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Matt Frazier: runner, blogger, author

'No Meat Athlete' says you can power your marathons with plants

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"No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self" by Matt Frazier, with Matthew Ruscigno, M.P.H., R.D. (Fair Winds Press) "No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self" by Matt Frazier, with Matthew Ruscigno, M.P.H., R.D. (Fair Winds Press)
NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

Matt Frazier was a meat-eating marathon-running mathematician in 2009 when a provocative book about atheism partly inspired him to begin a journey to eating a plant-based diet. He also decided to blog about his transition to vegetarianism (and ultimately veganism), which proved to be a life-changing decision in several ways.

The 32-year-old married father of two says his health, quality of life, and training improved so much that he achieved a major goal: qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which he ran in 2011. He then set his sights on even longer distances and has run several ultra-marathons (races longer than the traditional marathon's 26.2 miles), including his first 100-miler in July. Yes, that means he ran 100 miles in one go.

His blog, NoMeatAthlete.com, explains how he became a successful endurance athlete without eating animal-based food.

"I just found it interesting that there was no good resource out there for vegetarian athletes on the web. I mean, there were a few, but they were not well-written, and they had the preachy sort of judgmental feel to them," Frazier says. "I did find it strange that there was nothing, so I thought, 'Who knows? Maybe somehow this could lead to some community of fun vegetarian/vegan athletes without all the preaching stuff.'"

And it did. The laid-back, non-preachy blog blossomed into a revenue-generating community of thousands of readers. He left an applied math Ph.D. program to manage the No Meat Athlete brand as a full-time business, which encompasses the blog, a podcast, T-shirts and other logo merchandise, several e-books and training guides, an email mini course, and now his first traditionally published book, "No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self," (with Matthew Ruscigno, published by Fair Winds Press).

The book is divided into two sections: the first is a guide to nutrition for athletes and the second is a framework for running. The book includes testimonials from "no meat athletes," recipes, step-by-step guidelines, and training plans for 5-kilometer, 10-kilometer, and half-marathon races.

In 2012, Frazier and his family moved from Bel Air, Md., (a suburb of Baltimore with "Applebee's and Outback as our restaurant choices," he says) to beer-, vegan- and runner-friendly Asheville, N.C., a city in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Now four years after launching the blog, Frazier the new author finds himself on a 40-plus city tour to promote the book, meet and run with his fans, make new friends, and inspire future vegetarians.

I recently spoke to Frazier about the themes of his blog and book. He shared some thoughts about his athletic evolution, advice about running, and a recipe from the book (see below). Here are edited excerpts of that interview.

What prompted you to become vegetarian and, ultimately, vegan?

MF: My wife and I got a dog once we moved into an apartment together, and that was really the beginning of these thoughts that led eventually to becoming a vegetarian and then vegan -- really connecting with the dog and thinking that he was so similar in intelligence to a lot of the animals that I was eating, and it just started to feel unnatural to me.

I was reading some books, too, about consciousness, and how our brains are wired. One of them was Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion." Rather than the anti-god message [having an effect on me] was the message that creatures on earth are all very similar, and humans are different by a matter of degree rather than a dividing line between humans and everything else.

What would you say is the biggest challenge about being vegan, especially in terms of being an endurance athlete?

MF: At the level that I do it -- which is very much a recreational level, I'm not a pro or an elite athlete, or anything like that -- I feel like it is not very hard at all, now. As an athlete, I think it's still a little bit difficult if you want to go the whole food route, which I really do. I think for long-term health, eating whole foods is really, really critical. It's difficult to get a really high number of calories. So for me and the amount of training I do, which is maybe 50 to 60 miles a week, not often more than that, it's fine, because I can get 3,000 calories a day from a vegan whole food diet very easily.

A lot of myths exist about vegans. But what would you say is a stereotype about vegans that is actually true, and that you maybe would like to change?

MF: There's the stereotype that all vegans want you to go vegan. They want everybody else to go vegan, too. There's that joke: "How do you tell a vegan at a dinner party? Don't worry. They'll tell you." I mean, that is true, because that's even if you become vegan for a non-ethical reason, it just tends to be that you get tuned into the compassionate side of it.

I wish lots of vegans weren't quite so pushy about that. It's fine to wish people would become vegan, and I certainly do, but I also don't think it's really my place to tell people what they should be doing.

So that's why my writing always comes from the place of I'm going to try to be a really good example and go run a 100-mile race, or qualify for Boston, and then let that be the thing in front that people notice. Then when they say, "How does that guy manage to do that?" They'll very quickly find that a vegan diet is a big part of it.

So I'll let people come to it themselves, rather than me saying, "You should go vegetarian or vegan to improve your health."

Your book tour recently brought you to New York for a group run and book signing. How did you like the city?

MF: We ran in Central Park, and as far as I know, it was the first time I've ever even set foot in Central Park. It was really cool. It was amazing how many people were there, and how many runners were there flying past us, bikes too, flying past us. Most of these events, there's usually a slow group in the back, and I go hang back with them, and then go to the fast people. This group, they were all fast people, and I think I was sweating more than anybody by the time we got back to the store. It was definitely a fun and active bunch. I spoke at Jack Rabbit Sports. We had a really good turnout, like 75 or 80 people came, and went and got some drinks afterwards. It was really a great night. One of the best I've had yet so far.

You ran the Boston Marathon in 2011 after working for several years to make the qualifying time. When you heard about the bombings there this year, what went through your mind?

MF: It was really just a sickening feeling, because it felt -- before any of the information was there -- like it was not just a general attack on the country buy like someone was just targeting runners. This is our event, this is our biggest day of the year, and someone was there to ruin it for everyone.

I was actually planning to go on a run later that afternoon. Just for right then, I could not get myself to go out and run. I lost every bit of motivation I had to do that, and just sat home and kind of watched the TV and watched the news come in.

I never run at night. I always get it done in the afternoon. But I was eating dinner, and it was almost dark, and I just all of a sudden had this compelling urge to go out and get my run in. It felt like I was running for the sport of running.

When I went to bed, I felt very, very happy to be part of this community. And I guess that's not uncommon, that a tragedy brings people together.

What is the best advice you've ever gotten about running?

MF: About three or four years after my first marathon, I was struggling to get back and run another one because I had these horrible shin stress fractures. I learned from a coach named Jack Daniels [author of "Daniels' Running Formula"] that you should take 180 steps every single minute. That should be your turnover rate. And I went out and tested it, and I was doing 150 or something way slower. Really, as soon as I fixed that, the shin problems disappeared. And it just fixes so many other form issues.

OK, so what is the worst advice you've gotten about running?

MF: Somewhere I read you shouldn't eat three hours before a workout or in the hour after it because that's when your fat burning is the highest, and if you eat you will turn off that fat-burning mechanism. So I didn't eat then -- and that was even when I was marathon training. I would come home [from a run] and then wait an hour before I would let myself eat anything.

I then found out that the crucial time to actually get food is the hour after your workout. If you're trying to improve as a runner, you need to keep refueling your body so that you rebuild muscles, and can recover and get out there and do it again. So not eating is certainly the worst advice I've heard.

What one action would you tell a meat eater to take in the next 24 hours to begin their journey towards vegetarianism?

MF: I would say just start having a green smoothie in the morning. Go to the store, get berries, seeds, nuts, some kale, some spinach, banana, and put together a smoothie that involves that stuff in the morning. Get used to eating that every single day. It really anchors the rest of your day to it.

So just doing that, you probably won't notice any difference in the way you eat for the first week or two. But it's very possible, and I think likely, that after a little while of doing it, maybe 10 days or something, your taste buds will start to change, and for your next meal you will start to be craving something, again, that is fresh, steamed.

So maybe you would say, "I'm going to have a salad in the morning." Or make lunch into just a big, huge pile of greens, and any fresh vegetables I can find, and some beans on there.

You start to feel better, and you start to like how you feel. And then if you choose to go vegetarian from there, that works too.

What one action would you tell someone who is already a vegetarian to take in the next 24 hours to step up their nutritional or athletic game?

MF: I would say the overall concept, the thing that you want to do, is start eating nearly 100 percent whole foods rather than processed foods. I think someone who is already vegetarian would benefit tremendously by replacing one of their meals with a humungous salad each day. It's really the exact same reason as the smoothie. It just kind of anchors you and your taste buds to fresh whole foods. If you really have a habit of doing that every single day, it prevents you from going into just a little rut where you're eating just nothing but potato chips and fried tofu takeout from a Thai restaurant.

This is the final question, and it's a personal one for me. On November 3, I am running the ING New York City Marathon. What is your advice to me and thousands of other first-time marathoners?

MF: Absolutely follow the taper period. Don't try to do more running than [your training plan] says. Trust that your plan is correct.

Then perhaps the biggest one of all is: on race day morning when the gun goes off, resist the urge to go out too fast. It's so easy to have a plan going in and then in the excitement of the crowd and the speed -- because everyone else is going to be going fast because they're excited -- it's so easy to feel these people passing you, and you think, "Wow, I need to just keep up with them."

If you start too fast, it can really ruin your first race. And the whole day can be a miserable experience where you end up having to walk after mile 18, which is exactly what happened to me in my first marathon because I went out way, way too fast.

It's so much more fun to speed up in the second half of a race, and have the luxury of at mile 20 saying, "OK, I kept my pace that I was supposed to, now I finally feel like I'm close enough that I actually can speed up and be pretty safe doing so," versus just barely getting to mile 20 and hobbling along, walk-run alternating, and saying, "Wow, I can't believe I still have six miles to go."

Thank you so much. Good luck on the rest of the book tour. Enjoy this moment.

MF: Thanks, I appreciate it.

--

These are some of my favorite posts from Frazier's blog:

10 Simple Guidelines for Eating Healthier than Ever

Protein--A Primer for Vegetarians

63 Ways to Shake Up Your Running Routine

--

Here is that smoothie recipe Frazier shared with us:

EVERYDAY STRAWBERRY SMOOTHIE

1 banana

2 small handfuls frozen strawberries

4 tablespoons hemp/rice/pea protein power blend

2 tablespoons ground flaxseed

1 tablespoon coconut butter

1 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 handful fresh baby spinach

2 tablespoons chia seeds

6 ice cubes

Combine all the ingredients and blend until smooth.

YIELD: 2 SMOOTHIES (16 ounces each)

PER SERVING: 456 Calories; 15 g Fat (27.2% calories from fat); 22 g Protein; 57 g Carbohydrate; 11 g Dietary Fiber; 49 mg Cholesterol; 87 mg Sodium

Reprinted from "No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self" (Fair Winds Press) with permission from the author.

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