Grocery Hacks: 6 Money-Saving Tricks for the Vegetarian Athlete on a Budget

Imagine seeing $419.26 at the bottom of your grocery receipt.  Now imagine that’s just for one week, and it’s just for you.

This is how much it costs vegan ultrarunner Scott Jurek to eat for a week, as calculated in Tim Ferriss’ epic 4-Hour Body.  (Alright, now just for fun, feel free to imagine yourself winning the Western States 100, seven straight times.)

Does eating green have to mean spending a lot of it?

Okay, so most of us aren’t eating the 5,000 to 6,000 calories per day that Scott eats, and we’ll get off a little lighter as a result.  But the type of food Scott eats isn’t any different from (or more expensive than) what the other plant-based athletes we trust are telling us to eat — organic fruits and vegetables, raw nut butter, fancy oils, and all sorts of products that blur the line between food and supplement.

And all bought at Whole Foods, of course. (Affectionately known as “Whole Paycheck.”)

So it begs the question: How are we mortals — and our families — supposed to afford to eat this way?

An email from a concerned reader

A reader wrote to me the other day asking this very question:

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How to Get the Benefits of Barefoot Running (Without Taking Off Your Shoes)

This is an excerpt from the No Meat Athlete Marathon Roadmap, the Plant-Based Guide to Conquering Your First 26.2.

How to Run Like a Barefooter in Normal Shoes

Put those shoes back on, lady!

It’s not that I think barefooting is bad.  Far from it, I think running barefoot (or at least in minimalist shoes), is a good thing for most runners to work into their training.

But for you, the anxious, soon-to-be first-time marathoner, running barefoot or in shoes like Vibram Five Fingers introduces more risk than it’s worth.  When you’ve been running the same way for 20 or 30 or 60 years, your bones and muscles are used to it.

To abruptly change that at the same time you’re ramping up your mileage is just asking for a stress fracture or other lower-leg injury.  So unless you’ve already been running barefoot or in minimalist shoes for some time, I don’t recommend it while you’re trying to train for your first marathon.

But here’s the kicker: You can still run like a barefooter without running barefoot or with Vibrams, and without the risks.  True, the hardcore barefooters won’t let you into their club (not that they would if you were wearing FiveFingers, either).  But the effect on your form is similar.

How?  Mainly, by taking smaller, quicker steps that help you land with your feet right beneath your body and make a midfoot strike more natural.  And that’s what I’m going to show how to do next.

A Simple Technique for Injury-Proofing Your Stride

As I’ve written before, I dealt with injuries ALL the time when I was a new runner.  From the time I trained for my first marathon to the time I ran my next, I suffered through four years of starts and stops due to injury. Mostly tibial stress fractures, but knee problems as well.

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The Perfect Smoothie Formula

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The way I see it, you only need to eat healthy twice during the day.  While you’ll certainly eat more than twice a day, just two healthy meals make it pretty hard to screw up the rest of them.

Once is in the afternoon, when a big salad loaded with greens, other raw vegetables, and nuts will fill you up and give you more veggies than most people eat all day.  And as a bonus, it’ll give you the chance to get even more good stuff, when you dress it with quality oil, lemon juice, and a little sea salt.

The other time is in the morning, when a smoothie made from fruits (and even vegetables) will not only set the tone for the entire day, but act as a vehicle for other superfoods or supplements you want to work into your diet.

That’s it. Just two healthy meals.

Even if you ate whatever you wanted the rest of the day, I’d be willing to bet you wouldn’t get fat, as long as you made sure to drink a smoothie and eat a big salad every single day.

Sure, if you were to eat at McDonald’s for lunch and Outback for dinner the rest of the time, you could probably succeed at packing on a few pounds.  But here’s the thing.

The smoothie and salad act as “anchors” that keep you on track, to remind you just how great it feels to put real, fresh fruits and vegetables in your body.  After you start the day with a smoothie, McDonald’s for lunch doesn’t seem so good anymore.  And when it’s time to start thinking about dinner, the salad does the same.

In this way, those two healthy meals become three or four—which doesn’t leave much time for junk.

Why people suck at making smoothies

Most people are alright when it comes to the salad.  But there’s something about the alchemy of throwing a few fruits, ice, liquid, and whatever else into a blender and ending up with a perfectly smooth and delicious drink that causes lots of people to struggle.

Since nearly everyone has a blender (I use a Blendtec myself, I suspect that the reason most people don’t make smoothies consistently is that it’s overwhelming.  There are too many possible ingredients, and too many variables to tweak to get the proportions just right. And if someone should stumble upon a good recipe, they end up making it so often that they get sick of it and never drink it again.

We need a formula

Over the past few years, I’ve had a smoothie almost every single day.  I’ve constantly tweaked it, experimented with new ingredients, and kept track of what worked and what didn’t.

What follows is my version of the smoothie genome project.  It’s a formula you can follow to create nearly endless variations.  And the best part is that the uncertainty has been taken out of it for you.  You’ll need to experiment with different flavor combinations, of course, but the guesswork about proportions has largely been removed.

The recipe below specifies general amounts and types of ingredients (like “2 tablespoons binder”) and then below, you are given a menu of several recommended ingredients of each type from which to choose to make your smoothie.

The Perfect Smoothie Formula

(makes 2 smoothies)

  • 1 soft fruit
  • 2 small handfuls frozen or fresh fruit
  • 2-4 tablespoons protein powder
  • 2 tablespoons binder
  • 1.5 tablespoons oil
  • 1.5 cups liquid
  • 1 tablespoon sweetener (optional, less or more as needed)
  • optional superfoods, greens, and other ingredients
  • 6 ice cubes (omit if soft fruit is frozen)

Select one or more ingredients of each type below and add to blender in specified proportions. Blend until smooth.

Recommended Soft Fruits

  • Banana
  • Avocado

(If you have a high-speed blender that can puree, say, a whole apple or carrot without leaving any chunks behind, then the puree of almost any fruit or vegetable can act as your soft fruit.)

Recommended Frozen or Fresh Fruits

  • Strawberries (you can leave the greens on if you have a powerful blender)
  • Blueberries
  • Blackberries
  • Raspberries
  • Peaches
  • Mango
  • Pineapple

Recommended Protein Powders

  • Hemp
  • Sprouted brown rice (tastes chalkier than hemp, but packs more protein per dollar)
  • Pea
  • Vega Sport (combines all three for complete amino acid profile)
  • Lifetime Life’s Basic’s Plant Protein (an affordable hemp, rice, pea, and chia protein blend)

(Soy and whey are higher-protein, generally cheaper options, but for a variety of reasons I don’t recommend either for long-term use.)

Recommended Binders

  • Ground flaxseed
  • Almond butter or any nut butter
  • Soaked raw almonds (soak for several hours and rinse before using)
  • Rolled oats, whole or ground
  • Udo’s Wholesome Fast Food

Recommended Oils

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Udo’s Blend or other EFA blend
  • Hemp oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Almond, macadamia, or other nut oil

Recommended Liquids (unsweetened)

  • Water (my favorite)
  • Almond milk or other nut milk
  • Hemp milk
  • Brewed tea

Recommended Sweeteners

  • Honey (not technically vegan)
  • Agave nectar (high in fructose, so choose this only before workouts)
  • Stevia (sugar-free natural sweetener, the amount needed will vary by brand)

Optional Superfoods, Greens and Other Ingredients

  • Cacao nibs (1-2 tablespoons)
  • Carob chips (1-2 tablespoons)
  • Ground organic cinnamon (1-2 teaspoons)
  • Chia seeds, whole or ground (1-2 tablespoons)
  • Greens powder (1-2 teaspoons)
  • Whole spinach leaves (1-2 handfuls)
  • Maca powder (1-2 teaspoons)
  • Jalapeno pepper, seeds and stem removed (one small pepper)
  • Ground cayenne pepper (small pinch)
  • Sea salt (pinch)
  • Lemon or lime juice (1 tablespoon)

There’s plenty here to get you started.  But you certainly don’t have to stay within these guidelines if you determine that you want more or less of a certain ingredient, or more than one ingredient from each category. (For example, almond butter and ground flaxseed are both in the “binder” category, but I sometimes include both in my smoothie.)

Also, note that which ingredients you use from one category often dictate how much you need from another.  For example, if you’re using avocado instead of banana as your soft fruit, you’ll need more sweetener than you would with the banana, and you’ll probably want to go light on other fatty ingredients, since avocado provides plenty of good fats.

So be creative, and don’t worry if at first you like more of the sweet ingredients and not so much of the healthier ones. Over time as you eat less and less processed and sugary foods, your tastes will change and you’ll actually crave the healthy stuff.

PS – This is an excerpt from my vegetarian guide to your first marathon.

PPS – If you like the formula idea, check out the Ultimate Energy Bar Formula!




‘Thrive’ Author Brendan Brazier’s First-Marathon Advice and Vegan Nutrition Tips

When it comes to taking on a challenge as big as training for your first marathon, you don’t want to go it alone.

My first marathon was anything but a success.  Sure, I finished the race (2002 Rock ‘n Roll San Diego), but I took so many missteps throughout the training—and even on race day—that it’s a joke.  To this day, I’m amazed that I had the determination to run a second marathon four years later, but I know why I did: I had to get it right.

So where did I go wrong with that first training?  How did I end up with a stress fracture in my shin, and instructions from the doctor not to run the race at all?

(In case you’re wondering, I did eventually get it right.  I ran that second marathon a whole hour faster, and eventually took over an hour and forty minutes off my first time. :))

The trouble started with the first step I took

And it’s probably the thing you did when you first thought about a marathon—I Googled “marathon training plan” and went with the first thing I found.

“How tough could this be for a fit college kid like me?” I thought.  “What more do I need to know than how far to run each day?”

Turns out, a lot.  For all I knew about nutrition for weightlifting, I didn’t have a clue about how to safely build up the endurance required for a marathon, and it was a huge mistake to think that a single chart would be everything I needed to know about training for it.

Marathon training with a vegetarian diet doesn’t have to be stressful

In training for your first marathon, you can save yourself a ton of worry, stress, and even physical pain by learning from people who have done it before.  And in your case, you want to learn from people who have figured out the best ways to make endurance training work with a vegetarian or vegan diet.

One of those people is Brendan Brazier, vegan former professional Ironman triathlete, author of Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life, and formulator of the Vega line of sports nutrition products.  Many vegetarians, myself included, look at Thrive as the vegan-sports-nutrition-bible, and the diet Brendan prescribes there as the benchmark of an optimal diet for energy.

An 11-minute sample of my interview with Brendan Brazier

As you probably know, I put together a vegetarian guide to your first marathon called the Marathon Roadmap.

But here’s the cool part: the program includes a series of interviews with some amazing vegan and vegetarian athletes, all of whom were once in that same position of staring down 26.2 miles for the first time.

These interviews focus specifically on advice for the first-time marathoner, or anyone who may have already run a marathon but wants to run their next one on a vegetarian or vegan diet.  And that’s what I mean by learning from people who have been there before.

To get you started, here’s an 11-minute sample from my interview with Brendan:

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

In addition to talking to Brendan, I had the pleasure of learning from these other amazing plant-based athletes, each of whom sat down for an interview to share their advice for first-time marathoners looking to do it without meat:

  • Rich Roll, the vegan Ultraman (that’s a double Ironman, spread over 3 days) and finisher of five Ironman triathlons in under a week.
  • Matt Ruscigno, a vegan Registered Dietitian who worked with Veganomicon author Isa Chandra Moscowitz on her latest cookbook, Appetite for Reduction, and three-time finisher of the Furnace Creek 508, a 508-mile solo bike race through Death Valley.
  • Scott Spitz, one of the world’s fastest vegan marathoners, who ran a PR of 2:25:55 at the Chicago Marathon (his first!).
  • Robyn Flores, a vegan ultrarunner who is attempting to set the American women’s 24-hour treadmill record, running 86 miles in her most recent attempt.
  • Ed Roshitsh, a vegetarian who will be running across the United States starting in March, averaging 50 miles a day for 50 to 60 days.

Click here to learn more about the Marathon Roadmap.

Enjoy the interview clip with Brendan, or check out the related posts below to read some other interviews I’ve done with him!



On Refusing to Settle and the Incredible Power of Denial

In the days leading up to the launch of Matt’s newest book, he’s asked me to write something for readers facing their first marathon. Something inspiring, maybe, or some insider tips and tricks. I was happy to oblige — my first marathon led me to this gig writing for No Meat Athlete! — though I will admit I struggled with what, exactly, to write about.

Then it hit me: It’s time I finally shared my secret weapon with you.

I have a confession to make.

It’s recently been brought to my attention that over the last year of writing for No Meat Athlete, I’ve neglected to mention something about myself that is otherwise pretty obvious when you meet me.

Don’t get me wrong — if you meet me, I look like I do in my pictures. I’m just as much of a klutzy schmuck jokester in real life as I am in my writing. But there’s something else.

I’m deaf.

Yup, you read that right: My ears don’t work. I lost my hearing to an unknown virus when I was 2 1/2, and since then, I’ve been known as “that deaf girl.”

Save the pity party for someone who needs it. I’m telling you now because my disability has taught me one important thing that everyone needs to know:

Denial is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

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Want to Run Your First Marathon in 2011? 6 Factors to Keep in Mind When Choosing Your Race

This post is an excerpt from the Marathon Roadmap, a guide to running your first marathon on a vegetarian diet.  Click here to learn more about it.

Choosing Your First Marathon

If you’re anything like me, you probably have some big, some-might-say-ridiculous plans in your head for 2011.   If, for you, those plans include running your first marathon, guess what.

It’s January 12th, and if you don’t start making it happen now, your marathon idea will probably end up in the goal graveyard, alongside those 15 pounds you were going to lose that one year, and that pony you swore you’d have by the time you were 30.

So how do you make this one happen?  Turning your goal into reality starts with making it concrete.  In this case, that means choosing a race and committing to it.

Choose the wrong one though, and the road to your first marathon can be a whole lot harder than it needs to be.

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A 5-Minute Preview of a Video Interview I Did

My friend Dustin from is releasing a new product called Quick Fit Formula. It’s a series of video interviews with 12 fitness experts, about getting fit when you don’t have a lot of time.  And one of the interviews is with me!

Let’s be honest—the important thing here is that someone called me an expert. Not a Street Fighter II expert or a foosball expert or an expert at coming up with gambling systems that are going to make me rich that don’t work, but a fitness expert.  Which means this elaborate ruse is working. 🙂

So that’s sort of cool, even if a little weird. Here are the first five minutes or so of our interview, where we talk a little bit about how I got into all this, as well as some advice for new runners. Later on, in the rest of the interview, we get into much more about finding the time to train, working out with your spouse, and lots of stuff about eating a vegetarian diet.  Lots of good stuff.

If you’d like to watch the rest of the interview when Dustin releases it, along with the other 11 (with the REAL experts), click here to sign up for free.

When you do, you’ll have access to each interview for a limited time (24 hours, I think) after it’s released.  If you decide that instead you want to download the interviews to be able to watch them whenever you want, and also get transcripts and great bonuses from some of the other (real) experts, then you have to pay for that part.  And I’ll get paid for referring you.

But it’s totally free if you want it to be, as long as you sign up within the next few days.

That’s all for today!  I’m off to work on another one of my stupid gambling models…

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What’s All the Fuss About Gluten-Free and Grain-Free?

Happy not-so-New Year!  Was my last post really in 2010?  Yes it was.  And 4-Hour Body author Tim Ferriss put it on his Facebook page and tweeted it, which was awesome.

If that’s how you found the site, great.  Maybe you can chime in and help me with something.

The unsexy gluten-free rage

Gluten-free and grain-free strike me as just about the most boring diet premises one could dream up.  Especially for vegetarians, for whom grain is one of the last bastions of comforting, cooked food, nixing it sounds terribly unappealing.

So the fact that everyone (including top endurance athletes) is talking about getting the grain out of their diets has left has me thinking that maybe there’s something to it.  Drastic improvements in endurance and recovery, perhaps?

Grain-free is a central premise of the Paleo diet, and one that requires no modification in my vegetarian version of Paleo.  Among the other credible sources in my universe who advocate low-gluten or low-grain: Brendan Brazier, Rich Roll, Tim Ferriss, and Brian MacKenzie of CrossFit Endurance.

In the case of gluten, a protein composite primarily found in wheat, the main rationale for avoiding it is that it’s difficult for our bodies to process it.  Wheat allergies and Celiac’s disease are the extreme cases, but proponents of a low-gluten diet say that wheat is an inflammatory in everyone, and it can slow us down and cause weight gain.

Why I’m not yet a No-Wheat Athlete

Only in the past few months have I really started listening to any of them.  I’ve reduced my wheat intake to the point where it’s a cheat food, something I’ll eat only on binge days.  (Spelt pasta is a nearly indiscernible alternative to whole wheat, spaghetti freaks. [UPDATE: Spelt is actually a form of wheat — so not gluten free, but I still think it’s healthier than most whole-wheat products.)

But I’m hesitant to give up other grains.  I mean, brown rice?  That’s an absolute staple for me.  (My latest snack/meal obsession: brown rice, avocado, Bragg’s amino acids, and lime juice.)  Even quinoa, not technically a grain but a seed, is banished under the strictest plans.

But that’s the not biggest problem.  When I get to the point where I’m convinced that my long-term health or performance as an ultrarunner can be improved with a diet change, I’m usually pretty good at exacting that change.  (Coffee being a notable blemish on my record.)  That’s why I went vegetarian, and why I’m tending recently towards vegan.

No, the problem isn’t that it’s too hard.  The problem is that I’m just not convinced.  I can’t truthfully say that I’ve noticed a single benefit since cutting out the wheat.  In fact, I’ve just found it harder to fill the plate with enough calories.

I’m hoping a few success stories will inspire me and others to stick with it, or that enough stories of failure will convince me that it’s not for everyone.  So that’s what I’d like to hear from you about.

Have you experienced significant changes in your energy levels, your endurance or strength, or y0ur recovery time since going gluten-free or grain-free?  And while I understand the idea that gluten is an inflammatory agent in our bodies, what’s the deal with gluten-free grains?  What’s the rationale for avoiding them?

Grain-free cannellini bean curry

While we’re talking grain-free, here’s a recipe for a fantastic dish I made for the second time last night.  It’s grain-free, not on purpose really, it just happens to be that way.  It can accompany rice or naan if you like, but I’ve served it alongside broccoli or spinach.

I’d classify it as non-spicy Indian, which is one reason it’s one of my wife’s favorite dishes we’ve had recently.  It’s from Anjum’s New Indian, and (sadly) it will be the last recipe I can post from that book.  But up next is Vegetarian Times’ Everything Vegan, so have no fear.

This curry uses cannellini beans, which is slightly odd-seeming since “cannellini” doesn’t exactly sound Indian.  But it works, and that’s sort of what makes Anjum’s book unique; for example, you might remember the black-eyed pea curry recipe I posted a while back.

A few other notes: If you don’t have asafoetida, Anjum says you can skip it.  It’s mainly a digestive aid.  And if you don’t have curry leaves, she often recommends substituting basil leaves, so that’s what I did here.  I also added a little bit of lemon juice before serving.

Give this one a try.  It has a very subtle, coconuty and lightly sweet flavor.  Which of course I had to lay waste to with a big pinch of cayenne pepper.  Just how I roll, I suppose.

From Anjum’s New Indian, Anjum Anand, John Wiley and Sons, 2008

Serves 4-6

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • good pinch of asafoetida (I skipped this)
  • 1 tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 14 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 small-medium onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 5 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp pure red chile powder
  • 1 rounded tsp ground coriander
  • 2/3 cup coconut milk
  • 2 cups cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved if large or left whole if small
  • 1 tsp brown sugar or jaggery
  • 3/4-1 tsp tamarind paste, or to taste (some brands are really strong)
  • handful of fresh or frozen grated coconut, to garnish
  • handful of fresh cilantro, chopped

Heat the oil in a large nonstick saucepan.  Add the asafoetida and, once it sizzles, add the mustard seeds.  Once they start to pop, add the curry leaves, then the onion and cook until these are soft and golden, around 8-10 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute over medium heat.  Add the salt and powdered spices and stir for 30 seconds.  Add the coconut milk and 3/4 cup water and bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the beans and tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes, allowing the flavors to marry.  Stir in the sugar and tamarind paste, then mash some beans against the side of the pan to thicken the curry a little.  Taste and adjust the tartness, sweetness and seasoning to taste.  Garnish with the grated coconut and fresh cilantro and serve.