VLV Articles

Matt Ruscigno is a vegan of 17 years and an expert in the field of vegetarian nutrition. Matt has a Nutritional Science degree from Pennsylvania State University and a Public Health Nutrition degree from Loma Linda University, as well as certification as a Registered Dietitian- the only professional nutrition credential available.  In addition to working with vegetarian clients and athletes, Matt is the Past-Chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  He is a co-author of the No Meat Athlete book with Matt Frazier and the best-selling cookbook Appetite for Reduction with Isa Moskowitz.
An athlete himself, Matt has raced the World's Hardest Ironman in Eidfjord, Norway, numerous ultra-marathons, 24-hour mountain bike races and is a 3x finisher of The Furnace Creek 508, a 500-mile non-stop bike race through Death Valley that National Geographic calls the 8th hardest race in the world.


Why Vegan?
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I have loved animals since a very young age and after a few failed attempts at vegetarianism I went vegan in 1996 at the age of 17 and have been every since. As a teenager, I was part of the hardcore punk music scene- with bands like Earth Crisis and Chokehold who espouse ethical veganism as part of a bigger commitment to social justice.   
What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
The compassionate, motivated, driven people I have met who turn their anger about injustice into passionate activism. It is a unified struggle - in veganism you are never alone.
What does veganism mean to you?
Vegan means I’m trying to suck less, as Food Fight! Grocery says. There’s a lot we can do to make the world a better place and being vegan is an important part of that.

What sort of training do you do?
My main focus is endurance cycling so I spend a lot of time cycling. Though I ride road, mountain bikes, cyclocross and track, so it never gets old. I also do some ultra-running so I do run a few times a week too.

How often do you (need to) train?
Between cycling, running, surfing, pilates, yoga and the gym I probably train every day. I do what’s fun and whatever I’m feeling into - I don’t follow a strict regiment - never have, even when training for something like Ironman. 

Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
As a Registered Dietitian I often give training advice in addition to my nutrition counseling.

What sports do you play?
I don’t really play any “sports”.  Here’s some stuff I’ve done.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
That vegans are privileged and one-dimensional. I approach this by having an open mind and not always talking about veganism. I let my actions speak for me and when it comes up I discuss it passionately but not in a judgmental manner. I often hear, “I didn’t know you were vegan because you don’t talk about it all of the time.” People are then amazed at how much I do and that I’ve been vegan half of my life.  
What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
Most of my foods are superfoods - eating all of those leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, bad-ass legumes and whole grains is a huge strength.

What is your biggest challenge?
I’ve bike toured through Central America, Alaska, rural Montana, to name a few places, and finding healthy vegan meals can be challenging. But, I’ve always found a way - veganism forces you to be creative.

Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
As a Registered Dietitian, I am sometimes seen as being radical, but most RD’s are more supportive than the general public realizes. I’m part of a Vegetarian Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and we have over 1500 members that are RD’s and Diet Techs. Sure, not all of them are veg, but they are interested enough to be a part of our group.

Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
I have many vegan and vegan-ish friends and my family is very supportive. Over the years, they have all started eating more vegan meals.

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?
Most people are genuinely curious about what I eat all day. Everyone imagines their own plates but with the meat and cheese missing; they can’t even comprehend what an entirely plant-based meal looks like. I reach them by learning about what they eat and discussing similar vegan options. Many vegans think that what works for them should work for everyone, but that’s not the case. We need to think beyond our own habits, culture, etc to understand how other people can eat more vegan foods. 
Who or what motivates you?
The world is a screwed up place, but I’m fortunate to know many hardworking activists who have dedicated their life to making it a better place. It takes more than a vegan food blog to make real change. There are activists in jail right now because of what they believe in. We can’t forget them and all of the people who came before us. That motivates me to be a better person and to work harder.

Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:

Breakfast - I love: mashed bananas with almond butter, diced apples and blueberries.
Lunch – Burritos, burritos, burritos, burritos.
Dinner - Stir-fry with a lot of broccoli and purple cabbage with peanut sauce over brown rice. YUM.
Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) - Fortunately I love fruit and snack on it all of the time. Pretzels and hummus are a classic vegan snack I’ve been eating since day one.

What is your favourite source of:
Protein - Peanut butter and pinto beans. Well, not together. But as in both of them are my favorites. I think. 
Calcium - KALE.
Iron - Blackstrap molasses. Just kidding. Does anyone actually eat that stuff?! Beans is my final answer.

What foods give you the most energy?
Fruit or burritos, but not together.
Do you take any supplements?
I take B-12, as every vegan should. Also, nutritional yeast and flax oil are kind of like supplements.  

What is your top tip for:
Gaining muscle - Work hard AND smart. Gotta rest. And eat carbohydrates post-workout, not just protein.
Losing weight - Eat more vegetables.
Maintaining weight - Pay attention.

How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
As a nutritional professional, I’m constantly writing or talking about veganism, happily. And by being a positive example of an intersectionality-focused vegan. I’m also co-creator of the Day in the Life of Vegan Athletes documentary series: showing what it’s like to cook, train and eat with vegan athletes. Here's an example episode where I pace Donovan Jenkins as he attempts his first 100-mile run.
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
Becoming an RD is very hard work, but if you love science I say go for it.


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Leigh-Chantelle is an International Speaker & Consultant; Author, Singer/Songwriter and Blogger.

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