A Conversation with Vegan Pro Ironman Triathlete Brendan Brazier about All Things Energy

Alright, you’re going to love this one!  Last week I talked on the phone to Brendan Brazier, the vegan professional Ironman triathlete, author of Thrive and Thrive Fitness, and creator of the Vega line of sports nutrition products that I often review on No Meat Athlete.

I’ve been collecting questions ever since my first interview with Brendan, and when I put them all together, I noticed that the common thread joining them all was “energy.”  Not too surprising, I guess, considering the concept underlies all fitness and nutrition topics.

But in this conversation, we talked about it in so many forms: mental energy and caffeine, sleep and how much you really need, food combining, starchy carbs versus simple sugars, nutrition for ultrarunning and the idea of burning fat instead of sugar, and the recent controversy over agave nectar.

There’s so much good information here.  I’m really happy with how the interview turned out; I hope you get as much out of it as I did.

Matt: Last time we talked, I had read Thrive but not Thrive Fitness. My favorite part of Thrive Fitness was the total focus on energy, not just physical, but mental as well.

I know that you promote caffeine for certain pre-workout and often pre-race nutrition.  But in terms of mental energy, you say it robs you of creativity and makes you a “linear” thinker.  Is there ever a time when you’d want to use caffeine for a specific mental purpose, the way you do for specific physical purposes?

Brendan: Yeah, but caffeine more-derived from either green tea or yerba mate.  Actually, green tea specifically is really good mentally to give you that calm alertness.  It’s not the jittery type of feeling you get from drinking coffee.  So yeah, really good for people who are trying to study lots or plow through a bunch of work and stuff.  And like I said, it’s just kind of a focused, good energy, not that jittery energy.

I find also that before an athletic event it helps you focus; it helps you get into the “zone,” as a lot of athletes call it.  Just that really good focus, where you’re not distracted by other things and you’re just really focused on the task at hand.

So yeah, I do find it useful for that, but it’s not the sort of thing that you’d want to have all the time, only before big events.  I only have it before a major workout, in the form of Vega Sport, which has yerba mate and green tea.  Yerba mate is a little more physical, whereas green tea is a little more mental, I find.  So the combination of those two helps both.

M: Interesting.  I love Vega Sport!  You guys sent me a canister of that and I couldn’t get enough of it; it’s been my favorite product of yours.

B: Oh good, yeah.  I’m really pleased with how that turned out; I like it a lot too.

M: Okay then the next thing, which is also along the “energy” lines, was the sleeping.  I enjoyed the section of Thrive Fitness about sleep.  Every other book seems to say “Get as much sleep as you can; if you can get nine hours, go ahead and get it.”  But you took the approach that when you’re sleeping, you’re spending time that you could maybe spend better if you were awake.

But I wondered how you start sleeping less.  I’ve tried saying “Okay, I’m going to sleep six hours all the sudden tonight instead of seven or eight.”  And when I do that, it doesn’t work.  Is it just something you ease into, or is it that once you start eating well you’ll start feeling the need for less sleep?

B: Yeah, exactly.  You don’t want to force yourself to have less sleep.  You want your body to adapt to sleeping more deeply, which will improve the quality of sleep, therefore the quantity will just naturally come down.  And how you do that is by reducing cortisol, which is a stress hormone.  Then you do that by reducing stress, and the best way to reduce stress and not reduce productivity is through better nutrition.

So yeah, you start eating better, more high net-gain foods that I talk about in Thrive, alkaline-forming foods, nutrient-dense foods.  You nourish your adrenals, cortisol over time will come down, and then you’ll get into that deep, delta phase of sleep, which is a really deep, rejuvenating phase.  So you simply don’t need to have as much, because you’ll be sleeping so deeply.

And that’s a problem in America right now; the line between being asleep and being awake has become blurred.  A lot of the time when people are awake, they’re hardly awake.  They can’t focus, they can’t concentrate, and that’s because when they were trying to sleep, they weren’t totally asleep.  So it’s this blurred line between asleep and being awake that a lot of us are in, and clearly defining the line between wake and sleep is a huge advantage.  So when you’re sleeping, you sleep so deeply, but then when you’re awake, you’re completely wide awake.

And so it’s great for athletes, but it’s also great for anyone who wants to be more productive.  It’s like having daylight savings time every day.  You know, you set the clock back and get an extra hour in the day; that’s kind of what it feels like when you can get into the deep, delta phase of sleep, because, after six and a half hours, you’re done.  That’s a great feeling, an extra hour.

And that’s another thing too of course; a lot of people say they don’t have time to exercise.  Well, there’s your hour, right there.  You just improve your sleep quality, and that frees up time.

M: Right, exactly.  Yeah, that’s interesting.  I heard somewhere that if you get an hour less sleep per night, at the end the year the amount of time it equates to is some huge amount of time, like a whole month or two weeks or something.

B: Yeah, it’s significant.

M: And then I’ve read a few things that say that to actually get to the rejuvenating phase of sleep takes two or three hours, and you have to have a certain number of these cycles to be rested.  Do you feel like that is not necessarily true; have you in your experience realized that you just don’t need to sleep that long?

B: Yeah, and those studies, I’m sure, were done on average people.  And average people have average diets, and we all know that an average diet is, unfortunately, not very good.  That’s all based on the level of cortisol being quite high, unfortunately, but we have control over that.  Of course, we don’t all control all of our stress; work and family and some of that is out of control.  But what we eat is totally up to us, so we have a lot of control over our overall cortisol levels and, therefore, our ability to sleep easily.

M: Okay, so moving on to the next thing: food combining.  I know a lot of poeple who talk about these energy diets are also being into eating certain foods with other foods, and not having certain combinations.  But I never remember seeing anything like that in Thrive or Thive Fitness.  Do you just think that’s not really important?

B: Yeah, for me it’s never been a big issue.  I actually like having protein with sugary foods, which I know is not something that people who observe those food-combining rules would do.  But I feel that sugar, in the form of fruit, for example, is actually a great fuel for your muscles and your brain.  And it’s much more easily used by your body than starch is; your body doesn’t have to convert the starch into sugar, obviously, if you just give it sugar, provided it’s from a good source like fruit.  So having protein, fiber, and essential fats with the sugary food, so with the fruit, actually prevents the sugar spike and the crash.  So it actually acts more like a starch but doesn’t have the digestive issues that starch would.

So yeah, I guess it’s kind of against what food combining would suggest.  But if people find that food combining works well for them, then I think a lot of this is trying different things and finding what works well for you.  I know what works well for me and a lot of others, but there are other people who will find a different way works for them.  And that’s good, that’s part of it, I say go with it if it works.

M: Okay, and something you just mentioned brings me to another question.  I was doing some research for a few posts I wrote about general guidelines for pre-, post-, and during-workout nutrition.  And I was looking at some of your stuff and I got to this idea that’s really different from so much else: You don’t recommend starchy carbohydrates because you say it takes a lot of energy to break down, especially during a workout.  But when you look at old-school diet books, they say it’s all about whole grains instead of simple, processed grains because you want your body to work hard to break it down.  Is that just the difference between eating for a workout and for everyday eating, or is there a distinction that I’m missing?

B: Yeah, I mean, my thought is you definitely want it to be easy to digest.  You don’t want to have to spend energy digesting food.  It’s true, I’ve read that too; some books will say you burn more calories by working harder to digest food.  Well, that’s true, and I see that as a bad thing, not a good thing.  You don’t want to be burning energy just for the sake of it; you want energy to be applied to something useful, not just digestive energy being used up.

So as far as I’m concerned, eating the nutrient-dense foods that turn off your hunger signal, so that you’re not chemically hungry, that primal signal telling you to eat will only be shut off when you have the nutrients, the micronutrients, the phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, all those things.  That’s what you want to try and do—eat the nutrient-dense foods.

And as far as fuel goes, yeah, I think the easier it is to digest and absorb, the better.  And I know, too, if you’re raising metabolism; so many people talk about that as being such a good thing, to basically get your body to burn more fuel.  And I don’t see that as a good thing either.  As an endurance athlete you don’t want your body to burn more fuel, you want it to burn less.  That’s a sign of efficiency; when your body can go the same distance while burning less fuel, you know, like a fuel-efficient car.  So it’s just a fundamental discrepancy there.

I know Dr. Joel Fuhrman, he also talks about that too, about not raising metabolism as being a good thing, just getting your body to be efficient so that it burns fuel efficiently and doesn’t waste energy.  So I agree with what he says too.

M: So that brings me to another one.  You said that, along with having carbohydrates that are easy to digest, you like to get your workout food in liquid or gel form because that’s one less step in digestion.  Does that then lead you to need less fuel?  Is there some rule by which you could reduce the number of calories you need per hour when getting liquid versus solid food?

B: I’d love to be able to give a number of calories that you could reduce, but there are just so many variables.  And that’s what I find the trouble in with some books; they’re very black and white in terms of number of calories that a person would need to take in.  And you know, just using fitness levels, for example.  A very fit person is going to not need as many calories because that person burns fuel more efficiently.  You know, the top marathoners in the world, they just drink water during the marathon.  And guys who are inefficient, of course they take longer to run the marathon, but they’ll have 17 or 18 gels, in some cases.  Because they’re body burns carbohydrate at such a rapid pace because it hasn’t been conditioned yet to burn it efficiently, or even more so, to burn fat as fuel.

Mark Allen, who is one of the best Ironman triathletes ever, got to the point just through lots of training, 25 years of training, where he got to a point where he could run at a pretty high pace, and burn fat as fuel.  He spent a lot of time training in his fat-burning zone and got his body to be a fat-burning machine, essentially.  And there’s a huge advantage there, because that means you preserve muscle glycogen, so you cannot hit the wall, you cannot bonk, and your body just burns fat.  And as you get fitter and fitter, your body will burn fat at a higher heart rate so that you can be running at a really good pace and still burning fat, whereas an unfit person burns carbohydrate even just to walk and doesn’t even start burning fat.  So that’s just one of the benefits of fitness, that efficiency.

M: It’s funny how your answers are leading right into my next questions!  My next one is regarding nutrition for ultramarathons.  Right now I’m training for my first 50-miler; I’ve never done anything more than 50K, and that’s coming up pretty soon.

B: That’s great, that’s a big one.

M: Yeah, it’ll be a big one, for sure. But I’m just trying to find out what differences there are in terms of nutrition.  A lot of what I hear seems to be anecdotal.  One ultrarunner will say you want to drink soda; another will say eat fat instead of sugar.  So I just wanted to get your take, and I guess since Thrive is written by you, an Ironman athlete, that’s probably similar to a 50- or 100-miler in terms of difficulty and nutrition needs.  So would the principles of Thrive fit with that, or is it more of a fat-focus than is described in Thrive?

B: What’s described in Thrive would actually fit quite nicely.  There’s that section in there where I talk about fueling pre-workout or pre-event, and basically, the more intense and the shorter the workout, the more carbohydrate you’ll burn.  And then, as you start going longer, of course the intensity goes down, and the ratio of carbohydrate to protein to fat becomes more balanced.  So, for a 50-miler, your body is going to be burning a bit of fat; it’s going to be burning some protein too.

And actually that’s why we have Vega Sport Protein.  It’s to help prevent muscle loss for endurance athletes, because of course when you’re training for endurance, you don’t just burn fat, you also burn muscle, and then over time you can become quite frail; your strength-to-weight ratio will go down.  That’s why a lot of endurance athletes look really frail at the end of their long endurance training.  They’re muscle has been cannibalized by training; it’s been used as fuel.

So yeah, it will take a bit of playing around with, because everyone’s at a different fitness level.  What your body is going to burn exactly, in terms of ratios, is something you’ll want to play around with before the race.  You’d want more balanced, so during the race, if you’re okay to eat bars, or just stick to liquid and gels, everyone’s different there too.  I don’t like eating at all while I’m running; I like gels at most.  I stick to liquid.

M: And some people say they only want solid food during that kind of distance.  I guess everyone’s just different.

B: Yeah, that’s the thing, everyone is different.  Some people can eat a few potatoes right before running, and I know guys who eat potatoes when they’re ultramarathoning.  For me, that wouldn’t work.

M: And I saw you were actually the Canadian Ultra Champion, at the 50K distance?

B: Yeah, in 2003 and 2006 I won the Canadian 50K championships.

M: Wow, that’s neat.  Have you done other distances too, beyond that, just running?

B: No, that’s the longest I’ve ever done.  I’ve done three races over a marathon, and they’re all 50K’s.  So that’s the longest I’ve done.

M: How come you haven’t done anything longer?  Ironman, to me, seems very much equivalent to a 50-miler or even longer.  Is there any reason you just didn’t get into it?

B: Yeah, I kind of like shorter.  50K is the farthest I’d want to go.  I really like marathon, I like half marathon.  I like that feeling of being able to feel good and fast.  I think if you start going longer than that, it kind of beats up a bit, and obviously you have to slow down a bit.  I like a good pace; I like running at threshold and I find much beyond that you have to slow down too much.  To me it’s just not as enjoyable.  I have no interest in doing a 100-miler or anything like that.  People have asked me that and I just don’t.

I’d love to get faster at marathon, to be able to put a good block of time aside and do some really good, serious marathon training and see what I could do at that distance.  I really do feel comfortable at that distance, and half marathon too.  They’re just races that you can run hard, it doesn’t beat you up for weeks after.  But again, I guess everyone’s a little different there.

M: Alright, good.  So this question is kind of unrelated to everything, but I have to ask.  People keep asking me about the agave controversy; people are saying it’s glorified high-fructose corn syrup.  And I know it’s in so much of your stuff, so I’m sure you’ve been asked this or at least thought about it.  What’s your opinion on the agave controversy?

B: It’s funny, I get that question almost as much as “Where do I get my protein?”  That’s like the new “Where do I get my protein?”

M: Right…sorry to ask it then!

B: Oh no, it’s fine.  I think a really important distinction to make is what you’re using it for.  I think as a sweetener, it’s not very good.  If you’re sitting there having tea, I would not put agave in it.  It’s very high in fructose, which is not something you want to be loading up on if you’re just sitting around.  It’s like eating three bananas.  If you’re just sitting around, there’s no need to do that; you don’t need that much fuel.

Whereas if you’re using it as a functional ingredient for training, I think it’s great.  It’s like easily-digestible bananas.  You can have some right before a workout to make sure your muscle glycogen is stocked up, and I think during a workout I think it’s good.

So I think it depends how you’re using it.  If you’re a sedentary person sitting around, I wouldn’t be using it as a sweetener.  I think stevia is a great sweetener for tea and things like that, but as a fuel, I think agave is excellent.  With maple syrup, molasses, sprouted rice syrup, any of those things, the whole point is that they’re sugar and that’s what your body wants.  You know, some people hear “sugar” or even “carbohydrate” and they get scared.  But it’s not bad when it is a fuel.  I know there’s a lot of misinformation out there, but as a fuel, I think it’s excellent.

M: That makes sense.  Okay, the last thing: I got an email from Kelly the other day about Vega Shake & Go, a new product.  Maybe you can tell people about that?

B: Sure, there are four flavors.  They’re more of a mass-market product, so it’s Shake & Go Smoothie; you just mix it with water and it volumizes.  It tastes like a blended smoothie and you don’t need a blender.  It’s really good, nutrient-dense, whole food.  Pretty basic, it’s protein, essential fats, fiber, greens, probiotics.

It doesn’t have anywhere near the amount of nutrition as Vega Health Optimizer, but it’s a really good, quick, on-the-go sort of thing. I think people who will want it most are people in a hurry and people who are new to this whole way of eating.  It’s definitely a more conventional product than Vega Health Optimizer; it’s not all gritty.  You know, it’s really smooth.  I see it as more of a mass-market product to help people get really good, healthy food conveniently.

And I see it as being sold at all the supermarkets, not just health food stores.  It’s interesting; only six percent of North Americans actually shop in health food stores, so there’s a huge market that we’re not even in touch with.  I’m sure you’ve heard it; people would eat better if they didn’t have to go so far out of their way and if the prep time was shorter.  So this is our attempt at catering to that.  You know, here it is, it’s quick, it tastes good, it’s convenient, and you can buy it anywhere.  So hopefully it’ll bring a whole group of new people into the health food industry.

M: Let’s hope so.  Well, I’m looking forward to trying that one, and I guess that’s it for today.  Thanks a lot for doing this; these were questions I’ve had for a while and was really looking forward to hearing your answers to.

There you have it!  Hope you enjoyed hearing Brendan’s take on all these energy questions as much as I did.  If you’re interested in reading more, check out my first interview with Brendan, from back when I was a starry-eyed young blogger.

And just so that there’s no confusion, the links in the interview to Brendan’s Vega products are my affiliate links; that means if you buy any of them, I earn money for referring you.  In my experience, they’re great products, so I’m comfortable with the arrangement.



How to Bake Gluten-Free Vegan Treats Your Friends Will Actually Eat

Hello No Meat Athletes!  It’s Christine here for Sweet-Tooth Friday, and this week’s edition is totally gluten-free.

I’ll start with a step-by-step intro on how to take the gluten (and animal products) out of your favorite baked goods, and then we’ll give it a whirl with some fabulous chocolate chip cookies!

The Gluten-Free Invasion

That's almond milk, by the way.

By now you’re probably aware of the multitude of gluten-free products creeping into the health section of your grocery store.  Celiac disease affects about 3 million Americans, and though many go undiagnosed, it means this condition is just as common as peanut allergies.

Celiacs have a hereditary autoimmune digestive disorder that lets gluten, a protein, into the bloodstream without first breaking it down.  This has a toxic effect that can seriously damage the small intestines and lead to a zillion other problems from malnourishment to cancer.

So what? I don’t suffer from Celiac disease.  What’s this doing on NMA?

Well, take a glimpse through the ‘Staple Foods’ section of Brendan Brazier’s Thrive: You’ll notice that many of his recommended foods, from brown rice to chickpeas and almonds to quinoa, are the same foods that replace wheat in gluten-free baking.  So while gluten itself may not be bothering you, this is a way to exchange your empty carbs with nutrient-dense versions.

These high protein flours have a lower glycemic load, which will teach your body to run on your stored fat instead of relying on the less efficient sugar rush from what you just ate.

Finding gluten-free recipes that are yummy is hard enough; finding gluten-free recipes that don’t rely on animal products is even tougher.  I’m here to show you how to get great tasting desserts by reworking recipes yourself to remove the gluten and animal products.

7 Steps to Gluten-Free Vegan Baking

1.  Mix and match alternative flours

My favorite flours for gluten-free baking are chickpea (garbanzo bean) flour for its creaminess and almond flour for its richness.  Brown rice flour is also popular, but as I learned from Allergy-Free Desserts, its gritty texture works best in things like graham cracker-style pie crusts instead of fluffy cakes.  Some other nice flours are millet, amaranth, buckwheat, and fava bean.  You can even whiz some unsweetened coconut in the processor for coconut flour!

Be sure to mix different types of flour so that no taste or texture dominates; for example, amaranth should only be about 1/4 of your total flour because of its strong flavor.  Also, when using bean flours remember that the taste of raw beans is pretty gross— the batter won’t taste too yummy until it is fully cooked.

2.  Take the edge off with some starch

Gluten-free baked goods are known for their weird textures—save yours by working with tapioca and potato starch.  As I learned from The Gloriously Gluten-Free Cookbook, tapioca is a little sweet and helps your treats brown in the oven, while potato starch contributes a “delicate crumb.”

From all the recipes and mixes I’ve researched, recipes work best when the starch-style flours are mixed with other alternative flours in a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio. So for every cup or two of mixed alternative flours you use, you need at least 1 cup of mixed starches.

Every fifties housewife knows that to make cake flour in a pinch at home you just sub in 2 tablespoons of corn starch to your cup of flour and sift, sift, sift! This works in the gluten-free world too, so when a recipe calls for cake flour increase the ratio of starches to alternative flours by throwing in corn starch as well.

3.  Stick together!

You took the gluten out, now you need to put some chew back in.  The most important ingredient in gluten-free baking is the gum. Xanthan gum and guar gum are used for both their volumizing and thickening effects.

I always see guar gum mentioned, but have yet to see it called for in a recipe, so stick with the xanthan gum.  If you’re curious, it’s a microorganism that is found feeding on corn or soybeans plants, but I have no idea how it gets a cookie so chewy.  Use 1/3 to 1/4 of a teaspoon for every cup of flour.

4.  Don’t undermine the structure

So many gluten-free recipes rely on eggs and fat for their richness and structure.  When transforming recipes yourself, be careful not to substitute too much.  Leave in most of the fat that’s called for; this isn’t the place to use a can of black beans in place of the eggs and butter.  For shortening and butter, go with a palm oil shortening and coconut oil, or canola oil if the recipe calls for melted butter.

When it comes to eggs, flaxseed is a good exchange because of its fat content. Mix a ‘flax egg’ by stirring together 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 2 tablespoons of liquid.  Coconut milk and almond milk work well in place of whole milk.  Check out my post on how to veganize and healthify your baking for more ideas.

Remember not to mess too much with the sugar either.  You might get away with maple syrup and agave when there is a gluten framework in place, but this time you need the real deal so your cookies don’t end up like pancakes.  However, it is okay to reduce the amount of sugar by a quarter to account for the sweetness of tapioca flour.

5.  Do your research on secret gluten key words

Just because something is labeled wheat-free doesn’t mean it’s gluten free.  Gluten is also in barley, rye, malt flavoring, and triticale.  Look out for modified food starch and grain alcohol.

Oats are another trouble ingredient— they are technically gluten-free but are often contaminated during processing.  Even if uncontaminated, the protein in oats is very similar to gluten, and still effects some Celiacs.

Remember, not every specialty flour is gluten-free—spelt flour is a reduced-gluten ancestor of wheat, but it definitely still contains gluten.  Baking sprays made just for baking usually contain flour to prevent sticking, so choose a plain version.

6. Ask the package, ask the manufacturer, ask yourself

Ask the package by looking for a “certified gluten-free” label.  The FDA is in the process of setting up a gluten-free standard label, but for now it is up to the company. Double check ingredients lists because some tricky foods with gluten-free main ingredients, like Rice Krispies, are not actually gluten-free.

If something isn’t labeled gluten-free, ask the manufacturer by calling to see how it is processed.  For example, maybe flour is sprinkled on a conveyor belt to prevent sticking.  The internet is full of lists of safe and unsafe ingredients.

Finally, ask yourself about cross-contamination.  The last time you used your sugar bowl, did you dip your measuring cup in wheat flour first?  What about that brown build up on the corners of your glass brownie pan?  Start with new ingredients and clean equipment.

7.  Showcase the glory of gluten-free, not the pitfalls

Cookies and bars are a lot easier to pull off in their gluten-free versions than fluffy, sky-high layer cakes.  You don’t need to make only copies of wheat-filled desserts.  For easy success, whip-up some naturally low-gluten desserts like fruit tarts, bananas foster, rice pudding, and poached pears that will only need minimal substitutions.

Got it?  Let’s get those ovens revvin’!

Just so you know my steps aren’t complete hogwash, I did an experiment to remove the gluten and animal products from a standard recipe.  And guess what?  I gave these Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookies the NMA treatment and they were amazing!

If you compare the recipes, you’ll see that instead of 3 cups of wheat flour, I added 1 1/2 cups of alternative flours (chickpea and almond) along with 1 1/4 cups of starches (potato and tapioca).   I added a 1/3 teaspoon of xanthan gum for each cup, making 1 teaspoon total.  I reduced the fat slightly by subbing in a banana, but used palm and coconut oil based shortening for the rest.  I increased the salt a little bit to trick the tongue into tasting butter.  With the sweetness of the banana and the tapioca flour, I nixed the 1/2 cup of white sugar all together. The almond milk and flaxseeds stand in the for the eggs, and the double dose of extract and dash of cinnamon provide some flavor insurance.  See for yourself how yummy these turned out!

NMA Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 2 tbsp ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 cup warm almond milk or water
  • 3/4 cup palm oil based shortening, like Earth Balance or Spectrum
  • 1 very ripe banana (just over 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp alcohol-free vanilla
  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup potato starch
  • 3/4 cup tapioca starch
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 10 oz package (about 1 3/4 cups) of gluten-free vegan semisweet chocolate chips, like Tropical Source

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together the flaxseed and almond milk and set aside to thicken.
Mix together the dry ingredients: the chickpea flour, almond meal, potato starch, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.
With a mixer, beat together the shortening, banana, and brown sugar until smooth and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides, then beat in the vanilla extract and flax mixture.  Stir in the dry ingredients.  Scrape down the sides, and stir in the chocolate chips.

Line an insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough onto the sheet a few inches apart (I fit a dozen on each cookie sheet) and bake for about 15 minutes, turning around halfway through.  Makes 3 dozen cookies.

These cookies are fantastic!  Nobody will miss the gluten or animal products– heck, nobody will even notice!  Give them a try to get the ball rolling on your new gluten-free vegan baking skills.  As you experiment, I’d love to hear what recipes you have made your own.  And feel free to shoot me any questions too!

Stay Sweet!
xoxo, Christine



Triathlon Training—The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Susan Lacke is back this week with more discoveries from her new life as an endurance athlete.  After running her first marathon in February, Susan is currently training for Ironman Wisconsin 2010.

At the start of my last post, Matt introduced me as a “vegetarian marathoner and 2010 Ironman hopeful.” Looking at those words felt…surreal. That phrase looks so impressive and glamorous, two words that have never been used to describe this particular No Meat Athlete.

I’m a huge klutz known for eating the pavement on my runs. I still haven’t mastered clip pedals on my bike, so I crash at least once per ride. My swim coach tells me to quit whining at every training session.  And before each race, I pray that if God has any mercy, he won’t let me be Dead F’ing Last. God doesn’t always have mercy. ..but he has a great sense of irony and humor, apparently.

For better or worse, though, triathlon training is something that I love. If I can do it, anyone can. If you’re thinking about taking up the sport, perhaps you can fulfill the impressive and glamorous role to make up for dorks like me. If you’re still on the fence, I’ve outlined the good, the bad, and the ugly of how triathlon training has impacted my life:

The Good

Triathlon training works the entire body. Every single square inch of it. And it shows.

Triathletes are sexy-looking folks, y’all, and I’m not just saying that because I’m biased. They’ve got GREAT arms, shoulders, legs…because they use all those parts on a regular basis. There’s also a confidence that comes as a result of pushing the limits of your body consistently.

I used to be incredibly insecure about my body. I was heavier and my proportions were much different than they are today. I will never be rocking a hot Hollywood bod, but I’m much slimmer, much more fit, and much more in love my body than I ever thought I could be. I love that over time, it’s turned into this efficient machine which allows me to accomplish feats I once thought impossible.

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I thank my body on a daily basis for allowing me to do such cool things. And sometimes, I even look in the mirror, do some flexing, and say, “You stud-ette, you. You sexy triathlete animal. SSSS-GROWL!” Don’t deny it, fellow NMAs: You do it, too.

My relationship with food has changed entirely.

My roommates and friends from college may recall some of the idiotic methods I used to lose weight quickly. Some were stupid (not eating food during the day so I could “save” my calories for the beer I was drinking at night), some made no sense whatsoever (existing solely on Diet Coke and apples for a week), and others were downright dangerous (laxatives and diet pills).

Food was the enemy; it was something that I felt I had no control over. Since I’ve become a vegetarian, food and I have decided that we actually like each other. We’re BFF’s, actually. I love food! It’s the energy source for what I do, and I have a responsibility to choose premium fuel for my body. Vegetarianism, for me, is a choice I consciously make every day to treat my body to the awesome fuel it deserves.

My active veggie-loving persona also allows me to feel almost zero guilt when my alter ego, the indolent cupcake-loving side, comes out to play every now and then. It’s a good balance.

The Bad

Triathlon training works the entire body. (Déjà vu, anyone?) And it HURTS.

Most days I’m fine, but there are some days when saddle sores, blisters, bruised toenails, and muscle aches make me cringe with every movement. You can always try to play off your injuries, bruises and scrapes as something cool, like you got in a bar fight with a ninja. Eventually, though, people will find out the truth…and unless they’re a triathlete, too, they’ll think it’s kinda lame.

My apartment looks like someone came in and vomited triathlon everywhere.

I don’t have a dining room. It’s my bike cave. I spend hours on the trainer pedaling furiously, but never make it to the living room 3 feet away. The toilet in my spare bathroom doesn’t work, but that’s okay: I never use it as a bathroom. It’s the wetsuit rinse and storage unit. I can’t open a closet or chest without running shoes or hydration packs stumbling out and hitting me on the head. I store extra ice in the freezer for after my races – unfortunately, not for a celebratory margarita, but for those inevitable aches and pains (see above).

The clothes are not flattering.

Triathlon clothes are skimpier and tighter than anything Julia Roberts wore in “Pretty Woman,”  and that’s not exactly a good thing. Sure, I love my body, but spandex suits always seem to exaggerate the parts I still struggle to love.

Additionally, I’ve embraced the fact that no matter how I dress it up, my padded bike shorts will always make me look like I have a horrendous case of Camel Toe.

The Ugly

Whizzing can be complicated. Seriously.

Sneaking behind a bush to discreetly pee during a race is acceptable (and, judging by the hoots and hollers some of your fellow athletes will give bush pee-ers, ENCOURAGED). However, sneaking behind a bush to discreetly pee during one of your regular training runs is “public urination,” and in most states results in a stern talking-to from the police and 100- to 500-dollar fine.

Not…that…I know from…ahem…personal experience.

But the logistics of finding a run or bike route that has a bathroom or two along the way (and will let you use it when you come clomping in there wearing your embarrassing cleats and camel-toe shorts) can require a LOT more forethought then you ever thought peeing would require.

Triathlon is not a sport for the modest.

While we’re on the topic of bodily functions: you might do things that you once thought were gross, like blowing snot rockets while running, or peeing yourself while on the bike.

Nudity is also a strong possibility. The multi-sport aspect of triathlon, especially in the longer distances, requires more wardrobe changes than a RuPaul concert. It’s not like there’s private changing stalls, either. So if you’re the type who insists on doing the hanky-panky with the lights off, either get very comfortable with semi-public nudity or find a different sport altogether.

In all, I wouldn’t change this lifestyle…not even for a second. The good FAR outweighs the bad and the ugly. The most beautiful thing about triathlon is that anyone can do it. If you have the chance to watch a local tri, take a look at who is competing. You’ll see male, female, young, old, blue-collar, white-collar…they’re all there, and they’re a part of this great community. Where else could spandex-clad, camel-toed folks who pee and undress in public find such glory? It doesn’t matter if you finish first or last in a race: You’re still a triathlete, and that’s pretty darn awesome. I hope to see you at the races!



How to Never Feel Guilty About Pizza Again

No doubt about it: Pizza is a very guilty pleasure.

But it’s one that we often rationalize.  After all, it’s vegetarian (and there are plenty of cheeseless, vegan versions), and with that old “four food groups” argument kids are so fond of, it’s easy to make pizza sound pretty healthy.

But let’s face it.  Pizza sucks for you.

The vegan versions you can buy are alright, since you skip all that cheese.  But they’re usually little more than flatbreads with a few vegetables on them, and even then, brands like Amy’s will run you five to seven bucks for a pie I could eat with half a stomach.

As for the pizzas from Thrive, they’re nutritional powerhouses, and tasty ones at that.  But if you’re going to call them pizzas, you’d better surround the word with three or four protective layers of quotation marks to avoid defaming the character of the real thing.  Even Brendan Brazier will admit that.

But yesterday, I discovered the solution to our pizza woes.

White Bean Pizza from Vegan on the Cheap

The most recent cookbook Wiley sent me is the newest from Robin Robertson, author of the outstanding 1,000 Vegan Recipes. (And far more famously, NMA interviewee.)  Her new book is called Vegan on the Cheap, which is right up this graduate student’s alley. If I need to explain to you what the concept behind the book is, maybe you should go back to bed.

The pizza is a little bit backwards: A white-bean mixture, which looks kind of like cheese, makes up the first layer.  Then tomatoes, which ordinarily would go under the cheese, top the pizza.  And they sort of look like pepperonis, which adds to the confusion.

Pizza You Can Feel Good About

But confusing as it is, this pizza is athlete-approved.  The white beans provide a healthy dose of protein and complex carbs, and you can, of course, add whatever other vegetables you’d like.

I’m sure you’ll notice that the recipe calls for white flour.  To be true to the recipe, I went ahead and used this the first time.  But I’ve made pizza dough with whole-wheat flour plenty of times, and it always turns out just fine.  So that’s what I’ll do next time.

As far as taste goes, this one was almost a huge hit.  The crust was crunchy-but-chewy, the white bean topping garlicky delicious, and the tomatoes, basil, and olives classically flavorful.  But the pizza was lacking one thing—acidity.  Perhaps some lemon juice would have done the trick, maybe a side of tomato sauce for dipping, or even some vinegary carmelized onions.  (We opted for buffalo sauce, just like countless other times.)

If you decide to try this, notice that the recipe has you make your own dough, which requires about an hour and a half of rising time.

But I’d really like to hear of what you guys come up with to jazz this pizza up a little; feel free to link to your recipes in the comments.  It’s the perfect start to making pizza something you can feel good about.

Tuscan White Bean Pizza

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

Makes 1 (12-inch) pizza. (< $1.00 per serving)


  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup lukewarm water


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/3 cup water or vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 2 medium ripe roma tomatoes, cut into 1/4 inch slices

1. Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, and salt.  Stir in the water until combined, then use your hands to knead it into a soft dough.

2. Tranfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding additional flour as needed so it doesn’t stick.  Shape the dough into a smooth ball and place in an oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

3. After the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured work surface, punch it down, and gently stretch and lift it to make a 12-inch round about 1/4 inch thick.  Transfer the round to a floured baking sheet or pizza stone.  Let the dough rise in a draft-free place for 20 minutes.  Adjust the over rack to the bottommost position of the oven.  Preheat over to 425 degrees F.

4. Make the topping: In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook until softened, about 2 minutes.  Add the beans, salt, and pepper.

5. Mash the beans to break them up, then stir in the water and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is creamy, about 8 minutes.  Stir in the basil and set aside.

6. To assemble the pizza, spread the bean mixture evenly on top of the dough round, to within 1/2 inch of the edge.  Arrange the tomato slices on top and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Bake until the crust is browned, 12 to 15 minutes.  Serve hot.

Splurge a little: Add sliced pitted kalamata olives when you add the tomatoes.  Garnish with thin strips of fresh basil leaves.



Clean Food: An Interview with Terry Walters

Terry Walters’ Clean Food is the best cookbook I’ve used in a long time.  Why?  Mainly because it’s full of recipes for real food.

Clean Food isn’t about pounding soy into various meat-shapes and pretending it doesn’t taste like soy (which tastes, mostly, like nothing).  It’s about getting fresh, seasonal, nutritious foods and preparing them in a simple way that highlights their flavors.  The meals are filling, but in a comfortable way.  A clean way.  A way that leaves you feeling light and energized, not ready to slip into a food-coma.

When I found out that Terry, the author, was a fellow marathoner as well as a cyclist, I knew she’d make a great interview for No Meat Athlete.  She agreed, we talked on the phone for 20 or 30 minutes, and a lot of good stuff came out of it.  Enjoy.

Matt: So, let’s start with Clean Food, which my family absolutely loves, by the way.  When I picked it up for the first time, I had no idea it was vegan.  I’ve talked to you about this already, but can you just explain for readers why you didn’t make it a point to call it a “vegan cookbook”?

Terry: Because actually my point in writing the book was not to write a “vegan cookbook.”  My point in writing Clean Food was to give people ways of bringing in the foods that we all need more of.

I have a health coaching-counseling business as well, and over the years, sometimes I recommend meat for people, and sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes dairy’s okay and sometimes it’s not.  I feel like everybody is unique, but across the board, I notice that the people who are eating meat—red meat, chicken, seafood—they pretty much knew what to do with it, but they didn’t know how to eat a variety of dark, leafy greens.  They didn’t know how to bring in a variety of non-animal sources of protein, or whole grain.  And so, my focus is on giving them the tools so that they can enrich their diet with these other clean foods and have less dependency on animal protein, on dairy, and on processed foods in general.  So I think of these as the minimally-processed, maximal-nutrition foods of the foods we all need more of.

M: That’s neat.  So I guess, theoretically, someone who eats meat could just work these recipes into their diet?

T: You know, actually, I self-published this book originally, and it’s been a while now, but I think there was one recipe that had honey in it, one that had fish sauce in it, and then I thought, “Well, if this is going to be mass-produced, then I might as well just take those things out.”  Because it’s easy.  If the label is important to you, then you should know, yeah, it’s vegan.  But if the label turns you off, I don’t want to turn you off.  I want to be in your kitchen with you!

M: Right.  Well you certainly have been in ours!

T:  And to that end, my next book is not only vegan, but it’s gluten-free.  And I’m not marketing that one as gluten-free either, because I feel like, first of all, the foods are delicious.  And the baked goods—when you bring in almond meal, and garbanzo bean flour—these are delicious flours, they have so much taste!  And that’s a great reason to use them, right there.  If you want to substitute wheat flour, though, go right ahead.  But it’s gluten-free, and the people who are gluten-free I feel will find it.  Again, I don’t want it to be stereotyped as “Oh, it’s not for me; it’s gluten-free.”

M: That makes a lot of sense.  Do you know what the name of that one’s going to be?

T: I do; it’s called Clean Start, and it’s coming out in the fall.

M: I’m sorry, was that “Clean Start,” or “Clean Starch”?

T: Haha!  Clean Start, as in “wake up in the morning, take a big breath of fresh air, and start on the road to cleaner health.”

M:  Okay.  So I was actually going to ask about the gluten-free thing.  I can’t recall making anything in Clean Food that had wheat in it.  Are there any wheat products in there?

T:  You know, there are some wheat products, but gluten comes in more than wheat products.  So gluten’s also in rye, it’s in barely, and there’s a recipe with barley, there’s a recipe with wheat berries, there are two with seitan, there’s one with couscous.  So I want to say that’s a half a dozen recipes out of 233.  And not all the baked goods are gluten-free; some of them use wheat flour as the primary flour.  But in those recipes, in the introduction I usually say, “To make this gluten-free, substitute one cup of this and one cup of that.”  And in hindsight, it probably would have been a lot easier for me to just make Clean Food gluten-free.  But, moving forward…

M: Another thing I really like about that book is that so much of it is about energy: having energy to do a bunch of stuff, whether it’s sports or just getting through your day.  But I thought that was really neat that it didn’t push that stuff really hard, like by talking about raw food or the acid/alkaline thing.  But I’m wondering what your opinion is on that; what do you think of those more-extreme “energy diets”?

T: You know, I have this thing; I call it my “black dress” theory.  I go to the store and I find a black dress that looks really good, and I bring it home.  But if I want it to look really good, I bring it to the tailor and the tailor makes it look like it was made for me.  Then you come over, Matt, and you want to borrow my black dress—go figure!  Then lo and behold; it fits you and it looks alright, but you really want it to look great on you.  And so you take it to the tailor and they make it fit you perfectly.

I feel the same way about diet.  I feel like the raw diet, the acid/alkaline diet, these are all languages that help us examine not only what we’re eating, but how our body is responding.  And where they are beneficial to us is in helping us tune into our own, unique beings.  Where they become extreme and rigid is when we embrace them and put the onus on the “diet” of listening to our bodies and remove ourselves from that.  So there’s a fine line there.  But if there were a perfect diet, we wouldn’t have thousands of books on diet!  If you go to a homeopathic physician, you could have two people with the exact same ailment, who will be treated with very different remedies, because they’re different people.  They live different lives in a different environment with different stressors.  And diet’s the same way; the only person who knows what’s right for you is you.  And the only way to figure that out is to bring the clean food in so that we have enough sense and connection with our bodies and can truly hear and feel what’s working and what’s not.

M: So would you say that you ignore, for example, the acid/alkaline thing and just say “I’m going to use whole foods and a variety of foods,” and figure that a lot of it’s going to fit that diet anyway?

T: You know, I don’t actually personally ignore any of it.  When I first started learning about diet, it was through macrobiotics.  That was a long time ago, and Clean Food certainly is not a macrobiotic cookbook.  Macrobioticists would roll there eyes at many of my food combinations!  But I don’t ignore any of it, and I think that it all has its place.  I like to try all of the diets, not because if I’m talking with somebody, what it does in my body is going to be relevant to what it does in their body, but just so that I can speak from experience.

For instance, I know that bringing in components of the raw diet works really well for me in warm weather, and in the winter I tend to feel somewhat weak from it.  And I know that eating right for my blood type also has some great insights into figuring out my body’s stuff; some of them seem to really work while others don’t, for my unique constitution.  It doesn’t mean that any of those diets aren’t good; it’s just that none of them work 100% for my unique constitution.  Again, I think they’re great insights and they’re great tools, and they help us learn not only about our bodies, but about food.  And ultimately, that’s my goal; to educate people about food so they can make the choices that are right for their body.

M: Switching gears a little bit to the “endurance athlete” thing, I know you told me that you’ve done a few marathons and some long cycle rides.  What are the specifics, and do you actively race still?

T: I do.  I’ve done six marathons and a handful of century rides.  I ride semi-regularly and I run addictively.  Riding is pleasure, but if I don’t have a certain number of running miles in a week, I feel like “I can’t go for my ride; I didn’t get enough miles in.”  It’s really quite a disease!

On the Staten Island Ferry, on the way to the NYC Marathon.

I ride for pleasure and running is my mental exercise.  And maybe that’s why I need it more than the riding, because it’s something I never thought I could do.  So everytime I go out, I come home with this feeling of “I just did something I once thought was impossible.”  Whether I’m running with friends, or my best friend—my iPod—or with nothing but my thoughts and my gaze focused on the tops of the trees ahead of me, it just fuels my mind.  It clears my mind and the mental strength that I get from pushing myself and from accomplishing filters to every other aspect of my life.  And that is addictive.

M: Yeah, I feel pretty much the same way.  So much of it is mental, and convincing yourself day-in an day-out that you’re able to do something that was so hard before—that literally was impossible before—I just think it’s so powerful to teach yourself over and over that here you are doing it.

T: Yeah, and the truth for me is that I don’t even enjoy the race.  I like the training; I go to the race because I’ve trained.  And I like the gear, to wear!

You know, I used to have all my medals hanging in my office in a little corner, and then one day I thought, “I don’t really even need this,” and I gave them all to my daughters and they love them.  Except one, that’s kind of hidden in my bookcase with a picture of two of my really, great friends who I run with, as a reminder.  And that’s really all I want to know, is that I’ve done it.  And you know what?  I could do it any time I want it.

I was an athlete my whole life but hated running.  And so, I don’t know about you, but people tell me, “Oh my God, you’ve done a marathon, I could never do that!”  If you could put one foot in front of the other, you could do it.  It’s a formula, and what it requires more than anything else is just determination.  And it’s really good to check in and realize “Wow!” what you’re able to accomplish if you just put your mind to it.

And to that end, I just really don’t want my body getting in the way of my doing what I want to do.  You know, mentally or physically.  I have two young girls, and we love to ski and we love to hike, and I have a dog, I like to snowshoes, and I’m not a gym rat.  I like to be physically active with my family.  To me, that’s as nourishing as any clean food.

M: Okay, so then back to Clean Food, how would say that works as a diet for endurance training?  Would you suggest that someone make changes and try to get extra carbohydrate or protein, or do you think just eating that way is all you need to do?

T: I think whenever you’re training for something like this, you need to be in tune that you’re going to need more protein, that you’re going to need more carbohydrate, that you require long-lasting energy, that you require food with a really good balance within 30 minutes of completing your workout, so that you can regain strength and rebuild and restore muscle.

And so that increased knowledge of your body’s needs is essential when you’re an endurance athlete.  Can it be filled with a vegan diet?  Absolutely.

When I first got into this, I had this book on running your best marathon.  And the author talked about getting up in the morning and having two bagels.  And then in the afternoon, having another bagel.  And then dinner, ice cream.  And it was really simple, easy-burning sugar and simple carbs.  The author was a great athlete, but I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I wonder how great this athlete could have been if in addition to fueling their activities, they were fueling their body efficiently as well, and fueling their health.”  And so, both are essential, and there’s just no doubt in my mind that the high-protein grains like quinoa and teff and amaranth are absolutely adequate to fuel an endurance athlete, as are legumes and nuts and seeds.  Figuring out the balance for your unique comstitution and for your workout is a challenge, no matter whether you’re eating bagels, ice cream, and red meat, or whether you’re eating clean food.

M: Neat.  I’ve never thought of it that way, as far as fueling your activity versus fueling your body.  There certainly are different nutritional needs.  At least, in my experience, if I eat differently during those times, I get better results.

T: Well, and when you’re training, it’s not “Ok, I’m going to have this and put it in my body for the run.”  I mean, food can stay in your body for up to two weeks.  So you’re feeling the influence in every aspect of your training, from your  mental preparation, to your actual physical activity, whether it’s the run, the ride, the swim, to your recovery, to resting and healing.  The foods that are in your body are actively working whether you are or not.  So it’s not “What am I gonna eat before I go to run this marathon?”

And for me, it’s kind of like the double-edged sword.   Being in touch with your body can be a curse as much as a blessing, so for me, I’ve always struggled when I hit 18 miles, and on the bike it’s about 85.  My digestion just shuts down.  All my energy is going to fuel the activity, and when I bring fuel in, it sits there and I get reflux.  I’ve never had reflux in my life—only at mile 18 or 85.  So it’s taken a long time for me to figure out what I’m eating and how I’m fueling.  It’s usually not actually the fuel; it’s usually the things that I’ve eaten the weeks before.  And little, simple habits.  For me, that’s when I took gluten out of my diet.  And a number of different foods really cleaned me up and made it much easier for me to get through those times.

M: Interesting.  I think “clean” is such a perfect word to describe it.  Every time we eat these meals, afterwards it’s like, “Man, we just feel light and clean.”  And Clean Start is a great title for the next book; I’m looking forward to that, for sure.  Do you know when it’s going to be out?

T: It’ll be out sometime before November 1.  So sometime in October.

M: Good, then I’ll certainly look for it then.

T: We’ll make sure you get a copy!

M: Alright!  Well I guess that’s all I have today.  Thanks so much for doing this.

T: Sure thing.  That was easy, Matt!

Thanks again to Terry for taking the time to share her thoughts with all her fellow no-meat athletes.  To keep up with Terry and her new projects, you can follow her on Twitter, visit her Facebook page, or check out her website.

I’ll be interviewing vegan pro-Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier in a few days; look for that one next week.  In the meantime, you might enjoy reading my first interview with Brendan.



My First 30-Mile Training Run

I generally don’t write about my runs here, since my goal is for you to stay awake when you read No Meat Athlete.  After all, if training were exciting, there wouldn’t be a need for so many amazing inventions to help us get six-pack abs while we sit at a desk, sleep, eat, and/or take care of business in the bathroom.

But going out on a limb and assuming most of you haven’t ever done a 30-mile run in training—this was my first—I figure maybe you’d like to hear about one.

It’s a shame they don’t give medals for these things.  If my 27 miles two weeks ago was my first n’arathon, then this was my first n’ultra.  Not the farthest I’ve ever run, but the farthest I’ve ever run in training.

When I first signed up to run a 50-miler ( the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Miler on June 6th), this was the part that scared me.  Having to run 30-plus miles all by myself, without the hype and adrenaline rush of running a race.  But the day finally came, and without a good excuse to put it off, I found myself heading out for a 5-hour run on a perfectly good Saturday.

I mapped out a 10-mile loop that started from and ended at my house which I would run three times.  This, I thought, would make the whole thing more comfortable and break the thirty up into manageable chunks.  Thirty is a lot.  Ten I can handle.

Loop 1: Cursing Last Night’s Rhone

The first loop was fine.  It made me wish I’d had one fewer glass of delicious wine the night before, but otherwise all good.  My iPod kept me company, I stopped at Charm City Run to pick up a little something for Erin’s first Mother’s Day, and I finished up the first 10 miles feeling good.

I fueled up on some Vega Sport and homefries.  If I’m going to run that far, I’m going to eat whatever the hell I’m craving.  Homefries sounded good, they were in the refrigerator, and I ate them.

Loop 2: Zen Breathing after an iPod Betrayal

Loop 2 started out well, until relative disaster struck: My iPod died.  I figured these things charge in a half an hour or so, but apparently that wasn’t enough.  I entertained myself for a lot of the time with a breathing exercise I heard about recently—four breaths in through the nose, four breaths out through the mouth.  Two steps per breath.

Ready for the weird part?  With each breath, touch your thumb to a finger tip, starting with your index finger, then your middle finger, then your ring ringer, and finally finishing at your pinky.  Then repeat, thousands of times until you’re in a trance.  Stupid, yes.  But it made me feel happy and it killed some time when I otherwise might have gone insane.  Try it.

When I finished the second loop, I was feeling great.  Except my crotch was absolutely on fire; I swore at that moment that I would not run again until I had bought new running shorts.  After applying more Vaseline than I thought necessary, I grabbed some more homefries, some pretzels, two cupcakes, and two glasses of water.  I’m all for natural running fuel, but there’s something about ultra-distances that makes me crave junk.  When I interview Brendan Brazier again (this week), I’m going to ask him about how optimal nutrition for ultras differs from that for shorter distances.

Loop 3: The Road Catches Up To Me

The third loop is when it started to get old.  For one, this was my first all-road run of any considerable distance in a long time.  Second, I didn’t wear my CEP compression socks because I worry about getting addicted to them.  And about 25 miles in, my legs got really heavy and tired of pounding the pavement.

Other than that, it was pretty uneventful.  The Vaseline I applied wasn’t sufficient, and if the chafing alone weren’t enough to make me trash my current running shorts, the horrific blood stain that now graces the liner most definitely is.

But I made it.  Five hours and 10 minutes after I started, I was back at my front door.  As soon as I came in, I lay on the carpet for a long time and had Erin bring me things.  And I was pretty damn proud of myself.

One more of these thirties (or thirty-five) and a few weeks of tapering, and I’ll be ready for the 50.  I haven’t quite made peace with that one yet.

Happy Mother’s Day

I’d like to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to my wife, Erin, who has now been a (wonderful) mother for just over three weeks.  I asked her what she wanted to do to celebrate, and she said, “Go get plants for the garden.”  So that’s what we did.  Plus I got her a gift certificate for some Vibram Fivefingers.

And of course, Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, too.  And to all the other mothers out there.  I now realize how much work you all do.



15 Sneaky Sodium Foods that Sabotage Your Healthy Diet

Hello again!  This is Christine here with a different kind of Sweet-Tooth Friday post; in fact, it’s down-right salty!  Sodium made some controversial headlines recently, and as a healthy-eater I was shocked by how much my pantry was affected by the news.

No Deli-Meat, No Cheeto’s, No Problem?

Salt is an essential part of survival, and is extra important for distance runners.  The recommended amount is only about a teaspoon per day, or 2300 milligrams.  Most people eat at least twice that much!

The sneaky part is, only a small amount of this comes from actually using the shaker in the table.  Seventy-five percent of salt intake comes from processed foods.

Two weeks ago, the Institute of Medicine released a report that recommends the FDA to regulate the amount of salt allowed in processed foods.  They believe this will prevent over 100,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and hypertension.

“Phew, I hardly eat any processed foods.  I’m in the clear, right?”

Though I’m torn on the idea of there being a legal limit on salt, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the sodium issue wouldn’t really affect me.  After all, I cook the majority of my meals at home.

But as I dug into my pantry and freezer, and took the time to look up the nutrition facts for my favorite take-out, I was hit with the salty reality.

Sodium fills my kitchen just like everybody else’s, even if disguised under my favorite natural brand names and organic labels.  Anything below 5% of the daily value is considered low salt, and over 20% is considered high…but where does my snacking land?

Fifteen Sneaky Sodium Sources

Ingredients: A Salty Start

Sure, most of our dishes start with lots of fresh veggies, but what pulls it all together as a meal?

1. Kikkoman Less-Sodium Soy Sauce 575 mg sodium per 1 tbsp (24% DV)
Ouch, that’s for the reduced version too! I don’t think I could ever ditch the soy sauce, so try to use with a light hand and turn up the flavor with 5-spice and chilies instead.

2. Prego Traditional Italian Sauce 480 mg sodium per 1/2 cup (20% DV)
I choose Prego for the short, pronounceable ingredient list and reasonable price.  I’ve been so busy reading labels to avoid corn syrup, I never even thought about checking the sodium level.  The best solution is to do like my dad does, and make a big homemade batch and freeze in single serving portions.

3.  Swanson Organic Vegetable Broth 550 mg sodium per 1 cup (23% DV)

And that’s 1/3 less sodium than Swanson’s original version! Making your own broth is a lot cheaper, and you get to control the ingredients.

4. Canned beans 430 mg sodium per 1 cup (18% DV)

Some people say rinsing beans removes up to 40% of the sodium, others say they need to be soaked in hot water to remove about 30%.  Either way, it’s a lot more than dried beans.  Save some time by cooking up large batches and freezing in two-cup portions.

5. Texas Pete Buffalo Wing Sauce 500 mg sodium per 2 tbsp (21% DV)
A lot of sauces and condiments are saltier than you’d think.  Load up your sandwich with more onions and other fresh fixins’ and layer on the heat with ground spices instead.

Snacks: Beyond carrots and celery

6. Grapenuts cereal 290 mg sodium per 1 cup (12% DV)
Instead of reading the back of the cereal box, take a gander at the nutrition facts next time!  Most are a sugary, salty mess.  Try Bear Naked All Natural Fruit and Nut Granola, for no sodium but lots of taste, or make my flax granola.

7. Nature’s Promise Organic Mac and Cheese 570 mg sodium per 1 cup prepared (24% DV)
Ah ha, I thought I was special by avoiding the dreaded blue box.  Still, powdered cheese sauce is…well, what is it exactly?  Drizzle whole-grain macaroni with olive oil, dried herbs, and a sprinkle of sea salt for a just-as-quick snack.

8. Blue Diamond Jalapeno Smokehouse Almonds 180 mg sodium per 1 oz (7% DV)
Remember, if it looks too good to be true, check the serving size!  I know I’m guilty of eating much more than an ounce at a time.  Get your tastebuds used to the joys of raw nuts, or grab some smoked paprika and season them yourself.

9. Newman O’s Salted Rounds 400 mg sodium per 8 small pretzels (17% DV)
Even my sacred Newman O’s aren’t safe from scrutiny!  When the munchies strike, try Nature’s Promise Organic Blue Corn Chips for only 60 mg of sodium per serving.

10. Kashi Frozen Veggie Chana Masala 690 mg sodium (29% DV)
At least that amount is for a whole meal instead of a snack!  Chana masala does in fact freeze wonderfully, so make your own large batch and freeze it yourself!  Also try Amy’s 290 mg Light Sodium Burritos.

Eating-out: The Healthiest Stuff on the Menu

There aren’t always a lot of meatless options at convenience restaurants; these five are my standards around town when I forget to pack my lunch.  If these numbers scare you, check out Matt’s post on vegetarian lunches for some better options.

11. Taco Bell Fresco Bean Burrito 1290 mg sodium (56% DV)
Gulp…don’t even think of washing this one down with a sodium-rich soda!

12. Einstein Bros. Bagels Veggie Deli Melt 1350 mg sodium (59% DV)
Ask for half the amount of cheese and extra greens.  And for gosh sakes, don’t order the salt bagel!

13. Baja Fresh Tostada Salad 1930 mg sodium (84% DV)
Nix the sour cream and cheese; the guacamole is plenty indulgent.  And don’t eat the bowl!

14.  Panera Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich 1450 mg sodium (63% DV)
PaneraNutrition.com has a cool feature that recalculates nutrition totals by checking and unchecking certain ingredients—for example, hold the feta and lose 180 mg sodium too.

15. Starbucks Farmer’s Market Salad 470 mg sodium (21% DV)
Though technically “high” in sodium, it’s still less than a tablespoon of soy sauce!  Use half the packet of dressing to lower the sodium even more.

Sodium haunts even the healthiest of diets.  The more convenience foods you can make at home and freeze yourself, the better.  When you buy packaged foods, look for sea salt as an ingredient instead of sodium benzoate and other forms of sodium used as a preservative.

So what do you think—would we all be a lot healthier if the government regulated sodium?  Are mandated jazzercize classes next?  No one will dare mess with the inherent saltiness of my pickles, olives, and capers…will they?

According to the Washington Post, one member of the Institute of Medicine Committee says “We can’t just rely on the individual to do something.  Food manufacturers have to reduce the amount of sodium in foods.”

On one hand I find that statement insulting, but on the other I know I am someone with the knowledge, means, and most of all time to prepare my own healthy foods.

Do you think regulation is a good idea? Is your sodium intake undermining your attempts at a healthy diet?

Until next time, stay sweet (not salty)!
xoxo, Christine



10 Vegetarian Lunches You Can Make at Work

I get the question all the time.

What the **** do you vegetarians eat for lunch?

My answer, “leftovers,” has always felt unsatisfying.  To the person asking, usually an intrigued, maybe-one-day vegetarian, this makes it seem hard.  What if you didn’t cook the night before?  Are you stuck with salad?

To better answer the question and avoid turning off potential veggie converts, I put together a list of vegetarian lunch ideas fit for the office.  The only assumptions: You have access to a microwave, a toaster, and a way to keep food cold.  And no leftovers allowed.

Here’s what I came up with.  Many of them are meals in their own right; others are more like snacks that could be combined or supplemented with some fruit, nuts, or an energy bar to fill you up.

10 Vegetarian Lunch Ideas

1. Veggie wrap or pita.

Put hummus, cucumbers, lettuce, sprouts, olives, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a whole-wheat or sprouted wrap or pita.  Other options: avocado, feta cheese, shredded carrots, beans, any other vegetable you like.

2. Bean burrito.

Heat black or pinto beans, pile onto a whole-wheat (lard-free) tortilla with salsa, cheese, lettuce, cilantro, and hot sauce.

3. Loaded-up salad.

Salad doesn’t have to be just greens.  Some ideas to boost the calorie-count with protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats include walnuts, sliced almonds, hemp seeds, soy nuts, sunflower seeds, orange slices, apple slices, avocado, fancy nut oils, lemon juice, tempeh, olives, dulse flakes, nori, and white, black, or pinto beans.  And about a million other options.  Try a slice of toasted bread on the side.

4. Peanut/almond/sunflower seed butter on a bagel.

A good, whole-wheat or sprouted bagel has more protein than you might think.  And nut butters generally provide healthy fats along with some more protein.  Some fun add-ons: sliced banana or vegetarian jelly.

5. Apple with nut butter.

This one’s a favorite recently in my house.  My wife and sister eat apples with sunflower seed butter like they’re going out of style.  (As if eating like a second-grader were ever in style.)  It’s not a meal on its own, but add some crackers, vegetables, or an energy bar, and it’s close.

6. Quesadilla.

You could make a standard Mexican version by melting some cheese between two tortillas and tossing in some mushrooms or roasted peppers and topping it with salsa.  Replace the cheese with some guacamole for a vegan version.  Or do away with the Mexican theme entirely and use hummus (black-bean hummus is a nice change) and fresh vegetables.

7. Veggie burger.

They’re best when they’re homemade, since you know exactly what you put in them.  Just make extra and freeze some for later. If you’re gonna get picky and call that “leftovers,” then buy some premade ones at the store.  Hint: Veggie burgers get a lot better when you dress them up with buffalo sauce, mustard, or whatever else you like.

8. A frozen, store-bought meal.

Michael Pollan has taught us that prepared meals you buy in a store are not real foods.  And this is a good rule of thumb.   But while I certainly wouldn’t eat them every day, there are some decent frozen vegetarian meals like pasta, pizza, and rice or noodle bowls, popping up in grocery-store freezers.  Amy’s and Kashi are two popular brands, but check out your health food store for more options. Just scour the ingredient list before you buy.

9. Vegetables dipped in hummus with toasted pita chips.

You can make your own hummus or buy it in the store.  If you buy it, try Tribe chipotle- or horseradish-flavored hummus.  They will knock your socks off.

10. Flatbread pizza.

Refer to Christine’s vegan flatbread recipe if you want to make it yourself.  Then add tomato sauce or vegetarian barbecue sauce, cheese if you eat it, and whatever vegetable toppings you can think of.  English muffins or bagels work just as well, as long as you get vegetarian or vegan versions.

There you have it.  Now there are 10 fewer excuses to keep eating meat.

But it’s important to note: These are supposed to be quick and convenient lunches.  Many of them aren’t exactly nutritional powerhouses, with protein being especially tough to come by in such simple-to-prepare meals.  But in a pinch, they’ll get you through a day when you don’t have leftovers.

If you have trouble finding any of these ingredients locally, I suggest that you order them from iherb.com. They’re cheap and sell quality stuff, and I have an affiliate deal with them where, as a No Meat Athlete reader, you’ll save $5 on your first order if you use the code RAZ652 at checkout.

Surely I haven’t thought of them all.  What are your favorite vegetarian lunches fit for work?

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.