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Those Amazing East Africans!

The Vegan Mofo project over at sister blog The Vegan Training Table is taking up nearly all time allotted to blogging. So I’ll split a post in two to prove to Google that Vegpedlr is alive and well and still blogging. The Vegan Training Table project is based on a theme of spotlighting and celebrating plant-based athletes both traditional and contemporary. It grew from my great respect and admiration for the Tarahumara and East Africans who have had tremendous success in distance running eating plant-based diets. They are not traditionally vegan, and they eat so little animal food out of necessity rather than choice. But they show that not only do athletes not need any animal food, they can do very well without. It is my opinion that such a diet is optimal. While East African and Tarahumara runners may not be vegan, their typical dishes can be easily adapted. I hope that they make me just as fast!

I already blogged about the Tarahumara, made famous in Born to Run, now it’s time to look to the great Rift Valley in East Africa, where the most successful competitive runners come from. No one country has dominated a single sport more than Kenya has dominated distance running. If you add in next door neighbour Ethiopia, you have near total domination. Many people have investigated this dominance, and there is no one answer to explain their continued success. Rather it is a number of factors, from living at altitude, barefoot running and a simple plant-based diet. Both of these countries are poor, and the dietary staples of runners are the same: unrefined starches in the form of whole grains and legumes along with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Very little meat, some dairy, and no supplements. That’s it. Simple.

For Ethiopians, the staples are injera, a fermented crepe like bread, and vegetable or legume stews. For the Kenyans, it’s ugali, a cornmeal like porridge similar to polenta, and leafy greens and legumes. Meat is for special occasions, since it’s just too expensive. And on this simple diet, these East Africans have won practically all international track races from 800m to the 10K, and most road marathons as well. That goes for both genders. They’re not held back by a “poor” diet, they lead the pack!

Coming Up:

More on the typical nutrition of an African runner and why it works

Coming up at The Vegan Training Table:

Ethiopian dishes

Kenyan inspired dishes


PCRM Vegan Kickstart Week 2: Keep the Momentum!

I was very pleased Lani Muelrath, a plant based educator and coach, took a forum post of mine and turned it into a blog post on her own website. It was a wonderful reminder that we all make mistakes, and that no single mistake is really the end of the world. Well, I suppose a few world leaders could make a mistake with the red button and actually end the world, but for the rest of us we can bounce back. My post’s aim was to show mistakes can be corrected and encourage those who are new to this sort of lifestyle to never give up.


That’s it. That’s the secret. Keep moving forward. Don’t wallow in any negativity about what went wrong, just do what’s right, right now. I’m inspired by a few things whenever I’m faced with a challenge like this. (which happened last weekend with a restaurant FAIL)

  • The number one factor determining whether a smoker quits or not? Whether they tried before.

Taken another a way, it means they failed. BUT, they have the desire, so they come back to it., again and again, until they make it stick. It’s the desire that matters.

  • Every action you do strengthens the HABIT of that action.

So you blew it? So what! The very next moment get back to the habit you’re trying to ingrain. Wear the groove in deep for what you want. If you fail at a meal, make sure the next one is 100% on plan. You’ll bounce back.

  • An object in motion…

Tends to stay in motion until acted on by another force. So you got bounced off track? Bounce back! Counter-intuitively, the more you do this, the easier it gets. The mistakes make us stronger and smarter.






Rumination is useful, and analysis can help you understand where the traps are to avoid in the future.

But first you must …


Best of luck to all the Kickstarters and anyone else trying to rewrite their own story.

Guest Post: How to Survive a Potluck and Stay Plant Strong

So how do you stick with the Kickstart when dealing with a crowd? Here is how my sister handled the problem. Make a large amount of something fresh, seasonal, flavorful, and fun, and don’t tell anyone! Here my sister used great summer produce, good but not overpowering seasonings, and grilling to bring out flavor. Brilliant! I’ve had her grilled sugar snaps and they are a revelation. With something this good, make sure you do as she did it ensure success: keep your stash separate!

Hi Bro- It’s veggie sis here. So week one of kick start is done and I had a slip too – it was pizza with the parents. Oh well, at least I have this week – which has started off awesome! For a church potluck yesterday I made our new favorite summer pasta with every fresh summer veggies we can think of mixed with squiggle noodles, balsamic vinegar, capers, and roasted red bell pepper. The veggies included grilled yellow squash in bite sized pieces, grilled green zukes in bite sized pieces, grilled red onion, and mixed these with fresh sweet corn cut from the cob and steamed green beans, A little cracked pepper, a little garlic power, roasted red pepper and fresh basil torn into small pieces and mixed in. ALL FLAVOR – even the people who didn’t know they were eating vegan enjoyed the fresh natural flavors.

Recipe for a potluck to scale back for your own use:

(makes about six servings) (yeah right! for vegpedlr, that’s 2-3!)

Pasta boiled and cooled (squiggles or bow ties)
Two crook neck yellow squash cut into bite sized pieces
Two Green Zukes cut into bite sized pieces
1/2 pound of green beans

Or: sugar snap peas

Two red onions in 1/8’s wedges


If using green beans, steam until tender and bathe in ice water to stop cooking and set color.

I put one teaspoon of olive oil on the whole gaggle of veggies and hand toss to coat them

Heat the grill and put down release foil so they won’t stick and when its preheated dump the veggies on. Grill until there is a char on everything. Remove from the grill and mix with the cooked pasta- green beans – allow to cool

When cooled, add two tablespoons of capers (or less to taste)
Dice one jar of roasted red bell peppers and mix in
Kernels cut from two ears of fresh white corn
Diced baby heirloom cherry tomatoes
Drench it all in 20 year balsamic vinegar for a wonderful rich sweet flavor
Zest a lemon and mix the zest in, then squeeze the juice on it
Tear up 1/2 cup of basil and sprinkle all over then mix in.

This dish can be served hot or cold as a main course or a side and NO ONE WILL EVER GUESS ITS VEGAN, LOW FAT, AND VIRTUALLY OIL FREE.

The pot luck crowd devoured it like animals so luckily I kept a dish at home for me!

PCRM Vegan Kickstart September 2012

The racing season is mostly over, school is back in session, and I need to find a new writing and blogging groove. No more grueling mountain bike races, maybe one more short sprint triathlon, but my real focus will be training for a December marathon. In contrast to triathlon and mountain biking, running is much simpler. Less time consuming too. I just have to keep pushing my one long run each week and maintain the rest of the days.

So what to write about?

I think it’s high time to leave Maffetone, heart rate, lactate threshold, and heart rate variability on the sidelines and get back in the kitchen. After all, this is the best time of year for fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market. Thanks to my sister, I found out about PCRM’s 21 Day Vegan Kickstart, and signed on to help support her and a friend, along with anyone else on the forums making the effort. I could use a little inspiration, and this challenge looks like a good one. My midseason break from training has been refreshing, but I need a new focus. The Kickstart lays out a meal plan complete with shopping lists. I won’t follow all the meals, but I will follow the rules. My breakfasts are uniform: oats and fruit, and lunch is nearly always left overs from dinners. But I will try  as many of their dinners as I can for a little variety.

So my first Kickstart meal was Moroccan Bean Stew with Sweet Potatoes.

It came out more like a soup, a LOT of liquid. I winged it on the spices, but the flavor was good. Needed more heat, and some sriracha fixed that up. I added some red bell pepper, zucchini, and green beans because I had some laying around. And its funny that the garbanzo and black beans the recipe called for I already cooked up in the slow cooker before I signed up. Brilliant. I didn’t have the couscous, so I used a wild rice blend, which was OK. Too much liquid and a little over cooking of the veggies made the final dish a little mushy. I’ll keep the leftovers separate when packing my lunch. The next recipe is a black bean chili, to which I’ll add some extra veggies as well.

In addition to the how to, they’ve got an impressive list of celebrities adding their inspiration. Today’s message from NBA star John Salley was interesting, since I don’t follow basketball. Hopefully this community effort will lift me out of the Back to School doldrums.

What does everybody else do when motivation sags?

Vegan Athletes in the Mainstream Press

Can Athletes Perform Well on a Vegan Diet? –

Of course they can!

Elsewhere on-site, an inspiring story by an amateur athlete that I can relate to well:

My Vegan Marathon –

With recent plant based athletes like Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek, and Rich Roll sharing their success stories, it’s a great time to represent this lifestyle. While none of them follow the starch based McDougall diet that I feel is best, they all attribute nearly all their success to their nutrition.

But it is interesting to see  more exposure and discussion of plant based lifestyles and high level sport. What was mocked by many, including so-called “experts” a few years ago now gets fairly balanced coverage. I thought the interview article with professionals was good. It explains that just because a diet is vegetarian or vegan does not necessarily make it healthier. There are plenty of plant based junk foods, and basing your caloric intake on oil, refined flour, sugar, fake meats and cheeses will not promote health.

Here are few quotes I found particularly interesting:

“You do have to be diligent about protein intake if you’re vegan. I have clients, especially women, who say, ‘Oh, I put a few chickpeas in my salad.’ But that’s not going to do it.”

Perhaps. If you’re not eating enough whole plant foods, I can see this happening. But that’s not a healthy diet. If you’re eating intact starches and vegetables with enough calories, protein will not be a problem. Look at the Kenyans. The comment also reflects a bias many of us have where we pigeon-hole certain nutrients into certain foods and forget about the big picture. In this case it’s beans for protein. Whole starches average 10% of calories from protein, and green vegetables have more protein per calorie than most animal foods. I will concede that some research indicates that an absolute value of protein of 1.2g/kg of body weight maximizes recovery. For some, that may take a little extra effort.

“The one issue is vitamin B12, which is found only in meat; B12 is important for endurance athletes, since it affects red blood cell production. “

True. But we already know that, and it’s easy to fix. And it’s probably not nearly as dangerous as people think, especially when it also affects omnivores as well. Dr. McDougall explains the research quite well in his article.

“My feeling is that hard training trumps everything. Diet, if it’s healthy, isn’t going to make that much difference.”

Yes and no. Consistent training is the most important thing. The body adapts gradually. Time out due to injury, illness, or overtraining stall progress. But I firmly believe only a healthy diet allows for that long term progress. Without proper nutrition, the body won’t recover well.

Diet is certainly key fro me. I have raced the last three weekends consecutively for 4-8 hours each time. With plenty of time for reflection at the back of the pack, I realized that 10 yrs ago, eating the Standard American Gourmet Foodie Diet, there was no way I could have done even one of my recent races. Now I love racing, and as soon as my legs aren’t sore, I’ll be back training for the next one. Without my whole foods, starch based diet, I can’t be active.

Book Review: Finding Ultra by Rich Roll

“I can say with full confidence that my rapid transformation from middle-aged couch potato to Ultraman—to, in fact, everything I’ve accomplished as an endurance athlete—begins and ends with my PlantPower Diet.”
He had me right there. I absolutely loved that he came right out and said it up front. No beating around the bush of labeling this or that. Straight up: this was only possible because of diet. I feel exactly the same, even though I’m not at his level. I race at the back of the pack, but before I changed my diet, incidentally at about the same time, I couldn’t race at all. Racing was a dream that required far more energy than meat and dairy afforded me. When people remark about my healthy eating habits, my response is similar: I can’t do what I love to do unless I eat this way. I indulge myself from time to time, but I don’t kid myself any more. I know what it will do to my training and recovery. Indulgences are becoming less and less pleasurable.
If you’re the last person on the planet to read this book, get thee to a bookstore now! Or Amazon. Or drop by and I’ll loan you my copy. This book is amazing. I thought I knew what it was about, but I got surprised. I first found Roll online searching for other plant based athletes who shared their experiences, so I thought I knew what it was about. Then I heard some interviews where alcoholism was mentioned. Then I read the book. Holy cow! What a tale.
The book can be divided into three parts:
1) Swimming career that morphed into a drinking career
2) Mid Life Scare: goes vegan and becomes ultra distance triathlete
3) Nuts and Bolts: (or twigs and berries) how he eats, and why
TIME IN THE DRINK (chlorinated and alcoholic)
The early life stuff I tend to skim through in biographical reading. I don’t usually find it that interesting. Fortunately, Roll and his editorial team fixed that for me. The two important parts the reader needs to understand for the later story are made clear. Roll was not an athletic kid until he discovered swimming. And then he got good. Fast. He was able to choose what collegiate swimming program to attend. This shows the foundation of talent he had when he came back to sport later in life. Second, he was socially awkward and isolated a lot. This makes it much clearer why he became an alcoholic. The booze erased the awkwardness, and even early on he knew that, “Although a miracle salve to my social inadequacies, I just liked it too much.”
Part One of the book is about Roll’s career as a drinker. The vegan stuff, the endurance stuff, all that comes later. That’s what I wanted to read about, but instead I got hooked on the ten year binge. Roll tells this part of the story with a carefully balanced tone that doesn’t over-dramatize, nor leaves out anything crucial. This is not the story of a celebrity binge, but what an otherwise normal person can get themselves into. There are enough details to feel the everyday life of an addict, and drama from DUIs to keep you turning pages, but it never bogs down. The story keeps moving forward. But the best part, and what made me read it in one sitting was the clear understanding of why he did it. His insight is so clear that it all makes perfect, logical sense.
The attraction for him started from the very beginning, the first drink he had at a swim team party:
“… all those feelings of fear, resentment, insecurity, and isolation just                 vanished, replaced with the rush of comfort and belonging… For the first time         in my life, I experienced what I thought it must feel like to be normal-“
From there, the double edges of the sword begin to appear. While alcohol helped in some ways, the very problems Roll thought alcohol solved, alcohol started to cause. Rather than ease his social problems, it ended his first marriage on his honeymoon! Of course we as readers can see it thanks to power of hindsight, but the Rich Roll of the time couldn’t. And that’s what grips you.
Part Two is the athletic story that I thought I was buying. Like many people, once Roll sobered up and put his career back in focus and started a family, his health declined dramatically. It’s a bit ironic that in a story of an alcoholic, the main “moment of clarity” is walking up the stairs gasping and afraid of a heart attack! What makes this section of the book so readable is seeing Roll make mistakes trying to apply a new plant based diet and learn from them. I’ve made some of the same ones, but I guess I didn’t learn as quickly as he did! For instance, he reflects on the typical swimmer’s attitude toward nutrition by describing how many donuts he and his teammates would eat. Replacing all the calories burned from swimming was all that mattered. You might recognize this as the Michael Phelps diet. I swam in high school, so I’ve done that. When he does change his diet, his extreme personality leads him to some exotic “cleanse”. After a few days of suffering, he comes out the other end feeling great. But then he goes into what I call being a junk food vegetarian: fake meats, dairy, processed and refined foods, all the while wondering, “Why don’t I feel any better?” I have done that too, although less and less. What Rich discovered, and I am learning as well but more slowly, it doesn’t just matter what you don’t eat, it matters what you do eat. Nutrient density is key. And consistency.
Roll’s focus and drive to improve himself is where the story really becomes inspirational. In just a few months of changing his diet, he was exercising like crazy. In my experience, you have to nail the diet first in order to have the energy and motivation to exercise. I believe that the main reason most Americans don’t exercise is simply that they feel too bad from their horrible diet. In just a couple of years he had completely reinvented his body for Ultraman. His training was limited in description, but when I recognized the Maffetone Method at work by his coach, I was even more excited! Roll made horrible pacing and training mistakes early on by using intensities way too high that come directly from the swimming world. He had to learn, as I have, you must slow down to get faster by really developing the aerobic system. Consistently training his aerobic system and consistently eating nutrient dense foods led him to Ultraman and the EPIC5. By using the example of Rich Roll, my two year dream of Leadville doesn’t seem so impossible.
Part Three is the method to his madness. Roll succinctly explains how he does it in the kitchen, and why he does it. I disagree on his reliance on a blender, I think it’s better to chew your own food most of the time. I also disagree with his use of oil, especially when he references Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, who vehemently opposes oil. He also relies a lot on high fat plant foods, coconut, avocados, nuts and seeds. He explains that his high volume training necessitates it. But I think whole food starches are better fuel than fats. But even if the vegan lifestyle isn’t for you, this last section gives a lot of great reasons to change your diet to include more high nutrient whole plant foods.
All in all, a fantastic read. I would not be surprised to find that this becomes my favorite book of the summer. But, next up, another great vegan endurance athlete’s story: Scott Jurek, six time Western States 100 winner.

Lance Armstrong: Plant Strong!

A little gem appeared recently in the Canadian Huff Post about Lance Armstrong’s plans for 2012. (Why Canada?) It appears that Mr. Armstrong has been influenced by his training partner, Rip Esselstyn to move more towards a vegan diet. Armstrong still allows himself to “eat whatever”  for dinner. But following Rip’s plant strong approach has shown real benefits that he wants to pursue. I’m a little surprised at this, for in one of his autobiographies he mentions that he followed a similar vegan diet while recovering from chemotherapy. Plus, his famous focus and attention to detail, led me to believe that he would have already experimented with diet in order to get every advantage he could. But he clearly shows that we’re never too old to learn new things. He also contributed a blurb to Rip’s book. Moving into another athletic comeback, he is actually changing his nutrition. I hope that he takes this a lot farther. What a great representative of the plant based lifestyle he would be!

Fat Tuesday Plant Strong Style

For much of the Roman Catholic world, today, the Tuesday before Lent, is Mardi Gras, or “fat Tuesday”, the last day of celebration before the fasting season of Lent. Cities such as New Orleans, Sao Paulo, and Trinidad kick out the jams with a party to end all. At least until next year.

        While raucous carnaval parties are not my style, why not celebrate the season with plant strong versions of New Orleans cuisine? Louisiana cooking is well know for meat and seafood in everything, but there is more than one way to cook a gumbo. Many meatless versions exist thanks to the Lenten tradition. It’s not so hard after all to go plant strong for Mardi Gras.

Over at the Engine 2 blog they linked a bunch of recipes.

Here is the usual gumbo recipe in my family. It’s not uncommon for us to eat this once a week in winter. We use chard and add 1/2t of dried thyme along with some cajun seasoning salt.

Susan at the great fatfreevegan blog is from Louisiana, and she has painstakingly converted the classics for healthy plant strong warriors.

My favorite is Real Louisiana Red Beans and Rice.

A cookbook that has some ideas is Good Time Eatin’ in Cajun Country.

For us tonight? The Happy Herbivore’s NOLA Gumbo from The Everyday Happy Herbivore, with the addition of chard.

And zydeco. Gotta have some zydeco, too. With Tabasco.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Vegans Have Better Protein Status

Where do get your protein?

Even contemplate a vegetarian or vegan diet and you WILL get this question until you want nothing more than to stuff the questioner’s head inside a can of whey protein. There are many possible responses that are research based that plant foods provide more than adequate protein. Currently I like this little gem that shows that not only do long term vegans get enough, they are actually better off than omnivores:

If I’m feeling nice, I respond with where do elephants get their protein?

Blank Stare

Green vegetables, like me.

If I’m feeling snarky, I respond with, “Where do you get you isothiocyanates? Indole-3 carbonole? Anthocyanins?”

Blank stare.

“You know, all those cancer fighting phytochemicals you hear about in the news?”

More blank stares.

Clearly, plant strong warriors, the fight must go on a while longer.

Vegan Muscle Building

Now, while I am an endurance athlete and not particularly interested in bodybuilding, I do have great respect for those in the “iron game.” So I was inspired to find a couple of vegan iron warriors, a husband and wife team of bodybuilders that eat only plant based food. Check ’em out at vegan muscle and fitness. I especially like Derek’s description of bucking the bodybuilding accepted wisdom of limiting calories for pre-contest dieting. Wow!  But two links of interest about veggies and muscle piqued my interest. One was the powerful of cruciferous veggies to build muscle. Many are aware of the cancer fighting potential of cruciferous veggies, but building muscle? Who woulda thunk it. Then, another research study shows the power of plant foods at preserving  muscle. Conventional wisdom limits that to protein, and usually animal protein or supplements. More proof that plant power is the way to go!