I cut out meat and dairy before I became a runner. It was the fall of 2012 and I watched the documentary “Forks Over Knives” and that was it. I was done. Well, almost. I wasn’t tempted by meat since I had long stopped eating red meat or pork so eliminating poultry and fish wasn’t hard. And surprisingly, even cheese didn’t break my resolve. My cheat was sneaking a few handfuls of the kids’ Goldfish crackers. And I didn’t even really like them! There was just something about mindlessly popping a few of those orange crackers into my mouth when no one was looking that kept me from being fully committed. Then one day I stopped buying them. And I learned to make my own.
Without trying, I lost 6 pounds in the first few months. I’d like to say that it was entirely due to my virtuous diet, but it may have been lack of calories from the awful meals I was creating. I didn’t know what I was doing and probably overcomplicated things. I bought a couple uber-healthy vegan cookbooks and made some of the most bland and weird foods I have ever eaten. My family was not impressed.
Then I got a cookbook that changed our lives: “Chloe’s Kitchen” by Chloe Coscarelli. Chloe (we call her by her first name around our house like she lives with us) is an ethical vegan, meaning she chooses not to eat animal products for moral reasons, and she was the first vegan to win the cable show “Cupcake Wars.” She is truly a master of making food simple, beautiful, and delicious, all without meat, eggs, or dairy. She does not shy away from using oil, sugar, or white flour in her recipes yet still most of the time, her meals end up being far healthier than their traditional counterparts. Not only does she excel at cupcakes and desserts, but in every course of the meal. I learned how to make fettuccini alfredo with a cashew and onion cream sauce, pineapple fried rice, coconut milk ice cream, velvety scalloped potatoes, and even began to experiment with Indian cuisine. Finally! Plant-based food could be delicious and easy to make. I still adapt her recipes to cut the oil or use whole wheat flour when I can, but Chloe is my go-to girl in the kitchen and I’ve collected every book she has written.
When I began running 6 months later, being plant based had become second nature. I didn’t know anything about how food specifically related to running. And to be honest, you don’t really need to when you are first starting out. Beginning to run is hard enough without being overly focused on the details of sports nutrition. It was only when I began training for my first marathon in the fall of 2013 that I decided to take a closer look at how to run on plants.
The first resource I found was No Meat Athlete. Author Matt Frazier had coincidentally just moved to Asheville and had written a book on how to be a vegan marathon runner. I pored over his site and ordered his book. He has so much great advice and training plans and I would definitely recommend it to anyone considering running a marathon as a plant-based athlete. Then I found out about Rich Roll, a champion vegan ultra-runner and triathlete, whose weekly podcast has become a favorite running buddy of mine. That led me to discover Scott Jurek and Brendan Brazier. It didn’t occur to me at the time that there weren’t many plant-based women athletes sharing their stories.
In my experience, eating whole plant foods is the best for my body and the environment. There are plenty of ways to be vegan and unhealthy, which is why I try not to use the word “vegan” to refer to the way I eat. The word also seems to focus on what I don’t eat, rather than focusing on the vast array of plant foods that I do enjoy. If you eat a wide variety of minimally-processed, whole foods and pay a little attention to vitamins B12, D, and iron (meat eaters need to do this too), you can provide the best possible fuel for your athletic engine.
Here are some of my favorite cookbooks. These are affiliate links so if you happen to purchase them, I’ll get a couple of pennies to help support this site.