In 2009, I was a grad student in Baltimore, working on a PhD in applied math but completely unsure as to what I’d do with it.
Recently married, no kids.
I spent my time training for marathons, watching cooking shows, and coding models for sports betting.
And then, one day I decided that I was going to stop eating meat. Gradually.
It was primarily an ethical decision, but I had started to believe that (maybe) it wouldn’t have to slow me down as a runner.
I looked around the internet for advice on how to be an endurance athlete and a vegetarian, and what I found was completely unhelpful.
Because in 2009 there was no Rich Roll Podcast. No Eat & Run. Not even a Forks Over Knives. If there were any blogs out there about eating a plant-based diet (not a term yet) and running, I didn’t find them.
That’s when I got my idea. On March 17, 2009, I wrote this in my journal:
(Funny that “vegan” didn’t cross my mind. And pescetarianathlete.com? What can I say, for every good idea, there are 100 bad ones… but it looks like the domain is still available if you want to give it a shot!)
I was worried that “vegetarian athlete” was way too small of a niche. And back then, this wasn’t an unreasonable concern. But after brainstorming more, I was excited. The next day:
Luckily, I was smart enough to know that the guy I was talking to had the attention span of… well, what most of us have for an attention span these days:
But what to actually do with it? I figured I could blend a passion for cooking with what I’d learned about running and nutrition — plus maybe a dash of ra-ra motivation — and make something that would at worst be a fun diversion from math, and at best…
…well, I didn’t know. I thought maybe people would wear our t-shirts. But I figured if I just started writing about what I was doing and people started reading it, I could figure out what to do later.
So I didn’t overthink it (could be the first time in history that happened). I created nomeatathlete.wordpress.com, wrote up a post, and on March 23rd I hit “Publish.”
(That first post is still there, but I guess I deleted the others when I moved the whole site to nomeatathlete.com.)
And I was right. When I hit “Publish,” it all changed.
I was in the middle of reading a book when I started No Meat Athlete, something obscure by Douglas Hofstadter about math and consciousness. I dropped it immediately for a book called Tribes, by Seth Godin, which was the closest thing I could find to a manual for how to do what I wanted to do with No Meat Athlete.
And somehow, it worked.
People started reading and leaving comments. A few popular bloggers linked to NMA or let me write guest posts for them. NMA started showing up in Google searches. People started wearing running carrot t-shirts.
By the time things settled down enough for me to open the Hofstadter book again, it was three years later — I was living in a different city, with a two-year-old son, and a daughter on the way. I had qualified for Boston, gone vegan, and become an ultrarunner. I now worked full-time on NMA with a small team (high-five, Susan and Doug!), and even had a deal for a book of my own in the works.
(Still no PhD though… I gave that up when I decided No Meat Athlete was a better bet.)
So yes. It all changed.
But it wasn’t just me. So did the whole plant-based fitness landscape.
First it was a few other vegetarian or vegan running blogs that popped up. Then Rich Roll’s and Scott Jurek’s books came out, just two weeks apart. And then it felt like it all started to shift.
From the inside, it’s impossible for me to say what role NMA has played in that bigger change. I’m just grateful that it’s happening, and that we’ve gotten to be a part of it at all.
How do you sum up 10 years?
I don’t really know what to do with a 10-year anniversary post. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever be writing one. (In 2009, nobody really knew if blogs would still be a thing in 10 years.)
The first three years were a blur. So many blog posts — every day for the first few months, and multiple times weekly after that. So many books I read, so much research I did, so many articles I dissected, to learn everything I could about how to do this well.
In those years, there were a lot of Vegfests. And so many running carrot shirts. Who knows how many we shipped out of our house (something like 30,000) before we finally couldn’t keep up and had to outsource the operation. (Thanks to our customer service superstar Esther, we’ve now in-sourced those shirts again this year.)
Then there was a book.
And a book tour.
I started a podcast, one that floundered at first and then was revived when Doug came on board, and still produces a new episode almost every week and has been downloaded many millions of times now.
There have been vegan cruises, trips to Runner’s World HQ, international talks, and meetups with readers around the country and in Europe. There was getting to meet so many accomplished athletes, doctors, cooks, and authors… and so many more people I had learned from and idolized when I was getting started.
There was spending a week with Seth Godin, a blogging hero of mine whose book Tribes helped me start NMA, and getting to work with him to hatch the idea for No Meat Athlete Running Groups.
Then, of course, there were those running groups. And there still are. (More about the running groups coming next week, during the weeklong 10th birthday party we have planned).
Then there was another book, one that caught mainstream attention through Sports Illustrated, People, and Outside.
And after that, there was a revised and updated version of the first book…
…and along the way those NMA books have sold close to 100,000 copies and been published in 5 languages. So far. (Who the heck bought all those?)
And eventually, I co-founded a supplement company (don’t call Complement a supplement, though), which has shipped out 15,000 bottles already, and is growing faster than No Meat Athlete ever did.
And yet for all that has changed, in this moment it’s kind of the same as it started.
I’m alone at my desk — standing now, instead of sitting — writing a blog post.
The microphone next to me gets a lot more use than the keyboard, as most of the regular content I’ve created in the past few years has been for the podcast, but right now, it’s just like it was 10 years ago.
No Meat Athlete as a blog and brand is so different now. It’s not all about me anymore, and less so every day. That’s by design, because I know it can be so much better if it’s not just about me. We’re a team. And No Meat Athlete is a community.
But in a way, it’s kinda still the same. We put out content — audio, text, and (soon, I hope) video — about how to eat a plant-based diet as an athlete. We try to make this whole thing as welcoming, friendly, and evidence-based as possible, to be exactly the type of site that I was looking for 10 years ago when I first Googled “advice for athletes who want to be vegetarian.” (Remember when we used to type long things into Google?)
And doing that creates ways in which the tribe supports us and keeps us going. For a decade now, you have — eight people now have full- or part-time work through No Meat Athlete and Alpine Organics — and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
For my part, I’ve gradually gotten to be me again, finding a balance between Matt “the No Meat Athlete” (a nickname I can’t stand) and pre-NMA Matt. I did eventually finish that book I was reading. And in the past two years, once NMA became more about the team than about me, I’ve gotten to be a better dad — one that I was just a little too NMA-obsessed to be in the first few years. And I’ve picked up some old hobbies that I dropped when my entire world was No Meat Athlete, which has been really nice.
I have no idea what the next 10 years hold, but I’m excited for them. With a team, we get a lot more done, a lot faster than I used to on my own. That understanding is still sinking in, and the more it does, the better we get.
No Meat Athlete’s next 10 years will be very different from the first. They have to be. But because of our team, because of the audience that cares about us, and because of the way the plant-based fitness movement has grown, I think we’re positioned to make a hundred times the impact we’ve had so far. And I can’t wait to see what that looks like.
Thanks for being along for the ride.
P.S. Like I said, lots of celebrations to come next week! Stay tuned and get your party hat on.