Matt Frazier began his blog No Meat Athlete in 2009 as a way to document whether or not a vegetarian diet could fuel a long-distance runner. Six years later, the answer is yes.
After training for the Boston Marathon for approximately seven years, Frazier hit a plateau. Around that time, he decided to go vegetarian for ethical reasons and wondered if a meat-free diet was compatible with his training routine. The shift was incredibly successful: once vegetarian, the then 29-year-old experienced a “dramatic change” in performance that found him shaving the 10 minutes from his personal record he needed to qualify for the marathon. In 2011, Frazier and his wife adopted completely plant-based diets, and his previous thinking that vegetarianism might hinder his training reversed: he now advocates vegan diets rich in whole, plant foods for fast recovery. Today, Frazier runs 50- and 100-mile ultra races more often than marathons, and with The San Francisco Marathon July 26 and The New York City Marathon November 1, we figured now would be a good time to ask for some advice.
VegNews: What should people eat to prepare for a marathon?
Matt Frazier: I start every day with a smoothie with lots of fruit, greens, nuts, and seeds. Lunch is a big salad with beans and a non-oil based dressing, and dinner is typically a pasta dish with beans. Some people think that’s a weird combination, but it’s actually common in Italian cooking (to pair pasta and beans). Throughout the day I eat tons of snacks like vegetables and hummus or almond butter and pita. I would have thought you need all these calorically-dense processed foods to run 100 miles, but a higher-raw diet that was roughly 80/10/10 (carbohydrates/fat/protein) works really well. Fresh and whole foods— that’s what your body wants.
VN: Should runners use protein powder?
MF: I’m a believer in the power of whole foods. I’m not against protein powder or bars at all. They’re really convenient if you’re too busy to cook for yourself or new to veganism, but I don’t use protein powder. I started with it, then eliminated it because it’s expensive, and I didn’t notice a difference.
VN: What did you notice about your running performance once you became vegan?
MF: I thought going vegetarian wouldn’t be healthy or sustainable for marathon running, but then I thought maybe it could be healthy or even helpful in the long run for sports. After I went vegan, I could put in way more miles without getting injured. As far as I can tell, my diet was a huge contributing factor to getting injured less. You can recover faster with plant-based foods. It’s not that I complete more workouts in a week, but I’m better recovered afterwards, which means I’m less susceptible to injury.
VN: What advice do you have for athletes worried about their macronutrient intake?
MF: If you’re eating a whole food vegan diet, you’re going to be going 60-plus percent carbohydrates, which turns out to be really perfect for long-distance running. If you’re eating lots of fruit, vegetables and beans, you’ll end up where you need to be. You don’t need to worry about getting too much extra protein as long as you’re getting enough calories. Because plant foods are less calorie-dense than animal foods, you might be eating 30 percent fewer calories (once you go vegan) without noticing because your food still fills you up. Eat until you’re hungry. If it’s your first marathon or ultra, go for seconds.
VN: What are your tips for aspiring vegan marathoners?
MF: Run slow. Everything I knew about running had come from elementary school or gym class. I thought all my miles should feel like gym class: running as fast as you can so you don’t get the whistle blown at you. I didn’t stop getting injured until I realized you can’t do that. You have to finish your runs with energy left. One-hundred percent of your miles should be done at a conversational pace that is enjoyable when you’re training for a first marathon. You have to go slow to endure the 18 weeks of a marathon-training program, and it is possible to come back from a run with more energy than you left.