What I Learned: 6 Months as a Plant-Strong Athlete

I can’t believe it, but as of today I’ve been eating a plant-based diet for about 6 months! My how time flies! I say “about”, because I didn’t write down the exact date that I officially removed all meat (including fish), eggs, and dairy from my diet, but it was about the same time that I started this blog – so that’s close enough for my purposes. :)

I’m not your stereotypical herbivore – I’m a moderate-conservative, born-again Christian, foodie, and endurance athlete, who also happens to eat a plant-based diet. This is why I dislike stereotypes so much. :)

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Jed Smith 50K

After 6 months as a plant-strong athlete, I’m SO happy I made the switch. I’ve learned a few things along the way that I wanted to share with you!

1.  I feel great! I just feel better without meat, eggs, and dairy. After stopping eating meat for a while, you notice that it just sits in your stomach when you start eating it again. That, combined with the fact that I’ve always been lactose intolerant, means my tummy is much happier and lighter since making the switch.

2.  I haven’t been sick in 6 months – since I’ve made this change to my diet! I didn’t get sick much before, but typically something would hit me in January and I’d fight a cold or sinus issue for a few days. This year – nothing!

3.  I have more energy – I have always needed 8 hours of sleep per night to function. Always. Now, I find 7-8 fairly normal, often I’ll wake up before the alarm goes off and I’m ready to go. It’s weird! I also don’t have the mid-afternoon slump very often.

4.  It’s not hard, but it’s also not always easy – Eating at home is easy! There are so many delicious foods to choose from and making any dish vegan-friendly is fun. At restaurants, you sometimes have to be pretty creative. My trick is to look for a  vegetarian dish, then decide if removing the eggs & dairy will leave a flavorful meal. If not, I start looking at the appetizers and sides from other meals to see what else I can add to make it taste better. Hummus is a great sub for cheese, balsamic instead of mayo in a slaw, grilled onions and mushrooms to top a burger. Or just ask the server and see what they can offer you!

We also discovered some pretty amazing veggie restaurants that we wouldn’t have even thought of before: Gymnopedie (Athens, GA), Healthy Happy Human (Indian Harbor Beach, FL), & Sugar Plum Vegan Café (Sacramento, CA) to name a few.

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Vegan Donuts at Doughbot Donuts!

5. Protein is not a problem – There are plenty of vegan athletes that help prove that getting your protein from non-animal sources is possible (and easy!). There are vegans in triathlon, bodybuilding, mixed martial arts, running, and ultra-running. If you’re worried about protein, I suggest thinking about including a protein-rich food in every meal. Some of the common protein sources I eat are: nut butter, quinoa, non-dairy milk, tofu, tempeh, seitan, beans, lentils, & nuts.

6. It’s healthy (for me and the animals): With no cholesterol or added hormones in my food, I feel good about how my food choices affect my health. I’m an athlete for my health (and the extra food!), so this is another way to make the right choices for my body. It also makes me happy that I’m not eating animals. :)

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Yummy Veggies!

7. I’ve discovered so many NEW foods! How are there so many delicious foods that I had never tried before. Things like seitan, tempeh, nutritional yeast, quinoa – I had honestly never tried these previously. I’m so glad that I had a reason to try them and see how delicious they are!

 

I’m a strong, happy, proud plant-based athlete and I’m certainly not slowing down! After my ultra-running “debut” almost 4 weeks ago, I’m ready to tackle my 7th marathon in New Orleans this weekend. I’ve got big plans for the future and I can’t wait to see what I’ll accomplish next.

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Questions for you:

  1. Are you a plant-strong athlete? What has been the biggest benefit for you or most surprising thing you’ve learned?
  2. If not, have you ever thought of trying a plant-based diet? What has been the biggest barrier for you?
  3. What stereotypes do you defy? =)

Comments

  1. Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table says

    This post’s timing couldn’t be more perfect – I’m taking on another 30 days of veganism today. I especially love your point about health – I too am an athlete for my health… diet should also be a component of that.

    I’m glad my first time dining out as a vegan will be with you… help! :)

    • Heather says

      Yay – I’m so glad this was helpful for you AND that you connected with the health benefits! I think Tap will be an easy restaurant for your first dining experience, but we can look at how I would tweak a meal while we’re there. :)

  2. Natalie T says

    I would love to try a plant-based diet but I am not sure what to do about dinner. My husband can’t give up his meat. I don’t want to have to prepare 2 meals every night, kwim?
    Natalie T recently posted…YogaMy Profile

    • Heather says

      Before my hubby started eating a mostly plant-based diet, he would just cook his own meat to add to whatever else I made. That was a good compromise and I think him to get comfortable with removing meat from our dinners much easier. Would that work in your house?

  3. Natalie T says

    It might work. I think if I had a handful of easy, kid-friendly-ish recipes I could make it work. I like meat but I could definitely live without it.
    Natalie T recently posted…YogaMy Profile

    • Heather says

      My best recommendation would be to check out peasandthankyou.com – she has tons of kid-approved (she has 2 girls) recipes on her blog and her cookbook is also my favorite. She also has some suggestions on getting your hubby on board – she really did cook 2-3 meals for a while and wrote about how to avoid that. :)

      I’d love to help with any questions you have too!!

  4. Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers says

    I’m not a plant-fueled athlete, but I admire those who are. I just don’t think I’m really ready to make the switch. I like the thought of being vegan (or for goodness sake, at least vegetarian), but I’m a wuss… and I like bacon. It’s great it’s going so well for you though – you’re an inspiration!
    Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers recently posted…Tempeh Veggie BowlMy Profile

  5. Bonnie says

    Great post Heather – fun to see the effects you’ve felt from going plant-based. I eat more or less that way because I feel better and it seems healthier to me…but I still have dairy (Greek yogurt and goat cheese, almost exclusively that’s it for me!) and eggs; often wondered how my body would respond if I gave up diary. Maybe it’s something for me to try this month! …there’s a thought… :)
    Bonnie recently posted…Finding Motivation & FitRadio LoveMy Profile

    • Heather says

      Thanks Bonnie! I know So Delicious has a vegan greek yogurt & Laura (Sprint2TheTable.com) posted a vegan goat cheese recipe last week – so a March challenge could definitely work for you! =)

  6. Mattie @ Comfy and Confident says

    As with Laura I will be taking the 30 day Vegan Challenge put on by Amanda at Run to the Finish. I work out all the time and my family loves meat so I am nervous about the big change but also excited. This post helped me feel confident in my decision to eat Vegan.
    Mattie @ Comfy and Confident recently posted…Vegan ChallengeMy Profile

    • Heather says

      Awesome! I’m so happy to hear that. I love the idea of the 30 day challenge – that’s a great way to test the waters! I think you’re going to love the way you feel (wait..isn’t that some type of commercial slogan…)! ;)

  7. Beth says

    Great post!
    1. I am a plant-strong athlete. I have been for several years, so it’s hard for me to remember when I wasn’t. The biggest benefit is feeling better overall. Like you, I rarely get sick, and if I do, it’s very mild and short-lived. I feel better and “cleaner.” I LOVE trying new recipes so much that I rarely make the same thing twice, unless it’s a fall-back staple that I can make quickly on rushed nights.

    3. I defy most of the stereotypes as you: I’m a Christian, love to bake (now I only bake vegan), and endurance athlete. I’m not a stereotypical “hippie” that some people still think of when they hear the word. Growing up, the people who shopped at “health food stores” were always hippie-ish. Now it’s pretty much mainstream.

    I love to share with people the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. I had been vegetarian for several years, then I had my husband get a physical. His cholesterol and triglycerides were very high, and the dr. wanted to put him on a statin drug, which his three older brothers take. I said for him to tell the dr. “no thanks” and to give me 6 months to get his cholesterol down. In that six months of a predominantly plant-based diet (he won’t give up lunchmeat), we got his cholesterol down 40 points and cut his triglycerides in half. The doctor was impressed! Now if the doctor would just recommend this lifestyle to his other patients instead of prescribing a drug….. but that’s another story. :)
    Beth recently posted…PeaceMy Profile

    • Heather says

      I love this – great to “meet” another plant-strong Christian athlete. We’ll show those stereotypes who’s boss! ;)

      What a GREAT story about your husband’s cholesterol improvement, it’s amazing how much your diet impacts your health – I’m thrilled that your doctor even took note and is recommended that to his patients too!

  8. Rebecca says

    Congrats on your first 6 months!

    I became a vegetarian when I was 16 and a vegan last year at the age of 26 (I know, what took so long?). I was never really all that athletic growing up, I enjoyed quiet at home activities. Once I became vegan I realized I had all this energy and no way to let it out, so I picked up running. Along with running I now throw in 4-5 days a week of bodyweight/dumbbell strength training. I love seeing what my body can do now!

  9. Christie says

    Wow- you’ve only been blogging about 6 months?! You’d never know.

    I like the idea of a plant based diet, mainly for health reasons, but it seems as though it’d be nearly impossible in my house. My husband is a big meat eater, and we both love chicken and fish. I am just happy he will eat some healthy things (fruits and veggies), as he used to be a BIG fast food guy. I’m happy i’ve at least gotten him to accept moving to a few healthier options (NO fast food, thank goodness).

    • Heather says

      Yep – my first post was one of the last days of August. That’s such a sweet complement! :)

      For the health benefits, you could try what I did early last year and go veg just for breakfast & lunch. It helps up your veggie intake and you start to learn about veg foods you may not be familiar with today. You could also try things like Meatless Monday, another good way to start. Or both! ;)

      • Christie says

        That is a great idea! We’re catholic, so lent helps with this a bit, too. Obviously we could still have fish, but I could just make some vegetarian dinners and the hubs probably wouldn’t realize. Maybe i’ll try it and not mention it to him until the end… hmmm. =) Thanks for the advice!

        • Heather says

          Yay – you’ll have to let me know how it goes! I remember Kirk being skeptical of meatless meals when I started making a few and he LOVES them now. :)

  10. Lee says

    That’s really great that veganism has worked so well for you. I think it’s awesome that you are defying the stereotype and doing what feels good for you not what society thinks vegans should be like!
    Lee recently posted…Unplanned Rest DayMy Profile

    • Lee says

      Okay that last sentence made no sense. What I meant was that I’m glad you saw the benefits of a diet that works for you even though you don’t fit the traditional stereotypes of it.
      Lee recently posted…Unplanned Rest DayMy Profile

  11. Jordan @ food, sweat, and beers says

    This is an excellent, inspiring post! Though I’m definitely not living a plant-based diet by any means, I did just nix meats other than fish from the diet, at least for Lent. I’m feeling fantastic and, like you said, one of the few challenges is when I actually am eating out. Last night, I had my first experience with removing meat from a dish I ordered meat-free, which was served otherwise….
    Jordan @ food, sweat, and beers recently posted…Like a Virgin: There’s a First Time for EverythingMy Profile

    • Heather says

      I think you’ll be surprised how much better you feel without the meat and how heavy your tummy feels the first time you have meat after lent. Would love to hear your experience!

  12. Karin says

    Hi! I just found your blog today from a recipe on pinterest! Looks really good! I wondered how you explained to those around you who don’t agree that someone can be a christian and plant-based at the same time. I read that you are eating fish now, which also intrigues me as that is one thing in my mind (from the bible) what I can’t “argue” my way out of. Jesus definetly ate and served fish!
    Anyways, if you have thoughts on it that you wouldn’t mind sharing I’d love to hear it. I have opposition especially since we have 3 young girls who we also serve plant-based nutrition.
    Thanks!

  13. Betina says

    Hello Heather!

    I’m slowly going into the vegan diet as meats and eggs don’t settle well for me. I was wondering if you know of a good weekly meal plan for women athletes (I’m just starting and everything is so new to me!), and if we need to watch for calorie intake when we execise just like our meat-eater friends. I hope to hear from you soon! Thanks a bunch!

    • Heather Blackmon says

      Hi Betina! I don’t follow a weekly plan, but I think you might enjoy the Thrive book from Brendan Brazier. He talks a lot about the different nutrients, what foods have what, etc. I’m not much of a calorie-counter, even with Ironman training, I tend to eat bigger portions than I should. :)

  14. Krystle says

    I was just wondering what alcoholic beverages would be considered vegan. My boyfriend and I drink only during the weekend but I want to make better choices when it comes to which types of alcohol to drink!

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