From Couch Potato to Ironman — In 20 Months

Susan Lacke at the finish of Ironman Wisconsin, just 20 months after deciding to run her first 5K.

In 2009, I made a New Year’s Resolution to run my first 5K.

I assumed I’d run the 5K, cross the accomplishment off my bucket list, and go back to being a couch potato. But that didn’t happen.

Instead, that 5K led to something else: 20 months after making that resolution, I completed my first Ironman triathlon, a race which consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run.

Anyone can do an Ironman

After the Ironman, I wrote a post which was titled with the one statement about Ironman I firmly believe: “Anyone Can Do an Ironman.”

If you sit on the sidelines of an Ironman finisher’s chute long enough, you’ll believe this statement, too. There’s such a wide cross-section of Ironman triathletes, from chiseled studs to 80 year-old nuns. After sitting at enough finish chutes, I decided I didn’t want to be a spectator anymore. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the other side.

The next time I saw an Ironman finisher’s chute, I was running down it.

When I made that resolution to run my first 5K, I had no idea I’d complete an Ironman 20 months later. I was a couch potato who was trying to quit smoking (again). Ironman triathlons were something crazy people did, and though I was happy to spectate with a beer in my hand, I never saw myself as one of those people.

Besides, training for a 5K was hard enough. Training to run 3.1 miles was difficult and time-consuming.

Covering 140.6? No freakin’ way.

The 9 things that helped me do it

It was a series of bold choices, hasty mistakes, happy accidents, and – finally – focused planning which took me from couch potato to Ironman in just 20 months.

Everyone has their own way of doing things when it comes to Ironman, and when you train for one, you’ll discover yours. For now, here are what I found to be the nine most important keys in going from zero to Ironman faster than most people think is possible.

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Announcing the New No Meat Athlete Store (and the Summer’s Best NMA Shirt Photos)

If you’re one of the 2500 or so people who now owns a No Meat Athlete shirt, chances are good that you got it via the simple sales page on my blog.

(You know, the homemade one that probably left you with the feeling that it was about a 50/50 proposition between you actually getting your shirt and me absconding to Mexico with your money.)

Well, those days are finally over.

I must say I’ll miss the charm of that little page, but it’s with much relief that I finally introduce to you the shiny new No Meat Athlete store.  I say “relief” because I’ve sunk probably 40 hours into this thing, and have been to the brink of punching the computer screen and back many times over to get it just right (and I didn’t even do the design!).

I’ve stocked it full of No Meat Athlete stuff, not to mention a brand new shipment of shirts. So if you’ve been waiting because your size was out of stock, grab it now before they sell out again.  And there are some great new items too, including magnets, drawstring track bags, and those cool bags that fold up into themselves that are so good for taking to the farmer’s market.

So please, check out the new store and let me know what you think!

Oh yeah, and for ALL the people who have asked about tank tops and singlets — they’re coming.  Just another week or two.

And now…

The best NMA shirt photos of the summer!

You all have seriously ramped up the number of pictures you’re sending and posting on the NMA Facebook page. Which is awesome.

Here are my favorites of the summer’s crop, by far the best yet.

Erin skydiving (another Erin, not my wife):

TV/radio guy Andrew G. taking his NMA shirt for a stand-up paddle:

Who needs bratwurst? Daniel and Katrin in Germany:

Future Ironman Sweden champ:

Kayna doing her part to save the world from Team Beef:

Kayla, before Colorado Warrior Dash:

Kayla, after Colorado Warrior Dash:

Jay in NC hitting the range:

Leigh-Anne with her First Overall Woman trophy from a 5K (the day after winning First Overall Woman in a half marathon!):

“Scarlet O’Snap” and her teammate at roller derby practice:

Meriah after the Wisconsin Dirty Girl Mud Run:

Lisa and friend after the Verona Labor Day Classic:

And for the grand finale… Skott’s tattoo! Yes, a real tattoo:

Best crop yet, right?

Be like these awesome folks and head to the store so you can grab yours while your in stock. Well, we don’t have tattoos. Yet.

PS – If you’re in the Baltimore area, want to come hang out at our NMA meetup at One World Cafe on Thursday night (9/15) at 7 pm? Susan is in town (it’ll be the first time we’ve met in person), so come join us for some food, drink, and NMA-ness!  I’ll even bring along some freebies of new NMA items. One World Cafe is located at 100 West University Parkway in Baltimore near Johns Hopkins.



30 Days, 900 Very Ripe Bananas

You might remember a guest post about fruitarianism on No Meat Athlete last year that drew a lot of negative comments, mostly dismissing the diet as a fad. But Ben Benulis wanted to see if there was something more to it. Here he is with a post about his experiment.

If you’ve never heard of “dinosaur weiners,” it’s your lucky day.

As vegetarians and vegans, most of us are comfortable going against the grain. We buck the trend of the standard diet in favor of something we feel is better.

But even the most open-minded of vegetarian and vegan individuals will eventually draw the line somewhere.

Case in point: Fruitarianism.

Controversial things like this pique my curiosity. When I read last year’s No Meat Athlete post on the fruitarian diet, I began to ask questions:

  • How could anyone survive, even thrive, on just fruits and vegetables?
  • Why were people so quick to jump to conclusions that this diet was unhealthy/nutrient-deficient/unsustainable/expensive/ridiculous?
  • Why was there such a negative backlash on something that, to me, sounded kinda cool?
  • If fruits and vegetables are the healthiest foods, is it really so crazy to eat them to the exclusion of everything else?

If you look at the comments of the NMA post on fruitarianism, a lot of people seemed to magically become experts on why this was bad, without ever having read anything else on the topic or, better yet, trying it themselves.

I had the opposite reaction — someone going so ridiculously against the grain intrigued me. With such negative backlash, I wondered what the big deal was. I had to investigate for myself.

A rose by any other name

It turns out what many of us call “fruitarianism” is actually the 80/10/10 diet, designed by Dr. Douglas Graham. Dr. Graham is a lifelong athlete, a raw vegan since the 1980s and hasn’t had a sick day since before I was born. (I’m almost 30.) For me, that’s enough for me to wonder if he might have stumbled on to a secret or two in his lifetime.

His book, The 80/10/10 Diet, is an excellent, interesting read. It’s the culmination of years of experience and research that produced a few other books as well, including Grain Damage and Nutrition and Athletic Performance.

Before anyone undergoes such an endeavor (or dismisses it outright), I’d suggest picking up this text. If you’re looking for the Cliff’s Notes version, here are some of the highlights of the 80/10/10 diet:

  • Eat plant-based whole foods in their natural state. Nature provides food to us, as is, with everything we need. If we cook something, we alter it and it is no longer a whole food.  No other animal in nature cooks their food. (You don’t see monkeys in the rainforest sautéing their greens, right?)
  • When calories from protein exceed 10% it leads to poor health. Protein from raw plants is best. Cooked protein from any source is denatured. Animal protein is especially toxic.
  • When calories from fat exceed 10% it is excessive. Cooked fats in particular are carcinogenic. Oil is not a whole food and should be avoided.
  • Carbohydrates are then left to be at least 80% from calories as a lower limit.  For carbohydrates, fruit is king. It tastes great, comes in its own packaging, and doesn’t need to be cooked or altered in any way.
  • Grains are indigestible in their raw state. Since one has to cook them, they are not a whole food. Grains have a poor micronutrient content (relative to fruits and vegetables) and various “anti-nutrients,” such as gluten.

Putting theory into practice

I’d advise a gradual transition to the diet. I experimented with his recipes and slowly started incorporating more and more fresh fruits and vegetables in my diet until they were about 80% of daily intake. Once I felt comfortable with this, I decided to try a 30-day trial of this diet, full blast, 100%.

Fundamentally, the 80/10/10 Diet involves getting your primary calorie source (94-98%) from fruit. Your main source of macronutrients (calories, carbs, protein & fat) is fruit and your main source of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) is vegetables.

However, since fruits are far more calorically dense than vegetables, you end up eating equal volumes of fruits and vegetables. Here is what a typical day looked like for me:

  • Breakfast: 1-2L of water.  3 large mangoes (600 calories)
  • Lunch/snacks: 4L of strawberry-banana smoothie.  About 27 bananas and 1/2 lb of strawberries with simply water as a base. (2,900 calories)
  • Dinner: Large spinach salad with tomato and 1/2 an avocado and homemade blueberry/date dressing (250 calories)

That brought my total calorie count for the day to 3,750.  For an active person like me, at 6’1″ and 170 lbs, this was about right. On very active days, I ramped up my calorie count.

In all, I was able to cover all my macro and micronutrient needs, aside from Vitamin D and Vitamin B12, which aren’t usually in plant foods, anyway. I feel pretty darn good about that.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Who has 27 ripe bananas in their house for one day of eating? It can be a bit challenging. To make it work, I discovered a few key strategies:

Inventory management:

I’d like to think my work background in supply chain management helped here. Not only did I need to have enough fruit, I needed to have enough RIPE fruit. When you buy fruit from the grocery store, it usually isn’t ripe yet — there is a window of ripeness between underripe and overripe that must be carefully managed.

There’s a highly technical way to determine ripeness, and I’ll let you in on the complicated secret: A banana must be brown and speckled, like a “dinosaur weiner.”  (If anyone asks you where you got such privileged information, don’t tell them I let you in on the secret!)

I needed lots of speckled dinosaur wieners. So I bought in bulk. I found out that if you buy an entire 40lb box of bananas from the grocery store, they give you a 10% discount. $17 for 40lbs of bananas is 3 days worth of food. Turns out this diet is pretty cheap after all!!

Of course there were the awkward questions at the checkout line. I got tired of people not believing me when I said I was going to eat them all so I started telling people I had a pet monkey.

Whenever a certain type of fruit was on sale, I bought as much as I could carry. On one weekend drive out to the country my wife and I passed a farm fruit stand got a 40lb box of peaches for $18. For 3 days, I ate pretty much only farm-fresh organic peaches and spinach. Despite what you may think, it was fantastic.

A blender is essential:

30 bananas a day is best accomplished by drinking most of them. There end up being endless permutations of possible smoothies. For the sake of easy digestion, smoothies of more than 3 ingredients are discouraged. If you’re on the 80/10/10 diet, your new motto is “simplicity at meal time, variety throughout the year.”

Social situations:

The diet makes it challenging (not impossible) to meet friends for dinner. If people asked, I just told them I had eaten before I got there (which was often true). Your main option at any restaurant is a salad with no dressing.

Taste buds:

The longer you do this diet, the more your taste buds “wake up,” and you no longer need dressing on a salad because the vegetables taste so good on their own.

My taste buds became “re-sensitized”. Fruits and vegetables just tasted better and had more flavor. Lettuce and spinach, just on their own, tasted delicious. Conversely, veggies like jalapenos, olives and banana peppers (which I always loved) had almost too much flavor and became hard to eat.

Cravings for things outside the diet:

This was tricky. There were times when cravings for a burrito or tofu stir-fry crept in. To manage this, I ate enough fruit during the day so that I would always be satisfied. I counted my calories to make sure I was getting enough to sustain me through the day. Once I mastered that, the cravings never really hit me anymore.

The results

While undertaking this experiement, I noted a few changes in my body. I lost 5 pounds of body fat, going from 11% body fat to 8%, though I was eating as much as I wanted (anywhere from 3,600 to 4,400 calories a day).

I also noticed insane athletic recovery. I’m no Ironman triathlete, but I do like to get out there and hit it hard when I can. I had one day where I did 22 miles commuting on my bike, a superslow strength training workout at lunch, and 2 hours of footbag at night. The next morning I woke up fresh as a daisy not an ounce of soreness.

I slept better. I felt clear-headed. I was more productive at work.

I just felt better.

Lasting impact?

I was a “fruitarian” for 31 days — 1 day longer than planned. On the 32nd day, I broke down and had some Chinese stir-fry.  After I ate it, I felt like someone had force-fed me 10 sleeping pills and then punched me in the stomach.

I took a week off and truthfully went on what turned out to be quite the vegan junk food bender. I had an obligatory monster burrito and even an entire Whole Foods vegan pizza in one sitting.

At the end of the week, I went out for a run and woke up the next day, sore for the first time in over a month. That was the signal to re-embrace the diet.

This time, I’m going for 60 days.

Ben Benulis is a vegan footbagger and runner who also enjoys cycling and strength training.  He lives in Austin, TX with his wife and 2 dogs. He blogs at Vegan Gym Rat and is sometimes hangs out on Twitter as @ironcladben.

PS — For any NMA readers in the Madison, WI area this morning (Friday, Sept. 9), for Ironman Wisconsin or anything else, NMA writer Susan Lacke is hosting a little meetup at 10 AM at the coffee shop on Main and Martin Luther King in Madison, by the Ironman Registration. Come hang out!



A Review of Brendan Brazier’s New Book, Thrive Foods

If you’re the type that reads blogs about vegetarian and vegan fitness, then you already know who Brendan Brazier is.

He’s been a friend of this site since the very beginning, so of course you’ve already checked out our first interview, our second interview, and our third interview, right?

Okay, so if by chance you don’t yet know about Brendan, he’s a former professional Ironman triathlete who competed on an entirely vegan diet. And he’s the author of several books — most recently, Thrive Foods, which hits U.S. stores this month.

Well, the folks at Vega, Brendan’s sports nutrition company, were nice enough to send me an advance copy of Thrive Foods to review.

Hence the title of this post. Review time!

How do you improve on Thrive?

I read Brendan’s first book, Thrive, shortly after I became vegetarian back in 2009. It was my first serious introduction to plant-based nutrition, and it’s an incredibly thorough resource for any athlete who is interested in learning about the advantages to the body and the environment that a vegan diet offers.

It became my manual, my nutrition bible, and the book I recommended whenever someone asked me where to turn.

But there was one aspect of Thrive that I eventually came to realize I did not love: the actual, day-to-day recipes.

Take a look at a few of the ones I shared on this site (with Brendan’s permission, of course).  There’s the raw walnut “burger.”  There’s raw zucchini “pasta.”  There are the “pizza” recipes.

Why am I putting this stuff in quotes? Because if you actually look at these recipes, you’ll see that while they’re super-healthy, they’re really approximations of what these words are supposed to mean.  Don’t get me wrong — these high-raw, gluten-free, high-net-gain versions of familiar foods are far better for you than the originals, for sure. And as a professional Ironman triathlete, someone for whom fueling his body is part of his livelihood, that’s what mattered most to Brendan when he wrote Thrive.

But for a family, a vegetarian one even, that wanted to eat pretty normal (read: cooked) food, the recipes in Thrive were a little too extreme. I did the best I could with raw smoothies, salads, and I incorporated of as many of Brendan’s “next-level” foods as possible into my meals, but the diet in its entirety was something I just couldn’t adopt.  (I did appreciate the recipes for smoothies, sports drinks, and energy bars, however, and still use those today.)

The good news: Thrive Foods, Brendan’s new book, changes all of this.

In Thrive Foods, the focus is still on high-energy foods, many of them raw. But now, taste seems to have played a substantially larger role in the development of the 200 recipes in the book. Thrive Foods isn’t just for athletes; it’s for the growing vegan-curious population out there who cares about health, but really wants their food to be good.

And cooked. That’s hot.

Right in the introduction, Brendan explains that he’s not a chef, and so he enlisted the help of several top vegetarian and vegan chefs to improve the palatability of his ultra-healthy recipes. I’m familiar with only a few of the names, but you may know more of them: Amanda Cohen, Matthew Kenney, Julie Morris, Chad Sarno, and Tal Ronnen.

There are still the sports drinks, smoothies, energy bars and energy gels like I loved from Thrive. But now the salads, soups, dips, dressings, main courses, and desserts are the types of foods you can make for your family. (In fact, our 16-month old son even likes this food — a few nights ago he wolfed down his share of the Shanghai Rice Bowl, the recipe I’ve included at the end of this post.)

What’s amazing is that with the much-improved quality of the recipes, the focus on nutrition still shines through, making Thrive Foods the healthiest cookbook I know of. Many of the recipes (perhaps 10-20% of them) are raw, and most of those that are not still incorporate lots of raw ingredients and the foods that Brendan introduced so many of us to in Thrive — chia seeds, buckwheat, sprouts, dulse, coconut oil, dates, hemp seeds, etc.

If Thrive Foods was a cookbook and nothing more, it’d be totally worthy of my recommendation.

A volume of accessible recipes to accompany the treasure trove of information and the more extreme recipes in Thrive.  What more could you ask more?

Well, guess what? There’s a lot more… the recipes don’t start until page 127!

The entire first third of the book is an introduction to benefits of a plant-based diet, for health and the environment. It differs from Thrive in that the nutrition focus isn’t on sports nutrition, but rather on eating for general well-being and energy. But just like in Thrive, Brendan explains the need for all kinds of individual nutrients and minerals, listing the reasons why we need them and the best sources for them. He also goes into depth about the benefits of each of what he calls “next-level” ingredients.

If it sounds like I’m gushing about this one, it’s because I am. I really like this book. In fact, I’ll go ahead and call it the best vegan cookbook out there, if you’re looking for a balance of serious nutrition and food that tastes good. Oh yes, I went there.

I’ve recommended Thrive to more people than I can remember, but if I could go back and do it again, I’d start with Thrive Foods instead, for anyone but the most serious of athletes. The recipes are way better, and the supporting information is presented in a more appealing, easily-digestible way, with the help of graphics and diagrams for those who just want to skim it.

Alrighty. Enough gushing. You can check out Thrive Foods for yourself by visiting Brendan’s Facebook page, where you can download the introduction and three chapters from the book for free. Or if you just want to go ahead any buy the book, you can do that here (that’s my Amazon affiliate link, by the way). Finally, in case I haven’t provided enough links to click, you can go to Vega’s Facebook page to enter a contest for a chance to hang out with Brendan at a “green” Hollywood party during Emmy week.

I’ll leave you with my favorite of the handful of recipes I’ve tried so far. It’s quick, filling, and gives you a good idea of the mix of healthy, superfood-y stuff and regular food that you’ll find throughout Thrive Foods. And like I said, my kid even liked it. 🙂 Oh, and the portions are enormous, so count on leftovers from this one.

Shanghai Rice Bowl (from Thrive Foods)

Time: 10 minutes; 20 minutes for the rice – Makes 2 servings

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 baby bok choy, cut in half lengthwise
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 tbsp tamari
  • 3 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and halved if large
  • 4 cups cooked brown basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup Tahini Sauce (see recipe below)
  • 2 tsp Mixed Herbs  (Another recipe used several others: basically a blend of oregano, basil, marjoram, dill, thyme, rosemary, sage)
  • 2 cups sunflower sprouts
  • 2 tbsp hulled hemp seeds
  • 1 cup cooked or canned chickpeas
  • 2 lemon wedges, for garnish

Put the water in a wok or skillet over high heat. Add the bok choy halves and cover. Steam 5 minutes until bok choy is almost tender. When water evaporates, add 2 tbsp olive oil, 2 tbsp tamari, and the shiitake mushrooms. Saute 5 minutes until bok choy and mushrooms are tender. Set aside.

Divide the cooked rice between 2 large bowls, and drizzle both with Tahini Sauce, 4 tbsp olive oil, and 4 tbsp tamari. Sprinkle with Mixed Herbs.

Place the sauteed bok choy and shiitake mushrooms on the rice, and top with sunflower sprouts, hemp seeds, and chickpeas.

Garnish with lemon wedges and serve.

Tahini Sauce

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup filtered water
  • 1/2 cup tahini

In a belnder, process the garlic, parsley, salt, and lemon juice until smooth.

Add the water and tahini, and process until smooth. You may need to add a bit more water if your raw tahini is especially thick. Add water a tablespoon at a time until you get a pourable consistency.

Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days.



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The Ultimate Energy Bar Formula

Energy Bar FormulaClick the image to view full-size.

Recipes are great.  But formulas are where it’s at.

Recipes allow even brand new cooks to produce something that’s really good, or at least something that doesn’t entirely suck. You can take a recipe that an expert chef created and reproduce in your home exactly the same dish, without the years of training. Score.

The problem with recipes, though, is that it’s easy to rely on them too much, especially if you’re like me and you’re scared to mess with them.  Eventually you find yourself stuck in a box, where you eat the same thing over and over and never venture beyond the safe comfort of your trusty recipes.

This was my problem with smoothies for a long time: I’d find a recipe for one I liked, make it every day for a month, and then get so sick of it that one day I’d simply revolt.

Skip the smoothie. Go to Starbucks. Coffee and a bagel. Not a good start to the day.

Eventually, I stepped back from the “month of smoothies, month of Starbucks” routine. I figured out what the smoothies I liked all had in common, and came up with the Perfect Smoothie Formula. This way I could switch in different ingredients and never run out of smoothie ideas or get sick of the same one over and over.

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135 Miles in 120-Degree Heat: One Runner’s Story

Except for the whole 135-miles-in-brutal-heat thing, Meredith Murphy is pretty normal.

When she’s not busy taking two year-old daughter to the zoo, the park, or even yoga class, Meredith runs her own acupuncture practice (the Healing Point in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania).  She’s a vegetarian too, and she loves cooking and baking.  Kinda sounds like someone you’d hang out with, right?

But Meredith does at least one thing that’s not so normal. Earlier this summer, Meredith did what so many runners secretly dream of, and that only about 90 each year get the chance to do.  If you follow ultrarunning at all, then of course you know what I’m talking about.

Badwater. 135 miles through Death Valley, right in the middle of the summer, when temperatures often get so hot that runners need to stay on the white painted line to avoid melting their shoes.

I was thrilled when Meredith got in touch with me after she saw a No Meat Athlete shirt photo on our Facebook page, and asked if I’d like to contribute a few shirts for her crew and magnets for their van, and to pitch in to help offset the cost of their epic stock-up at Whole Foods in Las Vegas before the race.

Of course I accepted, and a few weeks later, I was glued to the computer screen, eagerly refreshing Badwater’s live webcast to follow Meredith’s race and eventual finish of this monster of an ultramarathon in 46 hours, 22 minutes, and 38 seconds — nearly two entire days of running.

Meredith tells me she is “not a very exciting person.”  Riiight.  I caught up with her to talk about how she got in, her training, the race itself, and of course, what she ate out there as a vegetarian during the “World’s Toughest Footrace.”

Read more »



Perfect Snacks for Kids Who Play Sports (and How to Convince Them to Eat the Healthy Stuff)

Note: This is a guest post from Danielle Elliot, who writes the blog That Normal Vegan.

Danielle with her cousin Frankie.

When I hang out with my younger cousins, I cringe as Isabella, 11, tells me she ate PopTarts before her soccer game.  Or when Frankie, 10, says he had a burger in the middle of his little league doubleheader.

As any parent knows, it can be challenging to get kids to eat healthy snacks. I once had the nerve to ask my neighbor why he lets his kids eat Oreos at half time.

“Quite frankly, he has to eat something,” he said. “He’ll burn it off anyway.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong, but I get it. He’s tired of begging his kids to eat oranges. I hope you don’t feel as defeated!

I’m not a parent, but I spend enough time with kids to understand the challenges of getting them to eat healthy foods. Isabella and her sister, Olivia, are usually willing to try what I’m having, but Frankie is another story. He seems to exist on chocolate and Captain Crunch. He wouldn’t go anywhere near my vegan birthday cake last year, especially when he heard my mom had added sweet potatoes to the recipe.

One recent afternoon, I mentioned that I wanted to go for a run. “Can I come with you? I run really fast. I can go really far. How far are you running? Like a 5K? I can do a 5K,” he exclaimed, the words spiraling out of his mouth faster than a runaway train. How could I say no?

So, you want to be the best? Then eat this!

Olivia and Frankie soon decided it was time for a snack. They asked for Cheetos; I smeared some peanut butter on sliced bananas. Frankie suddenly lost his appetite.

He tried to tell me it was because he didn’t want to get a stomachache while we were running. That’s when the idea popped into my head. What if I appeal to his love of sports — and winning — to get him to eat; if I go beyond the “it’s good for you” approach and treat him like the athletes he idolizes?

“You know, bananas with peanut butter is a great breakfast before a run,” I explained. “That’s what I eat before my races. The potassium is good for your muscles, so that you don’t cramp up, while the peanut butter adds protein and gives you that little energy kick to keep you going longer than your friends.”

I’d caught his attention. You could see the shift in his eyes, the wheels turning in his head.

He cautiously picked up the banana: “This is actually kind of good. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I do,” he said. “What else is good for soccer? What’s gonna make me stronger? Is that why you eat all this stuff?” he asked.

He’d opened Pandora’s box. Two hours later, we’d gone through the entire pantry and half of the fridge, showing him all the vegetarian foods that might help him hit a baseball a little further. Maybe I was promising too much, but I’m not afraid to resort to desperate measures. He seemed enthralled to hear that food fuels our bodies in the same way gas fuels a car.

We also discussed endurance, and how sugar actually zaps energy. “But I’m always full of energy after sugar,” Frankie contested. “Do you stay full of energy for long?” I asked. “But what about chicken?” he asked. “My mom says I need to eat chicken.” That’s when we talked about how much energy the body wastes in trying to digest meat. I introduced him to all the vegetarian sources of protein.

It’s amazing to realize how early the Standard American Diet is ingrained in young minds. I take every opportunity I can to teach them about vegetarian and vegan options, but am careful not to leave them thinking their mom doesn’t understand nutrition. It’s a fine line when you’re not the parent.

Quick, healthy snacks for young athletes

Once I had Frankie willing to try nutritious foods, I needed to brush up on childhood nutrition. Research confirmed what I assumed: young athletes thrive on many of the same foods as adults, but the recommended portions and nutrient ratios vary.

Researchers Jennifer Sacheck, Ph.D., and Christina Economos, Ph.D., delved into the topic a few years ago for (that’s Major League Soccer).  Here is a list of healthy snacks, based on Sacheck & Economos’s recommendations as well as conversations with several nutritionists. I tested them out on a string of kids lately, and all got the thumbs-up. (I prefer not to count calories, especially when eating with kids, but I’ve included the recommendations here for those that are interested.)

Pre-Activity (~100-300 calories)

  • Whole grain pretzels
  • Half a wheat bagel with jam
  • Fresh fruit
  • 1/2 cup raisins and peanuts
  • Carrot or celery sticks with hummus & pita

Post-Activity (~100-300 calories)

  • Applesauce and string cheese
  • Fruit smoothie with calcium-fortified soy milk
  • Trail mix
  • Apple and peanut butter
  • Half a peanut butter sandwich on a bagel

You can also check out NMA’s fueling guides, just keep these kid-specific guidelines in mind:

  • Balanced kid’s meal: carbohydrates (46-65%), protein (10-30%) and fat (25-30% and not less than 20%). Through balancing it, you should provide 25-31g of fiber.
  • Calcium: 800mg/day (4-8 year olds); 1300mg/day (9-13 year olds). Young athletes need to develop strong bones, but there’s no need to overdue it with too much milk. Good sources include fortified soy milk, beans, tofu, broccoli, kale and almonds.
  • Vitamin D: crucial to calcium absorption. Most kids require a supplement or fortified foods and drinks.
  • Iron: kids tend to be really low on this crucial mineral. Vitamin C helps absorb iron from non-animal sources such as beans, spinach, tofu, lentils and apricots.
  • Zinc: helps with muscle recovery. Get it from beans and whole grains.
  • Focus on whole fruit, not juice.
  • Avoid caffeine and sodium. Children are less capable of thermoregulating, making adequate hydration crucial. Caffeine and sodium mess with hydration.

For more on meal and snack composition and timing, Sacheck and Economos offer informational guides for parents and kids, as well as a scientific breakdown.

Don’t overdo it

If your child isn’t doing more than the USDA’s recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week, he or she doesn’t need extra snacks. Soccer, as with most recreational sports, often doesn’t count as a full 60 minutes of vigorous activity, as so much of it involves standing around. In other words, an hour of soccer practice twice a week does not mean your child needs huge dinners and snacks, no matter how nutritious.

Keep the healthy train rolling

My conversation with Frankie went on for so long, we never did go for that run. But he called last week to see if I still wanted to go. He promised to eat a banana with peanut butter on a whole grain bagel for breakfast if I said yes.

That, as far as I’m concerned, is a miracle. The next time he comes over, I’ll have a stock of new foods ready for taste testing.

Is it okay that I coerce him into eating healthy foods by making grand promises, by saying he’ll be running like the wind and might score more goals? I think so. What do you think?

Danielle Elliot had a perfectly normal childhood in a “normal” suburban family – i.e., lots of carnivores who consider vegans weird. In 2008, while training for her first half marathon, she decided to go vegan, and it’s finally starting to feel normal. Follow her adventures as a vegan traveler, athlete and daughter to super-quirky parents on her blog, That Normal Vegan.



My Weekend with New Balance

This weekend I got to take advantage of a very cool opportunity.  I was a guest of New Balance at their Media Retreat, held at the Sea Crest Resort on Cape Cod.

About 15 media members and I got to spend the weekend hanging out at the beach, learning about New Balance products, and doing lots more fun stuff — yoga, a form clinic, good food and drink, and capping it all off by running the famous 7.1-mile New Balance Falmouth Road Race.

Among the guests were Competitor editor TJ Murphy, Adam Chase from Running Times, Tina from Carrots n Cake, Running Network president Larry Eder, and editors and freelancers who write for outlets like Fitness, Women’s Health, Women’s Adventure, and

No word on whether anyone realizes that these publications are about 19 billion times more legit than this little dog-and-pony show I run.  Shh!

The products

New Balance is definitely embracing the minimalist trend — there was a lot of focus on the heel-toe offset of shoes, (or “drop,” I believe it’s also called) which measures the difference in height between the thicker heel of the shoe and the midfoot.  Almost all of their newer models will feature decreased offsets over their predecessors, which of course encourages midfoot striking over higher-impact heelstriking.

Two examples, and shoes I’ve written about before:

  • The 890’s, which I love and are now splitting time with the Green Silence as my everyday road shoe, currently feature a 12-millimeter offset from heel to midfoot.  But on the new 890 v2’s, which will be out in February but which I got to sample and actually ran the Falmouth race in, the offset has been reduced to 8 mm.
  • The Minimus (you might have seen a TV commercial for it recently; it’s their minimalist shoe with the Vibram sole) currently has a 4-mm offset.  But a new version, the Minimlist Zero, will have zero offset, and the overall height of the shoe off the ground will also be reduced.  The shoe has also gotten lighter; one of the ways they’ve accomplished this is by digitally determining the “hotspots” on the sole, reinforcing those areas and reducing the amount of rubber around them.  (They asked us not to publish any photos of the entire shoes yet, but you can see what I’m describing in the photos below.)

Minimus Zero Trail sole:

Minimus Zero Road sole:

A few other notes about the Minimus, the line I’m most intrigued by:

  • Tom Carleo, New Balance’s General Manager of Running, told me that there is “no animal in this shoe.”  (While most running shoes don’t use leather anymore, many of the cements and glues contain animal products.)  I was actually surprised to hear how important this issue seemed to him — when I asked, I figured nobody would really care much about this!  It sounds like many, if not most, of New Balance’s shoes are totally vegan-friendly. Look for a post with more information about vegan-friendly shoes soon.
  • Besides the trail and road versions of the Minimus, there will also be a “Wellness” version — a shoe for everyday wear by athletes who want a near-barefoot experience throughout the day.  The women’s version is a Mary Jane style, and the men’s has a velcro strap.  Both looked pretty cool to me, and I can’t wait to try them (well, not the Mary Janes).

Good Form running clinic

While they’re embracing the minimalist trend, New Balance definitely feels that minimalist running is not for everyone (at least, not immediately).  Several times they mentioned giving sales reps in their stores the knowledge to “talk down from the ledge” people who come in to the stores hell-bent on going as close to barefoot as possible, when their body type or running style would make injury the very likely to result from doing so.

In an effort to educate, New Balance has partnered with Good Form Running to create a program which teaches exactly that — good form that’s easy to learn and remember, not perfect form that stresses six thousand details.

We went through a short Good Form clinic on Saturday.  This was one of my favorite parts of the weekend; I was so impressed with the simplicity and intuitiveness of the fundamentals of Good Form.  They are:

  1. Posture
  2. Midfoot
  3. Cadence
  4. Lean

See, told you it was simple!  Several of these, especially cadence, are things you’re probably familiar with because I’ve written about them on NMA, but check out the Good Form site for the details on each of these points.  And don’t expect nerdy, technical explanations: When I asked our instructor, Colin, what the Good Form take on dorsiflexion is, he essentially said, “whatever feels right.”

I can do that.

The take-home

So here what’s most interesting to me.

After a solid day and a half of learning all about the company’s new shoes and apparel, plus sidebars like the Good Form program and their top-notch New Balance Sports Research Lab where they test products, the thing that stuck with me from the weekend has nothing to do with any of that.

Instead, it has everything to do with the people.  I left the media retreat with an overwhelming sense of how passionate the people at New Balance are.  And not just about their own products (though they certainly are that), but about running as a whole.  They are runners, and they want to make products that will help them run better.

Every interaction I had with the New Balance people, from the way we were treated as guests and as fellow runners, was incredible.  Kristen, New Balance’s Global PR Manager, not only made sure that I had a specially-prepared vegan dish for every meal, but even did the same for my wife and son, who were able to come along for the trip and hang out at the beach.

Just as striking was the incredible amount of knowledge that everyone works at the company had about the details of the company and its products.  When anyone of us asked about prices or even weights or measurements of shoes and apparel during the presentations, someone always came up with the answer, right from their head, without having to look it up.  You just got the sense that they live this stuff, that they don’t stop thinking about running and shoes when they head home after work.  And just about all of them actually ran the seven-mile race on Sunday, too.

To make sure it wasn’t just me, I asked some of the other media folks there if they noticed this, and they absolutely did.  I thought perhaps all companies were like this, that this was just the way “media’ are treated, but those I asked assured me that wasn’t the case.

These people really, really care about running and about making the best possible shoes and clothes.  And when you see that kind of energy and care going into making sure that what they sell is the best that there is, it sure does make you feel good about choosing their stuff.

As I try out some of the new products, I’ll be sure to let you know what I think.  And don’t worry; there’s no rule that we have to write only nice things.  They want to know what people think about their stuff, so that they can keep making it better.

P.S. In DC? Come hang out with me at DC Vegan Drinks on Thursday!

This Thursday (August 18th) I’m going to head down to Washington, D.C. for DC Vegan Drinks at Bread and Brew, from 7-10 p.m.  I’m going to talk for 5 or 10 minutes, but mostly just relax and have a good time and a few good beers (and bread, I suppose).  I hope to see you there!  Check out the event on Facebook.

One more thing! I’m very happy to announce that No Meat Athlete is a sponsor of the 2011 DC Vegfest.  We’ll be there with a booth and some NMA shirts and (hopefully) a few new logo items.  It’s September 24th and it’s a great event, so mark your calendar!