Matt Frazier is a vegan marathoner and ultrarunner who ran his first 100-miler in 2013. He's the founder of the blog No Meat Athlete, and author of the book No Meat Athlete: Run on Plants and Discover Your Fittest, Fastest, Happiest Self, where he shares an easy-to-adopt and low-key approach for active people to eat a healthy, plant-based diet.
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
For me, vegan was a natural progression about two years after I went vegetarian, mainly for ethical reasons.
My story of going vegetarian is probably more interesting: I was training to qualify for the Boston Marathon (and had been for about five years), when I started to feel an ethical urge to become vegetarian. I was sure that it would mean not getting enough protein and calories to support marathon training, so I went halfway, and gave up red meat and pork. But, soon my progress plateaued, and since I still felt wrong about eating animals, I decided to go vegetarian, despite what I thought it would do to my training. I was shocked to find out that the exact opposite of what I expected happened: when I went vegetarian, I got faster almost right away, and six months later, I took the last ten minutes off my marathon time and qualified for Boston!
How long have you been vegan?
I went vegan in March 2011, so just over three years.
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
Wow, it’s been such a positive change in so many areas of my life that it’s hard to say. My energy levels, my running and fitness, and the congruency I feel now that my diet aligns with my beliefs have all been huge. But, if I’m honest, the biggest benefit for me personally has been that veganism and my way of working it into an active lifestyle is a topic that has resonated with a lot of people. I didn’t have a strong voice or a platform or a clue about what I wanted to do with my life before I went vegetarian (and then vegan), and now I do, so that’s a huge change.
What does veganism mean to you?
For me, being vegan doesn’t feel like a choice. Feeling the way I do about animals and how they’re treated in the factory farming industry, there’s not really another option for me if I want to sleep at night.
It’s a lifestyle that I love too. My version of veganism is a very simple one: my meals are much less complicated than they used to be, and along with the diet, I’ve embraced minimalism in my running and the rest of my life, too. Veganism, to me, is one aspect of that practice.
What sort of training do you do?
I used to be a marathoner, but recently I’ve been more interested in ultramarathons and seeing how far I can go, without worrying much about pace. Last summer I did my first 100-miler, and the training for that was 50 to 60 miles per week of almost entirely easy-paced running. Really nothing crazy, at least not what I assumed when I used to think about what type of training must be required to run 100 miles.
How often do you (need to) train?
When I’m training for a race, I run five or six days a week, with most runs taking me about an hour, and weekend runs taking anywhere from two to six hours. When I’m not in serious training mode, I’m more relaxed about it and run three to four days a week - more for my mind than my body.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
No, I’ve really stayed away from private coaching. One-on-one just isn’t my thing as I’m an introvert.
I’ve got a lot of digital training programs and guides, plus a new Academy site where I do live video Q&As and things like that.
What sports do you play?
Running is the only sport I actually get out and do these days, but I like skiing and golf when I make the effort to do them. I played golf and baseball in high school, and was a decent golfer back in the day, but rode the bench in baseball.
Of course there’s the protein thing and “vegans can’t be athletes,” but one that’s more important for me to address is “vegans are preachy.” I used to think the same thing, and that actually turned me off for years and was my excuse to keep eating meat. I didn’t want to be “one of those people,” I told myself. So I’m on a mission now to be the opposite of militant and preachy, to reach all those people like I used to be, who are interested in the personal choice of veganism but not necessarily in becoming an activist.
What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
I have more energy than I ever used to. I weigh less but haven’t lost strength, and that’s an advantage in endurance sports. Injuries have become nearly non-existent for me. Is that because of veganism? I can’t say for sure, but I didn’t dare to dream of running 50 or 100 miles before - it was hard enough for me to train for a marathon without injury.
What is your biggest challenge?
Finding the time to do everything I want to do. I’ve got the energy for it, but with running a business, being a parent, training for ultramarathons, reading, and having a billion other interests that I tend to get obsessed with, it’s frustrating to me that there aren’t more hours in the day.
Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
Yes, the people I encounter in the blogosphere are almost all open-minded. I don’t see a lot of hate or strong anti-vegan ideas. Maybe my laid-back attitude about my diet, not trying to push it on anyone who isn’t interested, doesn’t make trolling much fun.
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
Absolutely. A few of them have actually become vegetarian or vegan - I like to think as a result of my doing it. Those who haven’t, which is most of them, of course, are totally cool with it. I guess we don’t really focus on the differences in what we eat and just like to hang out like always. I don’t like to make a scene, so I eat ahead of time or bring a dish if there’s a party where I know there won’t be anything for me.
What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
They ask what my reason is. What I say is the truth: primarily it was an ethical decision, but I’ve since discovered the health benefits and they’re a big part of it for me too.
Who or what motivates you?
Stories of people who have big, ridiculous dreams, get knocked down over and over, ridiculed and mocked, but for some unknowable reason refuse to give up. You know, like (the movie) Rudy - I cry every time I watch that.
Breakfast - A smoothie, made of berries, a banana, a leafy green, and a bunch of ground up nuts and seeds. Every day.
Lunch - Leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. If for some reason I don’t have them, then a huge salad with beans and a nut-based dressing, along with some fruit and a pita with hummus or almond butter spread on it.
Dinner - A big salad, and then often some combination of a grain + a green + a bean. I love making authentic ethnic food, like Indian, Sri Lankan, and Thai dishes. I’m a sucker for Italian food too, so a lot of pasta dishes with beans in the sauce.
Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) - Fruit, especially oranges. Whole-wheat pita with hummus or almond butter. Mostly raw trail mix (Strider’s Snack from Whole Foods). Sometimes cereal with almond milk - recently I’ve been into Rip’s Big Bowl, from Engine 2.
What is your favourite source of:
Protein - Lentils, especially red.
Calcium - Broccoli.
Iron - Pumpkin seeds, in my smoothie.
What foods give you the most energy?
Fruits, like in my morning smoothie. Fresh dates when I run, too.
Do you take any supplements?
Yes, a multivitamin and DHA/EPA supplement – both from Dr. Fuhrman.
What is your top tip for:
Gaining muscle - Stop running and start eating, especially fats. Lift hard at the gym but for just 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times per week. (Here’s a post about an experiment I did where I gained 17 pounds in 8 weeks.)
Losing weight - Stop eating oil, stop eating between meals, and eat a gigantic salad (with nut-based dressing, not oil) before every meal, or make that your meal if possible. Basically, the Eat to Live plan - I’ve met so many people who lost 20+ pounds with it.
Maintaining weight - Base your diet on whole foods, some raw, some cooked. I think a little oil is fine, but don't eat too much of it.
Improving metabolism - I don’t really believe in speeding up metabolism as a healthy goal. From a longevity perspective, I’d prefer to have a slow metabolism, and get by on fewer calories. Just eat whole foods and your body will do what it’s supposed to do, in most cases.
Toning up - Again, eat whole foods, but do some exercise. You don’t need to do anything crazy -- walking or running for maybe 30 minutes a few times a week, plus some body weight exercises.
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
Above all, I strive to be an example, and to let people see what I do, read my blog, and hopefully be inspired to give the diet a try. I love when someone in my non-digital life doesn’t realize I’m vegan until after we’ve known each other for a several weeks and hung out several times. I know many vegans feel it’s their duty to be as vocal as possible about it, and that’s totally cool - some people won’t be reached any other way. But, for my part, I like to appeal to another set of people - those who will be pleasantly surprised to learn that you can be both vegan and “normal.”
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
My blog is No Meat Athlete, and just about everything I do is there! I wrote a book by the same title and do a podcast, too. You can always get in touch on Twitter or FaceBook.