Vegan Bodybuilder Robert Cheeke

It doesn’t matter whether or not you give a damn about bodybuilding.  As a vegetarian or vegan, you should be proud to call Robert Cheeke one of your own.

Robert is one of the most passionate people you’ll ever come across.  Besides running his vegan bodybuilding website, Robert tirelessly tours the country speaking about veganism and motivation, with little apparent interest in cashing in financially on his status as “The World’s Most Recognized Vegan Bodybuilder.”

Robert’s only motive, as far as I can tell, is to be the best advocate for veganism he can possibly be, driven by a love for animals rather than a perceived benefit on athletic performance.

I spoke to Robert just days after he signed a book deal for his vegan bodybuilding manual, Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness, which prior to now has been self-published.  Let me tell you: Robert’s incredible attitude and positivity absolutely shine through in his writing and speaking. I’m the farthest thing from a bodybuilder, and I thoroughly enjoyed both reading his book cover-to-cover and the chance to speak with him for an hour.

Hope you enjoy the interview.  Below you’ll find estimates of where I asked certain questions, in case you can’t listen to the whole thing.  If nothing else, listen from minutes 40-47 for just a small glimpse of the positive energy that makes Robert so special.

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  • 0:45 – How come you’re vegan?
  • 4:30 – Is being vegan an advantage or a disadvantage in bodybuilding?
  • 9:50 – You used to be an elite endurance runner?
  • 10:40 – Did you lift weights when you were a runner?
  • 14:15 – Competing in bodybuilding vs. training in bodybuilding
  • 15:50 – Lifting weights for sports where size is a disadvantage
  • 18:00 – Any recommended lifts for those of us in endurance sports?
  • 20:00 – What’s your favorite type of squat?
  • 22:30 – Are you into motivational authors and speakers?
  • 26:00 – Protein! Why do you say we need MORE than others do?
  • 30:20 – How much protein should we be getting?
  • 33:40 – Starchy carbs vs. sugary carbs
  • 36:25 – Do you find that bodybuilders tend to ignore vegetables?
  • 37:45 – What about creatine? Should vegetarians and vegans supplement with it?
  • 40:35 – Any general advice for non-bodybuilders? (My favorite part)
  • 47:25 – Anything else you’re working on?

Here’s the list of vegan protein foods that I mentioned in the interview.

Huge thanks to Robert for taking the time out of what must be an insanely busy schedule to do this for us!  For more, check out his bio page, follow him on Twitter, or visit his Facebook page.



My Big Screw-Up: Why (and How) I’m Training for a 50-Miler in Only 4 Weeks

Call it burnout.  Blame the heat in July.  Or chalk it up to trying to do too many things with too little time.

None of that changes the fact that the Vermont 50-miler is less than four weeks away.  And I’m signed up to run it.

I’ve written before that when I fail to train, I alone am responsible.  And failing to train is exactly what I’ve done this summer.

How did I get so far behind?

After the North Face 50-miler, I took a little break from running.  It wasn’t really planned; I just didn’t feel like running.  We all need a break once in a while, right?

This should have been no problem.  After about a month, I woke up one morning and realized my next 50-miler was only nine or ten weeks away, and that I had to start training.  So I started training.

Only it didn’t go very well.

Coming back was way harder than I expected.  I picked the middle of July to start running again, when every day was hot.  And for whatever reason, I didn’t adjust to running in the heat at all.

I managed to run 14 miles during one of my long runs.  But even my “easy” seven milers were anything but.

Done in by one awful run

On the day I planned to run 20, I put on my compression socks, filled my hydration vest, and headed out to the trail, feeling pretty good.

Again, it was hot.  I made it 3.5 miles before I felt like walking.

Usually, when I feel like walking, I keep on running.  But not this time.  I’m not sure what happened, but  I stopped running, turned around, alternated walking and running until I got home.

That day I decided I was not going to run 50 miles in Vermont, and I didn’t think about running for three weeks.

Which brings me to last Friday.  After procrastinating for a bit, I called my friend and sheepishly told him I wouldn’t be running the race we had signed up for together.  I would still be coming to crew for him, but sure as hell not running.  He said it was no problem, but that if I hadn’t run a 50 already, he’d be making fun of me.

And then, in a matter of minutes, I woke up from this funk.

Why on Earth, if I were going to be in Vermont on the morning of an ultramarathon I had signed up for, when I am so grateful to even have the health to be able to run at all, would I not be running in it?  I’ve never quit on a race in my life for any reason other than injury, yet here I was, ready to skip this one for no identifiable reason whatsoever other than “It was hot and I was lazy”?

And I saw the truth in one of the most cliched statements of all time, something we all believe on an intellectual level but perhaps not when it actually comes down to how we live our lives:

It’s better to try and to fail than not to try at all.

Was I afraid of being slapped with my first “Did Not Finish”?  Of having to walk some of the race and finish in a slower time than I did my first 50, even though the conditions in Vermont in September will surely be more favorable than they were in D.C. in June? Or was it just the physical pain I was afraid of, that pain of feeling completely out of gas after a marathon, knowing you still have another one to go?

So the music was cued, a beam of sunlight shone on my face, and there I stood, shirtless and bronzed, as doves fluttered up into the sky.

And then I realized I had only four weeks.  And that I hadn’t run more than 14 miles at once since my last 50.

The plan

You might say I’m in a pickle.  I’m going to try to run 50 miles less than a month from now and I need to get in shape for it, fast.  So here’s how I plan to do it.

Step 1: Start running again.

Done.  I ran 12 hilly miles on Saturday afternoon, then 7 more Sunday morning.

Step 2: Write a blog post about this whole thing so that I’ll feel like an ass if I quit again.

Doing it right now.

Step 3: Run a 20-miler and a longer run, maybe 30, in the next week and a half.

I’m going to do these at a slow pace on relatively flat ground, with the focus on just getting the miles in and not doing anything to risk getting hurt.  Don’t worry; I’ll be smart.  If anything’s wrong, I’ll scrap this crazy plan and just crew in Vermont.

But I have confidence I can do this. I’ve done four runs this year of 30 miles or more, including the 50 in June, and I get the feeling that the ability to run long and slow doesn’t disappear nearly as quickly as the ability to run fast for short distances does.  (If that’s wrong, please let me know AFTER the race.)

Step 4: Taper, kind of.

I don’t have the luxury of leaving a month to recover from my longest run before the race.  I only have a month to begin with.

But I can still get a 25 or a 30 in by the middle of next week, which will leave close to three full weeks before the race.  After that, I won’t do any more long runs, but I think I can still put the time to good use.  With where I am right now, I don’t need to do super-intense workouts to get stronger.  Just running every day will be a big improvement, and that’s something I think I can do without tiring myself out too much in the days leading up to the race.

Step 5: Do it.

I’ll go out slow, walk the big hills, and see what happens.  Mostly, I’ll do what I did last time I wasn’t in shape for an ultra, at the HAT 50K: Do everything in my power to enjoy the day.

I welcome your ideas, feedback, criticisms, and cautions.  Like I said, I’m kind of in a bind here. 🙂

Robert Cheeke Interview

Last week I talked to Robert Cheeke, vegan bodybuilder and quite possibly the most enthusiastic, positive, inspiring guy I’ve ever talked to.  We talked for about an hour and I recorded the whole thing digitally, so barring any technical difficulties I’ll post the interview tomorrow.

Even if you don’t give a damn about bodybuilding, it’s worth listening to what Robert has to say.  He’ll make you want to be a better vegetarian, vegan, or athlete, and to me, that feeling is invaluable.  (Maybe talking to Robert is to blame for this second wind I have to run the 50-miler!)  So look for that one tomorrow.

And of course, on Wednesday I start my one-month vegan experiment, along with several NMA readers.  There’s still time to join us if that sounds like the dietary kick in the pants you need!

That’s all for today.  Go ahead and do something special this week.



The 4 Mental Mistakes Every New Triathlete Makes

I just want to get this damn race over with.

I’ve woken up in a cold sweat every night the last two weeks.  Insomnia and burnout picked the wrong time to pick on this chump NMA.

I have no freakin’ clue why I’m doing Ironman Wisconsin anymore.

The funny thing?  When I turned to our NMA-approved cycling coach, Josh Powers, for help, he wasn’t nearly as surprised as I was.

All Triathletes Make the Same Mistakes

Josh saw my burnout coming.  He’s seen these mistakes with every triathlete he’s ever worked with.

And guess what?  So has almost every coach. We triathletes tend to build up the exact same brick wall and hit our heads on that wall over and over and over again.  And at the foundation of that wall are four mental mistakes that almost every triathlete makes.

Mental Mistake #1: We’re a bunch of Type-A pain-in-the-asses.

Face it, triathletes: We obsess over little things more than most. We thrive on structure—a good thing in moderation only.

We get upset when the race doesn’t go the way we planned, we complain when we train too much and don’t recover enough, and are quick to lay blame far away from ourselves. It’s never OUR fault.

It’s always the heat, the wind, the swim coach, the neighbors, the orange juice, George Bush, El Nino, or the cast of “The Jersey Shore.” We really suck at taking responsibility when things don’t go the way we envisioned.

The Fix: What we should be doing is anticipating that things can and will go wrong. Depending on where you fall on the Triathlete Type A spectrum, you can employ different strategies.

  • If you’re Type A Minus: You can teach yourself to plan what you can with the realization that shit happens, and whining will not fix it. All you can do is put on our big-kid pants and deal with it.
  • If you’re Type A Plus: You can plan, anticipate anything that could possibly go wrong, and have a backup plan in place for how you’d deal with it.  Type A triathletes that will not rest until they’re assured they’ve thought of everything ahead of time, so do exactly that.

Mental Mistake #2: We forget the Law of Averages.

Triathletes have three disciplines to worry about. We try to rock three sports, and that can be exhausting.  When we’re training in one, we’re usually thinking about the other two.

People tend to gravitate toward what they’re good at.  Maybe swimming comes easier to us, so we’ll spend more time in the pool because riding that bike is just so damn frustrating sometimes.  Or we’ll lace up the running shoes because we know we won’t get tired and frustrated after 400 meters of running…unlike that OTHER discipline.

The Fix: Triathlon is a sport of averages. You have three sports, but ONE finishing time. Rather than being a really good swimmer, a crappy biker, and a mediocre runner, train your weaknesses and try to bring up your average. If you spend more time training your weaknesses, you can bring your performance up so that you have more consistency across the board in your disciplines.

Mental Mistake #3: We lack patience.

The typical training plan for a triathlon, depending on the distance, covers many, many days. Nobody’s going to ride their bike a couple times and suddenly be able to finish an Ironman.

But when the results of our training are slow to reveal themselves, we assume we must not be doing enough or working hard enough. Rather than trust the plan designed to get us to the starting line weeks and months away, we modify our plans in our own way, right now: We add an extra mile or two to that run, or an extra swim workout when we’re supposed to be taking a rest day.

Our logic? If’ a little bit of work is good, a lot of work must be even better!

The Fix: Silly triathletes! Overachieving is for idiots. Training is a gradual process designed to bring us up to peak performance on race day.  Don’t try to get to race-day levels three months before your actual race.  Train smart.

Mental Mistake #4: We ignore the signs.

Remember how I said Josh saw my burnout coming?

I asked him how he knew, and his explanation was simple: I was a textbook case of burnout!

Every little thing set me off emotionally. I’ve cried at every sad song on the radio lately, thrown a remote control across the room because it wasn’t working (note to self: buy new batteries), and been very, very short with the people I love.

I haven’t slept well, even though I’ve been exhausted.

I have cuts that are slow to heal up and I came down with a really bad ear infection that cut a long training ride short due to pain and dizziness.

And I lost my energy and zeal for training—the other day, just looking at my bike was enough to send me into a fit of tears.

I was so focused at hitting all my training goals in my plan (see “Type A” above) and falling victim to my own poor logic (see “overachieving,” also above), that I never once considered that I was dissolving like a popsicle on a hot summer day. I never once considered that maybe, just maybe, the symptoms I had been exhibiting were from training too much and not recovering enough.

I’m not the only one. It happens to all of us. Of all the mistakes triathletes make, this is probably the most common. If it’s not training too much, it’s something else: Not recovering enough, not eating right, not prioritizing sleep…in short, ignoring the basic and essential things we need to make the training we’re doing work for us.

The Fix: Quit thinking you’re immune to burnout. We’re so quick to give advice to others about how to avoid burnout and overtraining, yet we seem to have this mentality that it’s something that happens to them, not to us. Ask your training partners, family members, or colleagues to keep you in check. When you start to exhibit any of the signs of of burnout, take a step back and assess what you’re doing. Are you truly balanced? Your sleep and nutrition should be just as high a priority as hitting your lofty training goals.

The good news: You can shatter that brick wall.

The first step to recovery is to admit that you have a problem. Don’t be shy. Imagine you’re sitting at a support group meeting with the rest of us. All of us are in multi-colored unitards with padded shorts and bike shoes, staring at you encouragingly. You look down at the floor, and through tears you admit:

“My name is ____, and I…I’m…<sob> A TRIATHLETE!”

Hi. Welcome to recovery. Now that you’ve committed these errors and how to fix them, let’s make a promise to ourselves that we’ll never make these mistakes again.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and burnout-free triple-sport lifestyle, NMAs. We can do this.

This post is part of a six-part guide designed to help the beginning triathlete get started (without screwing up too badly).  Check out the entire series!



I Started a New Blog

And it has absolutely nothing to do with vegetarian running!

Instead, it’s about gambling, or more specifically, the mathematics of gambling.  It’s called Thinking Bettor.

Contrary to what you may have been told, I don’t run marathons all day in a big carrot costume.  Instead, I’m an applied math Ph.D. student, and my research is in modeling trader behavior in financial markets.  (If you’ve been reading No Meat Athlete for a little while, you’ve probably picked up that I’m kind of a math and gambling nerd.  Or at least that I’m a nerd in general.)

Since it’s not something that will interest the non-gamblers among you, I probably won’t mention my gambling blog here again.  And don’t worry, it’ll be secondary to NMA.

But it’s something that I think will help with my career once I graduate (whatever that career may be), and I figured that since you presumably enjoy what I write, you might be interested in checking it out or passing it along to someone who would be interested.

So please, take a look or send it to someone who might like it.  Thanks for your help!  NMA will be back to its normal self tomorrow, with the one-month vegan challenge starting next week.



How to Make Superfood Juice (Like Odwalla and Naked) at Home

Convenience food, by its very nature, is usually junk food.

If it’s conveniently sitting on a shelf, chances are it’s brimming with preservatives, sodium, and even artificial colors, all to give the appearance and taste of freshness.

There is the rare exception—convenience food that really is fresh. But get ready to pay through the nose for it:  If you’ve ever plunked down a dollar for a banana at Starbucks, knowing full well they’re 70 cents a pound at the grocery store, then you’re familiar with the feeling.

Odwalla and Naked Juice: Healthy and delicious, but pricey

Yet in that moment between errands, a dash in for essentials when you’re already late, or that 20-minute lunch break, suddenly the lure of convenience food becomes irresistible.  The glow of the Odwalla or Naked juice cold case fills your vision, that fancy juice with real ingredients and not even enough preservatives to be stored at room temperature starts singing its siren song, and soon that five dollar bill is inching its way out of your pocket and into Coke and Pepsi’s (you know that’s who owns them, right?).

Before you know it, you’re happily chugging that delicious green superjuice—twelve ounces of liquid afternoon pick-me-up.

When the moment’s over and all that fruit sugar has burned away, I always feel like a sucker as I read over the ingredient list (not to mention my bank statement, littered with juice charges).  You see, the ingredients are so real, I wonder why I just didn’t make this at home.

Right.  Because in the mad rush of my weekday morning routine, I have plenty of time to leisurely peel a quarter of a kiwi, a third of a mango, and an eighth of a peach to throw in my juice.  (As if I even have all that on hand.)  Don’t you?

Recreating Naked Green Machine at home

Today’s recipe is a convenient and cheaper solution.  Gather the exotic fruits only once, do all the prep work once, and enjoy green superjuice for a month.

The secret to convenience here is the frozen supercubes—like ice cubes, but made from pureed fruit and greens.  So all you need to keep stocked are apple juice and bananas; just pop them in the blender with the green supercubes when you want to make the juice.

Sure, 7-11 may start to miss you during the week, but your wallet will thank you.

This is also a nice way to incorporate greens or greens powder into your daily routine.  I used Amazing Grass Green Superfood Energy Powder here, which provides a boost of caffeine with yerba mate and green tea, though I could do without its artificial tasting lemon-lime flavor.  I recommend greens powder that includes lots of nutritious things like wheatgrass and chlorella, but if you don’t have it,  you can use a half cup of frozen spinach along with a tablespoon or two of spirulina.

One warning: Just like in the real thing, all these fruits add up to a decent amount of sugar.  If you want to cut down, use unsweetened almond milk or water in place of the apple juice.

Homemade Green Superfood Juice

Super Cube Ingredients:

  • 3 kiwi, peeled
  • 1 mango, about 1 1/2 cups peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup pineapple chunks
  • 1/2 cup sliced peaches
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 8 scoops of greens powder, or about 1/2 cup

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine.  Divide greens puree into ice cube trays and freeze.  Once frozen, empty cubes into a freezer bag and use within 3 months.

Makes about 2 cups of greens puree, or about 27 ice cubes to use in 9 smoothies.

Smoothie Ingredients:

  • 3 green supercubes
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 1 ripe banana

In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend until smooth.  Makes a 1 1/2 cups of thick juice.



7 Things that Suck About Being Vegetarian

I say a lot of great things about being vegetarian.  I even listed 75 of them once.

And why not?

I won't lie: Dinner at a steakhouse still sounds good.

Since I stopped eating meat, I’ve achieved fitness goals—qualifying for Boston and running a 50-miler—that I wasn’t able to achieve before.  Most days, I have more energy than ever.  And beyond health and fitness, it just plain feels good to know that I don’t eat animals.

But being vegetarianism is not all roses.  As is the case with most things worth doing, there are times when it sucks, and this post is all about the (relatively few) drawbacks of vegetarianism.

I don’t want those of you who decide to try it out to be unpleasantly surprised and give up right away, cursing me for leading you astray and exacting your revenge by eating one of those big bacon explosion things that spread through email inboxes like no No Meat Athlete post ever will.

So today I present to you seven of the reasons why, every once in a while, I wish I didn’t care so much about what I ate.

#1:  You can’t enjoy a lot of local delicacies when you visit new places.

To me, the best thing about traveling is eating the food that defines a region, living like a local for a few days.  Seafood in Maine, vinegar-based pork barbecue in North Carolina, beef in the midwest, chorizo and jamon serrano in Spain, tripe in Florence.  You get the idea:  Almost all of them are meats, and that means your experience as a tourist is a little less authentic.

On the plus side: Travel costs less and is healthier, as long as you prepare. You need to bring food or buy it at a grocery store if you want to eat anything good at all, and that’s always cheaper than buying food out.

#2:  Steakhouse dinners are no more (and eating out, in general, is pretty lame).

My wife and I used to love going out to dinner.  Once a month or so, we’d go somewhere nice, order wine, appetizers, and desserts along with the meal, and not worry about the cost.

The best of these dinners that I can remember was at a steakhouse.  Something about a steak dinner and a bottle of red wine big enough to stand up to it, like a Cabernet or a Brunello, will always sound good to me, no matter how long I’m vegetarian.  I don’t think it’s the steak, but rather the experience, and I’ve found that hard to recreate.

Maybe there are great vegetarian and vegan alternatives in different corners of the country.  But where I live, going out to eat now means either Indian food, pizza, or salad.  And that gets pretty old, fast.

On the plus side: After a big dinner out is when I used to feel the absolute worst.  Stuffed, bloated, tired, and just a little bit tipsy.  While “tipsy” still happens from time to time, “so bloated I can’t sleep” never does.

#3:  There are times when you have to eat worse than you would if you were an omnivore.

Being able to eat both plants and animals is helpful when it’s several thousand years ago and you’re trying to survive.  Whether it’s a bunch of bananas or a wounded antelope that you find, you can eat it for energy that will sustain you for the next few days.

Nowadays, survival is slightly more certain, and it’s nice to have the luxury to choose not to eat certain foods.  But having more choices still increases your chances of finding something good to eat.

If you’re out, or traveling, or at a wedding or party or anything like that, and you forget to plan ahead, there’s a good chance there won’t be much for you to eat.  Maybe some bread, potato chips or pretzels.

Solution: You fill up on junk or you don’t fill up at all.

On the plus side: Not having meat as an option saves you from a lot of times when you’d probably make a poor choice.  You drive right past the sign advertising the new fried chicken sandwich from fast-food-land that you certainly would have wanted to try before.

#4:  Cooking just isn’t the same.

I used to love cooking.  Really, honestly, love it.

Now I don’t.  I still cook good, healthy food, but the ritual of planning the meal, shopping for the ingredients, and preparing it is simply going through the motions necessary to get that meal on the table.

From time to time, I’ll still get excited about cooking, and I might make gnocchi or pasta from scratch and enjoy the process.  But that used to be every night; now it’s rare.

On the plus side: I save a lot of money on groceries now that I don’t buy meat, which allows me to buy more expensive, local and organic produce.  Also, my experience isn’t universal: A lot of people tell me they got into cooking because they went vegetarian or vegan.

#5:  Having dinner at friends’ houses becomes iffy.

Do they know we’re vegetarian?  Do we need to warn them?  What happens if they serve us meat, or something that’s not quite vegetarian?  Do we just eat it?

Hard questions.  And so far from the good feelings you should have when someone else is taking the time to prepare a meal for you and inviting you into their home to eat it.  I’ve heard of vegetarians and vegans who will not refuse a meal that a friend prepares for them, an idea I’m still wrestling with in my head.

On the plus side: Most close friends are really cool about it. I suppose that’s why we call them friends.

#6: Just because it’s not meat, doesn’t mean it’s vegetarian.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read a post I wrote called “Warning: 8 Common Foods You Thought Were Vegetarian.”  Guinness, some cheeses, certain candies, and more.  Lots of stuff you wouldn’t imagine is made with ingredients you can only get by killing animals.

On the plus side: Some will argue with this, but I’d still consider you a vegetarian if you were to simply avoid meat.  So start there.  I didn’t worry about these other things at first, but over time I’ve naturally started avoiding them.

#7:  People think you want to convert them or that you judge them.

I hate preaching.  I think it comes from a place of insecurity, and from the idea that if you can convince others to do what you do and believe what you believe, then that validates your own beliefs and actions.

When it comes to vegetarianism, I want to share it and be a positive example.  And perhaps even to point out misconceptions or facts that are hidden from view.

But the idea of trying to change friends, family members, and others when it comes to such a personal decision as what they eat is something that turns me off.

I know there are lots of vegetarians and vegans who feel the same way.  But they’re not the most visible, and for that reason, there’s a tendency for people to think that all vegetarians and vegans are that way.

On the plus side: When you see someone make a positive change because of your example (and without any preaching) it feels really good.  Even if they don’t completely stop eating meat.

Vegan for a Month

None of this has made me question my decision to be vegetarian.  In fact, I’m ready to go farther with it.

It’s been a long time coming, but after close to a year and a half as a vegetarian, I’m ready to try a vegan diet.  I’m pretty happy being vegetarian, and I’m still not convinced veganism is for me, but I owe it to myself to try it.

So for the month of September, I am not going to eat any animal products at all.  Actually, this won’t represent a major shift in my diet—cheese pizza and Rita’s gelati (minor addiction recently) are about the only dairy products I ever eat. And I don’t like eggs at all.  But eating out will be even harder than it already is, and I’ll have to read fine print and ingredient lists even more carefully.

I can do anything for a month.  And then I’ll go from there.  If you’re up for trying it with me ( or even a vegetarian diet, if that’s where you are), let me know with a comment!



How to Start Swim Training Without Embarrassing Yourself

When I tell my runner compatriots the dirty little secret that I’m actually a—gasp!—triathlete, I almost always get one of two responses:

  1. “You’re freaking crazy”; 0r
  2. “I wish I could do that. I just can’t swim, though. I need those arm-floaty thingies or I’ll drown.”

To the first group, I smile and laugh. (Okay, I admit it: In my head, I also silently agree. Just a little.)  To the second, I want to shake them violently and say one thing:


Start here.

Whether you’re looking to train for a triathlon or simply looking for a new cross-training activity, swimming should be a part of your workout plan.  I know swimming is frightening, NMA tri-noobs, but trust me when I say you should jump in to swim training.

Literally. Just get in the damn water already. You’re going to learn to swim, and when you do, you’ll look back and wonder why you were ever so scared of it.

If you don’t believe me, go to your local pool and watch the lap swimmers. You’ll see that there are tons of different swimmers: Young, old, large, small, you name it…it’s going to be in that pool. I guarantee it.

In my “home pool,” I see all sorts of different characters in the water. There’s one guy who listens to the radio on headphones while he swims…so he can do a modified version of the breastroke for hours without ever putting his head underwater. There’s also a woman who is easily 100 pounds heavier than I, but can swim three times as fast. There are folks from the senior club doing their water aerobics and children learning to swim for the first time. There are fit triathletes doing high-intensity workouts, and there are chumps like me whining and asking our swim coach if it’s time to get out of the pool and eat cupcakes.

No one is wearing “those arm-floaty thingies.”  And no one drowns.

I know this sounds way too logical and way too simplistic, but…umm…if they can do it, so can you.  Now quit making excuses and get in the pool.

How to Keep from Embarrassing Yourself at the Pool

The first step is to learn how to not drown.  If you must, sign up for beginner lessons with a certified swim instructor.  Alternatively, you can (in theory) teach yourself to swim.

Some suggest it’s as simple as a cap, some goggles, and a bowl of water, while others are much more involved.  If you’re going to go the route of teaching yourself, please study your materials carefully, and always, always, ALWAYS practice with a lifeguard or competent spotter watching you in the water.

Two other links to help you learn the basics:

If you already know how to swim, perhaps you’re a little intimidated by the pool because you’re not really sure what the general code of conduct is.  Here’s the low-down.

Be honest in your assessment of your abilities.

Some swimming pools have designated lap lanes, and within those lanes, designated speeds. Usually, they’re some variation  of “advanced,” “intermediate,” and “novice.” In one pool I used to frequent, they were called “shark,” “tadpole,” and “guppy.” I didn’t say they had to make sense, NMAs. I just said they were delineated, okay?

I know we all want to believe we’re advanced swimmers. In our minds, every one of us is Michael freakin’ Phelps. Admitting that we need to swim in the “novice” lane may make us feel inadequate, but trust me on this one: When you get plowed over in the “advanced” lane by someone who is actually, in fact, “advanced,” you’re going to get a big fat slice of humble pie. Go eat every last bite of it in the “novice” lane. Hone your skills there, and you’ll be in the faster lanes before you know it.

By default, circle swim.

Swim in a circle, always staying on the right-hand side of the lane. This allows for people to share the lane with you without the possibility of a collision. When you are sharing the lane with other swimmers, do not, I repeat, DO NOT cross the center line until you get to the wall at the end of the lane! Stay on the right hand side. The only exception to this rule is if you’re sharing the lane with one other person and both of you agree to each take a designated half of the lane.

Keep your knees together.

I used to work with a nun that said that all the time. But the context was something entirely different than what I’m discussing here (wink-wink). I just always wanted to be able to say that, too, and now, finally, here’s my chance! Keep your knees together!

When sharing a lane with another swimmer, stick to freestyle. Don’t start doing the breaststroke, as odds are very high that you’ll kick your lane partners at some point. That’s just not cool. Similarly, if you’re going to do the backstroke, that’s all good, so long as you are confident in your ability to backstroke in a straight line. If you’re going to zig-zag into the wrong side of your lane, you’ll collide with your lanemates, which would probably result in an aqua beat-down with a kickboard or water noodle. Not fun.

Respect the floaters, the kids, and the aqua-joggers.

Unless you are swimming in a time that is explicitly designated for lap swimming only, don’t get curt with the sunbathers, water-aerobics classes, or kids splashing around in the pool. They have just as much of a right to be there as you.

You might consider asking the lifeguard if you can cordon off one lane for lap swimming, but if they say no, then you’ll need to make the decision to either come back another time or to swim around the aqua-joggers and children playing Marco Polo.

I’d suggest the latter…it’ll give you good practice for maneuvering around your fellow triathletes in the mass start open-water swim of your next triathlon. In fact, ask the kids to give you the aqua beat-down with kickboards and water noodles. You get realistic training, and the kids get entertainment. Everybody wins!

Consider a Masters Swim Group.

When I was first invited to join a Masters Swim Group, my first thought was “Heh. I’m nowhere close to being a master swimmer.” Then I was told that Masters was just another way of saying “grown-up swim team.” So then I just felt old.

Now…I’ll never admit in a million years that I’m a grown-up, but I will say that it’s nice to be able to have a time in the pool, with a coach, with other swimmers over the age of 18. We’re given structured workouts customized to our abilities, and being matched with swimmers within your group who are at or slightly above your level will provide you with constant motivation to ramp up your performance just a teensy bit more.

The group also provides camaraderie and support: My Masters Group, comprised of every type of swimmer from Ironman triathletes to recreational swimmers, loves to get together after training for pizza, ice cream, or — you guessed it — cupcakes. We also go to races to cheer each other on or swap battle stories on Mondays after intense weekends of training or racing.

Only two types of people wear Speedos: European and badasses. You’re probably not European.

So squeeze into those Speedos, NMA studs and studettes. You’re making awesome progress in cementing your reputation as a bad-ass triathlete. See you in the pool!

This post is part of a six-part guide designed to help the beginning triathlete get started (without screwing up too badly).  Check out the entire series, or get your copy of the No Meat Athlete Triathlon Roadmap today!



Say ‘Aloha’ to Hawaiian Beans and Rice Tonight

When I published Tasty Twists on the Classic Complete-Protein Meal: Rice and Beans 5 Ways earlier this summer, I let you in on my biggest weekday-dinner secret.

With just one core 5-ingredient recipe and a couple of spices, you get to parade around your kitchen like an international epicurean, all the while eating like an athlete.

The response to those five quick, easy, and cheap meals was wonderful—you loved that they were quick, easy and cheap.  And I was totally touched when months later, lots of you wrote in after the Vegan Starbucks Petite Lentil Scones post to tell me that the beans and rice variations are still part of your regular meal rotation.

So today I’m back (dare I say by popular demand?) with another flavorful complete protein recipe, this one perhaps the most exciting of all: Hawaiian beans and rice.

Everyday Flavors To Make You Say Mahalo

Luckily for me, beans and rice is not a static concept—the meal is constantly changing, based on where in the world you are, what season is here, and even what’s leftover in the fridge.

The idea for the 5-ingredient Hawaiian variation starts with island-drenched color: magenta cabbage, golden pineapple, lush-green spinach, and shiny black beans.  Okay, so maybe I’ve never been to Hawaii, but I’ve definitely had Hawaiian pizza before.  And just like it does in my Homemade Vegan Bacon, the smoked paprika in this recipe does a nice job of evoking the flavors of smoked ham.

A quick pan-fry with the pineapple rings gets all that luau flavor without the fuss of firing up the grill.  And if you want the whole tropical experience, be sure to try the variation with toasted coconut folded into the rice.  It’s divine!

I hope that just as many of you who tried the other beans and rice recipes give this one a whirl too.  When you do, be sure to let me know what you think!

Basic Beans and Rice Recipe


  • 1 cup dry brown rice
  • 1 can drained and rinsed beans, or 2 cups cooked
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

Cook the brown rice in a rice steamer or follow the directions here.  Heat up the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and fry the onion for 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and fry for an additional 5 minutes.  Stir in the beans and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.   Serve with rice.

Hawaiian Beans and Rice

You’ll need one batch of the basic recipe above, as well as:

  • 2 cups chopped red cabbage (about quarter of a head)
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 can sliced pineapple, juice reserved

Stir the red cabbage, 1/2 cup pineapple juice, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and smoked paprika into the bean and onion mixture.  Cook for 5 minutes, until cabbage is cooked but still crunchy.  Stir in spinach and cook for 2 more minutes, until slightly wilted.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, spray a frying pan with nonstick cooking spray and heat on medium high.  Lay pineapple rings in pan, and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce.  Fry for 2 minutes per side, until nice and charred.  Serve on top of beans and rice.

Feeling fancy?  Add a chopped red bell pepper in with the cabbage, sprinkle beans with a minced jalapeño pepper, and fold 1/2 cup of toasted coconut into cooked rice.