide the right texture.

And you know what?  These subs are really good.  You can’t go into it expecting a meatball sub, because it’s not that.  But it’s a great sandwich that seems like a meatball sub, and I’m very happy with that.  We’ll be making this recipe again.

My biggest gripe is one that applies to nearly every veggie burger or veggie meatball—they’re not firm the way real burgers or meatballs are.  But I’m used to that by now, and you probably are too.

So make these and enjoy a little bit of animal-free heaven.  Then head to Robin’s blog to tell her thanks.

Wheatball Sandwiches

From Vegan on the Cheap, by Robin Robertson, Wiley, 2010

  • 12 to 16 Wheatballs (recipe below)
  • 2 cups Marinara Sauce
  • 1/3 cup Cheezee Sauce (recipe below)
  • 4 small sub rolls or other sandwich rolls

1. In a large saucepan, combine the wheatballs and marinara sauce, and heat over medium heat.  Use a potato ricer to smash and flatten the balls, retaining some shape and texture.  Cook stirring, until heated through, about 5 minutes.  Keep warm.  Preheat the broiler.

2. Heat the cheezee sauce in a small saucepan and keep warm.

3. Split the sub rolls and place them, cut side up, on a baking sheet.  Toast the rolls, then arrange them on plates.

4. Divide the wheatball mixture and drizzle each with some of the cheezee sauce.  Serve hot.


Makes about 28 wheatballs

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup chopped white mushrooms
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup wheat gluten flour (vital wheat gluten)
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1. In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, mushrooms, garlic, and parsley and pulse until coarsely ground, but not pureed.  Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine.

2. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the mixture into a large bowl and knead the mixture until well blended, about 2 minutes.

3. Pinch off a small piece of the mixture, press it together in your hand, then roll into a 1 1/2-inch ball.  Repeat with the remaining mixture.

4. In a large skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat.  Add the wheatballs, in batches if necessary, and cook until browned all over, moving them in the pan as needed for even browning, about 5 minutes.

5. Repeat until all the wheatballs are cooked.  They are now ready to use in recipes. If not using right away, cool completely, then cover and refrigerate or freeze until needed.  Properly stored, they will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or in the freezer for 3 to 4 weeks.

Cheezee Sauce

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

  • 2/3 cup nutritional yeast
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 cups plain unsweetened soy milk or water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the yeast, cornstarch, salt, and garlic powder.  Turn the heat on medium and whisk in the soy milk.  Cook, stirring, until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute.

2. Remove from the heat and stir in the oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and mustard.  The sauce is now ready to use.  If not using right away, refrigerate the sauce in a container with a tight-fitting lid, where it will keep for several days.



Lessons Learned from Training to Run 50 Miles

Think of somewhere that takes you an hour to get to by car.  For me, that’s about 50 miles, and it’s too far to drive to get dinner or to commute to work.

But ten days from now, I’m going to run that far.

I’m past the phase of waking up in the middle of the night thinking, “What did I do?” in regards to signing up for something so outlandish.

Now it kind of feels like a big, nasty dentist appointment that you know you have to go to but you try not to think about.

You know you’ll get through it.  You know that when you’re done, you’ll feel a huge sense of relief.  But you also know it’s really going to hurt, and you just have to deal with that.

I count the period since qualifying for Boston as my training for a 50-miler.  That’s when I set the goal, and the ultras I’ve done in the meantime have just been part of the process.  And I can tell you, without a doubt, that I’m a much different runner than I was before.

So here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned during this training for a new, previously unthinkable distance.  Most apply to running; perhaps a few apply to life if you make a stretch.  But that’s not the point, so don’t go crazy with that.

You can run a lot farther if you slow down.

Obvious, right?  I don’t think so.

You say you can’t run farther than a marathon, or maybe a half.  But it’s very likely you ran that race as fast as you were able to run it.

What if you slowed down?  You’d run farther.

What if you slowed down a lot?  (And even walked sometimes?)  You’d run much farther.  It’d be scary, because you’ve never done it.  But once you had, it wouldn’t be scary anymore.  And you could run farther still.

Comfort is everything.  So be comfortable.

Unless you’re trying to win the race, running 30 or more miles isn’t really about how well you can run 30 or more miles.  It’s about staying comfortable while you run that circus distance.  The more miserable the experience, the less likely you are to come back the next week and do it again.


Wear shorts that don’t chafe you.  Get a hydration vest or some other way to carry stuff that you like.  Use blister powder and wear good socks.  Try compression socks. Apply Vaseline or other lubricant liberally and bring some for the road, just in case.  Run slowly enough, especially on hills, that you’re not breathing hard or raising your heart rate too much.  Find (or make) a sports drink you really like.  Figure out what food your stomach can handle and what it can’t.  Pee when you have to pee.  Bring toilet paper.

Trail running is more fun than road running.

It just is.  And running long on trails doesn’t hurt my feet or joints the way running, say, a 20-miler on the roads does.

Most of the ultras you’ll find are trail races, so learning how to run trails always seemed like an annoyance I had to put up with in order to become an ultrarunner.  Now it’s the best thing I’ve ever done (except get married).

It’s a mind game.

I’ve gotten lots of advice from friends, and none of it is about running.  Running a few miles, five or six minutes slower than you’re capable of, is the easy part.  It’s about getting your head in the right place so you can run 50 (or 100) of them.

Blaine told me how awful miles 30-40 will be, but that it will get better after that.  My friend Shawn told me that it’s about getting your legs to be your mind’s bitch.  My friend Dave told me that going out too fast and hitting a wall early in a 50-miler feels roughly 100 times worse than it does in a marathon.

A lot of this is scary, but I’m glad I learned it from them first.  Respect the distance.

I will finish.

I can say this now because I’ve been tested.  The two 50K’s I did, especially the first, taught me that I will keep running even when it hurts and I hate it and I never, ever want to run again.

No marathon ever tested me like that, even the Boston qualifier.  Ultras brought a new level of suck, and I learned that I will keep going even when it is terrible.

50K isn’t 50 miles.  But if someone held a gun to your head and made you run, you could run a lot farther than you think (though that would be a rather weird thing for a gunman to demand).  So if you make quitting seem like getting shot in the head, you’ll keep going.  If it comes to that, I think I will.

Unless I get hurt.  Then I’ll stop.



Today, I Hate Running

Post by Susan Lacke.

I got an e-mail from my friend Jess a little while ago:

Jess and her son, in a moment of not hating running.“Today, I hate running,” it began.

Jess was two weeks away from her first half-marathon. In spite of all her training, she was nervous and feeling like maybe the whole thing was just a bad idea. 13.1 miles is pretty scary, after all.

I smiled when I read her e-mail.

Yes, you read that right: I SMILED. I assure you, I’m not a bad friend. I wasn’t being smug. I smiled because I knew exactly what she was going through.

A week before my first marathon, I shot up from a deep slumber. It had finally hit me that I was about to put my body through an intense fight with 26.2 miles, a distance I had never raced before.  I got out of bed and went for my training run, only to experience anxiety and fatigue. I hit the wall very, very early in what was supposed to be an easy 6-mile jog.

I walked home, sat down at my computer and typed an e-mail to my friends: “Today, I hate running.”

The responses I got from my friends, most of whom had raced longer distances, were invaluable. Each had their own way of reassuring me I could do it. Some were inspiring, others humorous.

One person used reverse psychology on me, telling me maybe I was right: Maybe I COULDN’T do it. It worked—I responded, “You know what? I’ll show you. I’m gonna OWN this marathon.”

Bart Yasso recently said, “As runners, we each have a duty to accept the role as mentor to a slower runner, new runner or someone who doesn’t think he or she can walk around the block.” Truer words have never been spoken. I never would have started running had I not been exposed to great friends who inspired me. I never would have kept running had I not been able to ask those friends the most random and awkward questions about running (“Is it normal for my toenail to be black?” “What the hell is a Fartlek? Please tell me it doesn’t involve Beano…”)

Most importantly, I never would have had the drive to keep going had my friends not celebrated my victories along the way. If I ran a 5K, my friends who have finished Ironman triathlons could have laughed and said, “Aww, 3.1 miles. That’s so cute.”  But they didn’t. Instead, I got high fives and genuine empathy when I shared how HARD those 3.1 miles felt.

My friends never tried to one-up me and tell me I didn’t know pain until I tried to run 13.1, 26.2, or 50 miles. They didn’t compare my 10-minute miles to their own 7:30 splits. They simply celebrated my accomplishment with me. I was suddenly a part of this community of athletes, and that felt incredible. It’s because of this feeling of community that I was motivated to do more, to improve. The mentors I had made me feel like I could do anything, so long as I was willing to put forth the time, energy, and effort.

No matter what skill level you’ve attained in your activities, you are an ambassador for your sport. When people discover that you run, do yoga, or lift weights, they’ll automatically and indefinitely associate you as a resource in that activity—even if you don’t think you’re deserving of that status.  If they’re thinking about taking up your sport, your attitude may serve as a tipping point for whether they actually begin. Your responses to their random and awkward questions will determine if they stick with the sport.

And for the love of all things Yasso, please…celebrate the victories of each person, no matter how small they seem in comparison to your own accomplishments. To that person, running a mile without stopping might be the coolest thing they’ve ever experienced. You should be honored they chose to share their elation with you!

Passion is contagious. If you have an enthusiasm for what you do, there will be people who can’t wait to follow in your footsteps.

After I had been running for a little while and sharing how much I was thoroughly enjoying it, I was asked by my friend Donnell about what kind of races I had been doing:

“5K?” He guffawed. “ That’s nothing! We used to do at least that every day in the Marine Corps!”

That era, for him, had ended 10 years ago. I called him out, challenging him to run with me. It’d be fun, I suggested. He accepted, though he quickly discovered running was not the same for him as it was when he was in the Marine Corps. Our friend Doug saw what we were up to, and quickly joined us.

The summer we spent running 5Ks together was one of the most fun times of my life. Over post-race beers, I fielded those same awkward questions I once had for my own running friends, celebrated my friends’ accomplishments, and suggested training tips that had worked for me in the past. I slowly was changing from a newbie runner to a mentor.

So, when Jess e-mailed me to tell me “Today, I hate running,” I smiled. I knew things had come full circle. I was able to share with her the same things my friends shared with me when I had the same feelings of fear and apprehension about long-distance running.

Jess completed her first half-marathon, and just as I assured her she would, she completely, totally, and undeniably rocked it. Running has found a new ambassador to join its ranks. I’ll be going back to Wisconsin over Memorial Day Weekend to run Doug’s first half-marathon with him, as a show of support for my friend’s awesome accomplishment.  I couldn’t be more proud of either of them.

One day, when one of them gets an email from a newbie runner that begins “Today, I hate running,” I know they’ll smile, too.

Bart Yasso, running icon, inventor of the Yasso 800’s, fellow no-meat athlete, and inspiration behind this post, is one cool dude. So cool, in fact, that he’s agreed to give away an autographed copy of his book, “My Life on the Run: The Wit, Wisdom, and Insight of a Road Racing Icon” to one lucky No Meat Athlete! To enter, just leave a comment before next Monday, May 31, 2010 about a newbie you’ve mentored in a lifestyle change.  Good luck!

This post is part of a series on motivation for running.  Check out the rest!


Cookout-Caliber Smoky Veggie Burgers

Hi guys!  This is Christine, and usually on Friday I check in with a healthy dessert recipe, but today I’ve got something special for you!  Maybe it’s the warm weather, but this week I’ve got burgers on the mind!

Frozen Hockey Pucks vs. Mushy Bean Patties

Looks like the real thing, huh?

Have you noticed that veggie burgers only manage to fall into these two categories?  Don’t get me wrong—I’m always psyched to find Boca Burgers at a cookout, and I am just as happy to say ole! to a round of black bean burgers.

Still, we’re always forced to settle: either enjoy an expensive pattie of processed soy, or keep pretending that those smooshed beans are satisfying your carnivorous friends.  Lately, I’ve been yearning for something more.

Perfecting the Veggie Burger

Instead of filling this summer’s barbecues with sub-par burgers, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  I thought long and hard about all the burger recipes I’ve tried, and what exactly I liked about each one.

First, I had to address the texture of the burger.  Mushrooms were a necessity for me after I tasted the beefiness of these portabella burgers.  I also really like the way the lentils and flaxseed worked in structuring the Reluctant Vegetarian’s recipe for lentil burgers.  Next, I decided to include nuts after seeing how well the almonds worked in these raw burgers from Thrive.

I chose to include vital wheat gluten to get a real chewiness out of the burgers.  This is usually the second ingredient in those frozen boxed versions, after TVP of course.  Vital wheat gluten will bring the most realistic feel to the patties, but you could also use regular whole wheat flour, bread crumbs, or an alternative flour like buckwheat.

As for taste, I loved the way the red wine, tomatoes, and onions brought out the beef burgundy side of plain old lentils in the recipe aptly titled Hungy For Meat?  Eat this instead.  With a dash of liquid smoke, vegan worcestershire sauce, and thyme, I believe I am on my way to perfecting the veggie burger.

NMA Grill-Worthy Veggie Burgers


  • 1/2 lb dried lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 portabella mushroom caps, gills and stems removed, chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tbsp vegan worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 3/4 cup vital wheat gluten

Rinse the lentils and cook in the water until they are tender and water is absorbed, about 30-35 minutes.

Fry the onion in the oil until soft.  Add the mushrooms and garlic; fry until fragrant.  Stir in the tomato paste, salt, thyme, and black pepper.  Let fry for a few minutes.  Stir in walnuts and let toast.  Slowly add wine, vinegar, worcestershire sauce, and liquid smoke.  Stir in the lentils.

Remove from heat and stir in flax seed and vital wheat gluten.  Keep stirring to strengthen the gluten and get the burgers chewy.  Form into ten patties and refrigerate for an hour.  You can freeze them now to cook later, or preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle baking sheet with cornmeal and arrange patties on the pan.  Bake for 20 minutes, then fry in a pan on medium heat with a little oil for 2 minutes per side.  If you just want to fry them without baking, lower the heat and fry for 3-4 minutes per side.

I was so pleased with these burgers that I made a double batch so I would have plenty to freeze!  The vegan worcestershire is really yummy as a topping too!  I hope you give these burgers a shot at your next cook0ut—I’d love to hear how they taste on the grill!

See you next week when I’ll put the sweet back in Sweet-Tooth Friday!

xoxo, Christine



Good News, Endurance Runners: One Scientist Says We’re Not All Nuts

The next time your doctor or well-meaning family member tells you running is bad for you, you’ve got an ally.

If you’ve read Born to Run, then you already know his name: Dr. Dan Lieberman.

Image from Dr. Lieberman's talk, "The Evolution and Dysevolution of Humans"

Dr. Lieberman is the Harvard evolutionary biologist whose theories are challenging the traditional idea that humans aren’t born runners, and the belief that running 13.1, 26.2, or 50 miles at a clip can only do us harm.

Recently, he’s been in the news for his work on barefoot running.  If you haven’t seen the website he and his colleagues put together that shows what happens when runners take off their shoes, you owe it to your legs and feet to watch it.

I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Lieberman speak at the University of Delaware last week.  Cozy up; this is his exciting take on why humans are, in fact, born to run.  (Please excuse any anthropological botches I make here; I’m a math guy.)

Walking on Two Legs Makes Banana-Getting Easier

About 5 to 7 million years ago, humans branched off from our last common ancestor with chimpanzees and began to walk upright.  As climate change turned lush forests into sparser woodlands, finding bananas to eat became a lot tougher.  (Chimps eat bananas, right?)

You see, walking around hunched over on four legs is hard.  It’s good for climbing trees, but not so good for traveling.  It takes a lot of energy to cover any considerable distance this way.  This is why chimps run only 100 meters a day.  They hate it.

Those who could walk on two legs had an advantage.  They could still climb decently, but now they could travel miles in search of greener pastures.  Or yellower trees.

When Bananas Aren’t Enough

Fast forward a few million years, to about 2.5 million years ago.  Climate change has turned many of those woodlands into plains.  Meanwhile, we’ve evolved to the genus homo, and our big brains now require that we get more calories than we used to.

As bananas (and other fruits and vegetables, of course) become even harder to find, some smarty pants realizes that if we can kill big animals, we can get thousands of calories by eating their flesh, brains, and bone marrow.  (Sorry vegetarians, Dr. Lieberman can’t help us with this one.)  So about 1.8 million years ago, we start hunting.

How to Kill an Antelope Without a Throwing Spear

At this point, we haven’t figured out that we can sharpen something and throw it to become deadly hunters.  And we’re not particularly fast, either.  So how do we acquire all this luscious meat, brain, and bone marrow?

This is where Lieberman’s ideas are new.  He hypothesizes that at this point, we became endurance runners.

Even though humans can’t sprint worth a lick, we’re pretty damn good at jogging, or whatever you call running at 10K pace or even marathon pace.  We can cover these distances much faster than most animals can because we can cool ourselves efficiently.  As evidence of this, four-legged animals are physically unable to pant while they gallop. (Lieberman suggested trying it at home with the family dog; I’ll pass on that one.)

And so persistence hunting was born.  We would wait until the hottest part of the day, head out to the plains in a group, put on our race numbers and stand nervously in line at the porta-pot, and start the hunt.

Here’s how it works.  One person sprints after the prey.  The prey escapes temporarily, but the sprinter stays close enough to point the rest of the group to where the prey is recovering from its sprint.  Repeat a few more times, the prey collapses from hyperthermia, and someone kills it with a rock.

Safe, inexpensive, reliable.  While the prey was doing a deadly interval workout, the group only had to run an easy 15K.

We’re really good at running slowly.  Better than anyone else.  It’s in our blood, and that’s why it feels so good.

The Dysevolution of Humans

The point of Dr. Lieberman’s talk was not to demonstrate that running marathons is healthy behavior.  That’s old news to him, and you can read about it in far more detail in Chapter 28 of Born to Run.

What Lieberman is interested in now is what’s next for humans.  Sure, natural selection turned us into persistence hunting machines.  The problem is that everyone sits around watching Dancing With the Stars and eats at McDonald’s.  Almost nobody lives a “biologically normal” life.  And our technology and medicine have advanced to the point at which people who’d have been the first ones dead in a famine or rough winter a million years ago are today able to live comfortable lives.

Lieberman was careful to point out that he is absolutely in favor of helping people live quality lives, and that to suggest we stop treating them is preposterous.  But he argues that many conditions, like cancer, flat-footedness, and obesity, persist precisely because we can treat them.  A million years ago, people predisposed to these disadvantages would not have survived for long, and natural selection would have removed their genes from the population.

Nowadays, in what Lieberman calls “dysevolution,” their genes are passed on.  Which leads to their offspring having the same conditions.  Which leads to more treatment.  A positive feedback loop ensues.  The reign of natural selection as we know it is over.  What happens next is anybody’s guess.

Dr. Lieberman also spoke a bit about barefoot running.  I’d love to get into it, but that must wait for another post, as this one is getting long.  Check out his barefoot running website for yourself.



Want to Eat Raw, But Don’t Like Raw Food?

If that sounds like you, consider this dish a compromise.

No doubt, the idea of eating raw food is appealing.  If you haven’t read Gena’s guest-post intro to raw foods, it’s worth it for the inspiration.

The problem for me (and for many of you, I’d bet) is that the actual raw food itself isn’t so appealing.  When I get home from a long day of math and running, dinner had better be on the table and it had better be HOT, dammit!

I’m kidding, of course.  Running and math aren’t exactly working in the salt mines, and I’m a nice husband who cooks his fair share of meals.  But I’m serious about the “hot” part.

Eating raw food feels good.  But it doesn’t feel quite as good as eating a hot, cooked meal, at least not to me.  That’s why I get my raw mainly in the form of salads and fruits.  It’s not even close to a raw-food diet, but it’s the best I can do.

A Semi-Raw Meal Worth Trying

So here’s a way to get some raw food and some hot food in the same meal.  (Raw foodists, go ahead and laugh at it, since it has cooked orzo in it.  I need baby steps.)

The meal comes from the cookbook Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce that Wiley sent me to try out.  The book is essentially an encyclopedia of different vegetables and fruits, with buying and storage information, nutrition facts, cooking tips, and a few recipes featuring each one.  It’s not completely vegetarian, but from what I can tell, the vast majority of the recipes are.  And there are lots of meatless options provided, presumably to quell the angry vegetarian mob who might have brought home the book based solely on its title.

This Summer Squash Orzo Salad is from the Summer Squash section.  All the vegetables are uncooked, but because they’re tossed in some lemon juice and salt, their softened so that they don’t seem raw.  The meal is actually similar to another orzo salad recipe with raw vegetables I posted a long time ago.  But this one has a lighter, more summery flavor, and more fresh vegetables.

Here’s the recipe.  In order to reprint it exactly, I’ve included the salami that’s in the original (but there’s a meatless tip for omitting it).  This one’s a cinch to make; the instructions are so pedantic a five year-old could follow them.  Try it out and get halfway raw tonight.

(Note: Since it’s technically a salad, you might need to add a little something on the side to make it a full dinner.)

Summer Squash Orzo Salad

(From Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce, Cathy Thomas, copyright 2010 Melissa’s Produce, published by Wiley)

Yield: 6 servings

  • 8 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
  • 2 medium yellow crookneck squash, trimmed, diced
  • 2 medium zucchini, trimmed, diced
  • 1/2 large red onion, finely diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, diced
  • 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved lenghwise
  • Minced zest of 1 lemon (colored portion of the peel)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 4 cups baby spinach or mixed baby greens
  • 1 ounce salami, cut into 1/8-inch dice (See Meatless Tip)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Garnish: 1/2 cup unpitted olives, such as kalamata or Nicoise
  • Optional garnish: microgreens

1. Bring large pot of salted water to boil on high heat.  Add orzo and cook according to package directions until al dente (tender but with a little bite).  Drain, refresh with cold water.  Drain and toss with 1 teaspoon oil.  Set aside.

2. Place zucchini, crookneck squash, onion, bell pepper, and tomatoes in a large bowl.  Gently toss. In small bowl or glass measuring cup with handle, combine zest, juice, 3 tablespoons oil, salt, black pepper to taste, and parsley.  Stir to thoroughly combine.  Pour on vegetables and toss.  Add orzo and toss.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

3. Divide spinach between 6 small plates.  Top with vegetable-orzo mixture.  Sprinkle each serving with diced salami and crumble cheese on top.  Place a small pile of olives off to the side of each salad.  If desired, scatter some  microgreens (tiny immature greens) on top of salad.

Meatless Tip: Omit salami.  If desired, use 1 cup pitted olives in the salad instead of the 1/2 cup as a garnish.