Q&A: Matt Frazier of No Meat Athlete

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Vegan blogger and ultramarathoner Matt Frazier is on a roll. He recently added a new addition to his family, completed his first 100-mile marathon, and published his first book, “No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self.”

You may remember Frazier from his contribution to Healthy Vegan Breakfast Ideas. Here, he shares practical fitness advice, and talks about his balanced approach to a healthy lifestyle, and achieving incredible goals.

How did you get started as a runner?

Believe it or not, I hated running as a kid! I used to dread it when our gym class teacher would make us run a mile. That was my association with running for the first 20 years of my life.

In college, I started lifting weights and becoming motivated about fitness in general. With all the bravado that recklessness college kids are known for, my roommates and I decided one night that we’d run a marathon–even though none of us was a runner.

Not surprisingly, the training and the race didn’t go well, but all three of us finished. We had to walk a lot though, so it felt like a failure in some way. I was determined to do another one, but differently: avoiding injury in the training, and eating properly instead of the college beer-and-pizza diet. It took me four years to finish another marathon, but I did it, taking an hour off my previous time. After that, I was hooked.

When did you make the switch to a plant-based diet?

Shortly after that second marathon, I started feeling the urge to go vegetarian. I’d been reading some books about consciousness and gradually stopped feeling right about eating animals. But although the idea of a plant-based diet appealed to me, I didn’t give it serious consideration because I assumed that, as a marathoner, it would be impossible to get enough protein and calories without meat. But after a year of cutting out just red meat, I decided to give it a try and see what happened–and to my surprise, it worked. I actually got faster, and six months after I went vegetarian, I qualified for the Boston Marathon, with a time over 100 minutes faster than I had run in my first marathon.

Congratulations on your first 100-mile marathon! What was your training like?

Thanks! The training wasn’t much different from training for a marathon. I got up to about 50 or 60 miles per week. My focus shifted from speed to distance. I did a lot of long, slow runs on hilly mountain roads near where I live. The biggest difference from marathon training was that the long runs were much longer. I ran several 20-milers, a 31-miler, and even a 12-hour race where I ran 53 miles. I had to get to the point where knocking out 18 or 20 miles on a weekend morning felt like nothing, and eventually, I got there.

Did you change your diet in preparation?

I didn’t change anything about the way I eat, which is 100 percent vegan and mostly whole foods. I ate more calories as a result of all the mileage, but only because I listened to my body and ate when I was hungry (which was often!). My diet has recently shifted toward one of almost entirely unprocessed foods, with lots of raw fruits and vegetables, along with plenty of beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, and I think such a natural diet really helped me to recover well and avoid injury.

Did you take other steps to avoid injury during training?

The long, slow miles never felt stressful the way speedwork does, and I’ve learned over 10 years of running that if something isn’t feeling right, it’s best to give it an extra day or two of rest (even when that means skipping an important training run). I used to try to get the miles in, even at the cost of worsening whatever was bothering me, but my mindset has changed over time. To me, no single run is so important that it’s worth risking injury for.

We’d love to hear more about your book, “No Meat Athlete.”

After writing my blog for four years and building an audience I knew I could count on to support the project, it felt like the right time to write a book. It was a lot of work, especially when it coincided with training for the 100 and having a new baby! But I learned so much about myself and how much I can handle, in much the same way as training for a marathon or an ultramarathon teaches you that the limitations you imagine are exactly that: imaginary.

What do you hope readers take away from “No Meat Athlete” the book?

My biggest hope is that it will reach the people who need to read it–for their sake of course, but also for animals’ sake and the planet’s sake. What I hope that everyone will take away, though, is that you can eat and live this way (even if you’re serious about fitness) without becoming one of “those people” that so many people associate with any movement that’s outside the norm. I’ve met a lot of “those people” and I love them and what they do, but I want to show people that you can be a happy, healthy (dare I say “normal”?) person, who happens to eat a plant-based diet. In other words, you can choose to become an activist and someone who strives to share the diet with others, but you don’t have to.

If you could share just one piece of fitness advice, what would it be?

Start small. You’re not going to get fit in one day or one week, so don’t kill yourself in the gym right away. You want to focus on building the mental habit of fitness before you even think about the changes to your body.

So start with just five minutes each day of an activity that you enjoy, or at least that you don’t absolutely hate. Make that five minutes feel like a victory in your mind, so that you’re eager to do it again the next day. After a week or two, make it 10 minutes, and go from there.

It’s hard to hold back, I know. You want to see results right away, and you’re not going to get them with such a small amount of activity. But the invisible, mental gain–the building of the habit, one that you’ll still be doing a year from now–is so much more important than burning a few extra calories now at the cost of getting burnt out within a few weeks.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about Frazier at his blog, No Meat Athlete

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