IAm Rich Roll, author of “Finding Ultra.” When I turned 40 I was 50 lbs. overweight and out of shape, decided to change, became an ultra-distance triathlete, and 3 years later I was named one of the “25 Fittest Men in the World.” AMA about my jour...
I wrote a book about my experiences called Finding Ultra, which includes stories of some of the crazier things I’ve done, such as the EPIC 5 in Kona (five ironman’s in five consecutive days on five different Hawaiian islands), and the Ultraman World Championships (6.2 mi swim, 261.4 mi bike ride, and 52.4 mi run), which I’ve done three times.
I’m also an advocate of plant-based (vegan) nutrition and would be happy to answer questions on that, as well.
My story has been featured on CNN, NPR, Men’s Fitness, and the Joe Rogan Experience. You can also check out my podcast and blog. AMA!
Congrats on an amazing transformation. That is simply awesome. If you ran a 50, you can do it a 100. 70% is mental. When you approached that 50 you were prepared mentally for that, not 100. Now it's time to think bigger. The training won't be dissimilar - you can only run so much. It's more about getting to a place where you BELIEVE you can do it. Given how much you have already accomplished, I would not bet against you!
First off, I just wanted to say you have a badass name.
Secondly, I'm really sorry that this is one of the first questions in the thread and I understand if you don't want to answer but:
Where do people go to the bathroom during those UltraMan races?
Sorry I couldn't think of a more respectable question, you seem like an incredible person from the short summary you provided haha
Awesome question! For Ultraman, you have to think more like a stage race cyclist rather than a triathlete (it's a cycling focused event if you look at the distances) so you learn to pee off the bike while riding (you see this during the Tour De France) -- took me a while to learn how to do this. Or just pull over real quick. It's a very long day and everyone has to make a pit stop. The athletes get so separated and often you are riding totally alone, so it's no big deal. On the run, I have dashed off into the lava fields for a #2 on more than a few occasions. Just have some wipes on hand.
How does it feel having the name "Rick Roll"... Would you ever give me up ?
As I mentioned earlier, the Rick Roll thing is a just a fact of my daily life. bane of my existence!
Thanks for this AMA!
1 - What is your total cholesterol? Blood pressure?
2 - What are your PR's - mile, 5k, 5 mile, 10k, half marathon, marathon?
3 - Do you know Scott Jurek and what do you think of him?
4 - What are 4 things you eat almost daily?
Good questions - I need to have all that stuff checked again I suppose. Last time I did my numbers were all great, just don't know them off hand. I have only met Scott once - so I guess I know him, but certainly not well. But he was very kind and generous. We met some months before both our books came out.
Things I eat almost daily: dark leafy greens (kale/spinach/chard), beans, berries, raw almonds, hemp seeds, broccoli, bananas
Hi! I'm a 21 year old fit female with fibromyalgia who recovered from anorexia. I have some health questions because I'm trying to get to my peak fitness without reverting to bad habits or being in pain all the time.
What is your opinion on "green smoothies"? I make them in the morning with non-soy protein powder (I like to switch it up a lot), hemp milk/almond milk, and flax seeds, as well as strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries.
For someone with a disease like with fibromyalgia, what kind of activity do you recommend?
Finally, do you put any stock into BMI? How should I measure fitness? Obviously weight can be really arbitrary, and doesn't tell you how good of shape you are in. And for small females, BodPods aren't accurate at all. When I went in one, it gave me a number that was wildly off. It's kind of frustrating.
Hi there. I am a big proponent of green smoothies. There are some camps that advise against it, as they can be very calorie rich (depending upon what you put in them), so for people attempting to lose weight, they can get tricky. Plus there is something about masticating your food and the digestive enzymes that improves digestion. That said, I believe in juicing and vitamix blending and do it daily. Starting with dark leafy greens as a base (generally kale) and building from there - berries, hemp seeds, chia seeds, etc. They are very nutrient dense and satisfying (like drinking a salad fro breakfast), keep my energy levels high and stable, and tend to be alkaline forming and thus anti-inflammatory. As for issues germane to anorexia and fibromyalgia, I am not a doctor and don't feel qualified to answer that question. As for BMI & measuring fitness - I am more of a proponent of simply finding an activity you enjoy and pursuing that - focusing on lifestyle alteration rather than the scale. For me, fitness is when you are enthusiastically and actively engaged in a (vigorous) activity that you enjoy that leads incrementally, and over time, to better health. For me, focusing on the scale and the BMI can be losing the forest for the trees -- and putting emphasis on a short-term protocol, rather than on a sustainable lifestyle change. I know this response is a bit muddled but I hope it is helpful.
I suppose I would also add that you might want to focus on incorporating as many alkaline-forming foods into your diet as you can - easy to find with a google search. This will help reduce inflammation, as will reducing stress in your life. Maybe think about incorporating a meditation program and/or yoga into your routine.
To add on to this question, what is your resting HR, and HR on a race? I remember in the book you said you were trying to keep it at or under 140 during training, but what about in the race?
resting hr is generally in the low to mid 50's. During most aerobic zone training, my HR will be around 120-130 on the bike; 140-145 on the run. Racing an ultra -- it's obviously higher - you are pushing yourself hard but you also have to go all day. HR runs higher when you are well rested also. So during UM I think it averaged about 140-150 on the bike (with spikes into the 160 range at times) and 145 on the run.
Hi Rich! Fellow recovering alcoholic/addict and vegan runner here. Congrats on your success in sobriety and in your amazing fitness journey!
My question is: What I believe is a symptom of my alcoholism/addictive personality, I tend to be obsessive about things (almost everything). So, how do you ensure a balance in your life while doing all of these "extreme" things?
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this AMA. You're quite an inspiration to me. :)
Excellent question - the ultimate question! Join the club my friend. Indeed, I can be obsessive about just about anything. This can be a good thing when channeled properly and when balanced against the other important facets crucial to living a fulfilling holistically healthy life. Left o my own devices, I would train all day, every day. But I have other things in my life that are more important than this. I NEED to use the tools of recovery to keep me in check and make sure that I am attending to what is most important. For me, the list goes like this: sobriety, family, profession, athletics. And yet I can't be at my best in any of these disciplines unless I am taking care of myself first - through recovery, sleep, exercise & proper nutrition.
I believe I could be a much better athlete than I currently am. But at what cost? I am happily married. I have a great relationship with my kids. I have no interest in sacrificing this for a PR or podium finish. So that means always taking an objective inventory of where I am putting my energies. When I was writing the book, I was also training for Ultraman '11. That was a heavy workload. And a time when performance goals were more paramount than they are now. One of my primary objectives with the book was to create a platform to be of maximum service to others so I can help improve lives. I am very grateful that I have accomplished this. And so my priorities have shifted somewhat -- away from athletic performance goals to service goals. How can I be of maximum service? And this requires letting go of certain obsessive behavior patterns and learning how to be more balanced in my day to day. Learning how to train and race for the pure joy of it, so to speak.
Also, yoga and meditation are very important in helping me balance out. quell the obsessive thoughts. prioritize and ground.
Hope this is somewhat helpful
Speaking from a performance point of view: Are there any benefits of being a vegan athlete as opposed to having an average athletic diet? And are there more benefits of veganism in sport than drawbacks?
Not from a performance point of view: What is your favourite meal? Why did you decide to go vegan?
I originally went plant-based due to a health crisis, not for performance issues, as I was not athletic at that time (6+ yrs ago). But it was the incredible vitality I experienced by making this switch that energized me to return to sport. Then I experienced many performance advantages - primarily my body's enhanced ability to expeditiously recover in between workouts, avoid over-fatigue and not get sick.
Since you have been competing have you tried switching back to an omnivorous diet as a test to see how your performance changed?
No. I have stuck with my plant-based regimen, slowly tweaking and refining it over the last several years. As I mentioned above, I got into this for sustainable health reasons -- as opposed to performance gain reasons -- and remain firmly convinced that it is the optimal lifestyle as an insurance policy against heart disease and other western illnesses. Plant-based nutrition changed my life and turning my back on it after it has done so much for me would feel like a betrayal of the thing that saved me (in some weird way). That said, I am wary of labels and believe it's important to remain vigilant and self-aware, listening to my body to best monitor how it is working. Should the day arrive that I feel I need to make a change, I must remain open to objectively considering that. But so far, so good. I'm 46 now and feel awesome.
I'm really interested in this answer as well.
Obviously I can only speak to my own experiences, but I often see vegetarians and vegans avoid these sorts of questions, because omnivores/carnivore types tend to get really defensive about things and it almost always turns into a shit storm. There is always someone who says "I tried X diet and I felt like shit so I started eating meat again and I felt better."
Everytime I've sat down and had a one-on-one conversation with one of those people, I find that they were neglecting some part of their nutrition. But on a fourm like Reddit, the hivemind takes over and it turns into an attack on plant based diets and on how stupid you must be to not eat meat.
The general answer to the above question is, if you are doing vegetarian/vegan correctly, there is no desire to switch back. Rich has a diet that is working really well for him, so why would he change that?
Well said. I do hear people say, "I tried vegan -- didn't work for me." My response is generally to inquire moree deeply into what that person was actually eating. Understand - you can eat very poorly on a vegan diet. Now more than ever given all the faux meat & processed products available. There is a difference between simply being "vegan" (diet-wise) and eating a 100% whole food plant-based diet. In addition, as stated above, labels can get tricky. the word "vegan" alone is highly charged and has powerful associations -- with respect to politics, agendas, activism, lifestyle, etc. Not everyone identifies with this (understatement) and thus just saying the word can be off putting for many who might otherwise benefit tremendously (with regard to health) from entertaining a new way of of eating. By contrast, "plant-based" is neutral and focused on the health aspects of this particular way of eating that is not associated with any particular political point of view.
The general answer to the above question is, if you are doing vegetarian/vegan correctly, there is no desire to switch back. Rich has a diet that is working really well for him, so why would he change that?
That's a perfectly valid point, but there are subtle differences between what you've stated and, from OP:
Then I experienced many performance advantages - primarily my body's enhanced ability to expeditiously recover in between workouts, avoid over-fatigue and not get sick.
The difference is his implication that the reason for these changes is solely due to his new diet being plant-based, and not other aspects of the dietary changes, or vast health and lifestyle changes that went along with it.
Now, I'm all for people improving their health in whatever way possible! OP has clearly made monstrous strides in that department. However, to say that there are inherent benefits which he experienced which are exclusive to plant-based diets is very non-scientific. In a field (nutrition) which abounds with bad science, pseudo-science, and "bro-science", this type of claim is sensationalist, possibly deceptive, and really just not helpful.
valid point nepharis. I am not a physiologist and don't purport to be. I try to stick to sharing my experience - and my experience only. An experience that of course did not transpire in a double-blind controlled experiment environment. My feeling is that this shift gave me a new lease on life. Is this experience exclusive to eating plant-based? Of course not and I did not mean to imply as much. Just my experience. I am not here to tell anyone what they should do or eat - only to urge everyone to take personal responsibility for their choices and find what works for them. I couldn't agree more that there is way too much "bro science" out there. Did not mean to be sensationalist. Although my experience has been sensational. Thanks for the post.
My favorite meal? That's hard to say, as variety keeps it fresh. I love my wife's eggplant lasagna, and beet/quinoa burgers. But I have a special place in my heart for my daily morning vitamix blends - raw vegetables & fruit like kale, chard, beets, celery, hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, pineapple & blackberries
As the South West region Vitamix manager and demonstrator, I am happy to hear you say this!
Love my Vitamix
Rich, do you have a favorite dessert?
♪ He's no stranger to exercise. He knows his diet and so do we. His workout plans are beyond what I was thinking of. I'd rather workout with any other guy. I'm just gonna tell you how I'm feeling. Try to make you understand. Never gonna swim 6 miles. Never gonna bike that far. Never gonna run a marathon and repeat it. The ultraman would make me cry. I'd feel like I would die. I'm not gonna lie, good luck to you! ♪
hahah. Awesome. Rick Roll forever!
For a hobby runner/endurance athlete, what would you consider the three most beneficial additions or changes to diet in terms of performance?
Avoiding (overly) processed foods (snack foods / sodas at the top of the list)
Focusing on eating whole foods
Drastically increasing the amount of fresh produce in the diet - fruits, vegetable, legumes, seeds
What is an average day's meal schedule and content? Please contrast that with a day spent doing an ironman.
During a race - I usually shun the artificially flavored / colored high sugar products like gels and fitness drinks and opt for real food on the bike (bananas, dates, almond butter (eat like a gel). In my bottles - 1 with coconut water or just water w/ SaltStick for electrolytes. and 1 with a maltodextrin-based product like CarboPro or Hamer Nutrition's Perpetum. Last 90-mins to an hour of a long race (or day stage at Ultraman) I will go for the sugars - gels, drinks. I don't make a daily habit of using these products, but they do have their place in a race context and work well - I just don't rely on them to fuel me all day - in my opinion why many endurance athletes experience GI issues. And once you spike your blood sugar with these products you have to keep using them or suffer a crash (bonk).
Depends upon how vigorously I am training at the time. I go into this in great detail in the appendices of my book FInding Ultra, but in a nutshell: I start the day with a vitamix blend (see above). Usually this is plenty pre-workout but if I am more hungry than usual, I'll add a bowl of cold quino with almond or coconut milk, berries and a tbspn of EFA oil (like Udo's). During a bike workout: coconut water, bananas, dates, rice/almond balls & a maltodextrin-based drink in my water bottle. Post workout: another vitamix w/ focus on protein: hemp seed, hemp protein powder, hemp milk, spirulina, coconut water (electrolytes), kale, spinach & some fruit, followed by lunch high in glycogen - brown rice or quinoa with veggies or maybe a veggie burrito with lots of beans (high in protein). Snacks: raw almonds / brazil nuts, fruit, beet salad & sipping on a thermos of my vitamix blends. For dinner I it can be a wide variety - usually a big salad + a dish with a base of brown rice / quinoa / lentils or sprouted mung beans w/ vegetables. Lots of recipes in my digital e-cookbook Jai Seed which you can find on my website.
Hi Rich. I am nowhere close to your level of performance but have run several marathons. One of the things holding me back is definitely what I consume and although I would probably never get to where you are in terms of diet, I find that the exotic dietary makeup of high-profile athletes is not something I can obtain easily or cheaply. In short, where do you get all this fancy food? I have bags of almonds and plenty of bananas but you can imagine that my local grocery store doesn't have everything you talk about.
Please understand - exotic stuff like hemp seeds, etc. (al of which are available online and often not too expensive and last quite a while) are the icing on the cake. It all begins / ends with produce. Sure, it's expensive at Whole Foods. But if you can't afford organic or these speciality items, it's fine. You can get cheap produce if you look a bit. I just filled an entire shopping cart of produce the other day at a cheap market deep in the San Fernando Valley for a grand total of $24 (video of this coming soon). Check farmers markets and other options as well - you might be surprised!
Out of everything that Rich mentioned in his answer, I think the following things can be considered exotic or not be available in most larger supermarkets:
Udo's EFA oil, hemp seed, hemp protein powder, hemp milk, spirulina, coconut water (electrolytes)
All of the other things should be available in most larger supermarkets. You don't need to spend a ton of money to buy nutritious plant-based foods, nor do you need to buy exotic ingredients. I've eaten all of the exotic foods Rich mentions, and cook with most of the others on a regular basis but they can be replaced with more common ingredients in varying quantities while maintaining a healthy diet for somebody who is a high level athlete.
Were there moments in the past where you had tried to lose weight and what made this time different?
Yes. But I had failed many times over. Why? Primarily because I believe I am addicted (once addicted, always addicted) to unhealthy foods that don't serve me. I would try to "eat better" but it never stuck. I would always go back to the comfort foods I now see I relied on to regulate my emotions. In order to free myself from this prison, I had to focus not on a "diet" but a holistic lifestyle change. I was motivated by pain (health crisis) and this urgency allowed me to follow through. But I had to eliminate animal products altogether, dispense with allowing myself "cheat days" (because these hold you prisoner to your cravings / addictions), weather a detox and start fresh. It works. It might not be the easiest thing in the world, but good things don't come with short cuts. Now I don't think about it that much and have never looked back. And I'm a guy who didn't think any of this stuff would work. But it changed me forever.
Hi Rich, I loved your book. For those who haven't read it, here is the link to the book on Audible.
Rich reads it himself, and I thought it was really good one because it doesn't focus 100% on triathlete training, but talks about his upbringing, struggles with alcoholism, motivation, and a significant life change at 40, etc.
Here is the link to Rich's Podcast on iTunes which is a really good one as well.
I am a beginner runner starting about two years ago (now 40), but I just completed my seventh half marathon in 2013 last weekend, and am on target to finish 12 this year. This year is the first year that I'm really taking it seriously.
Ok, now my questions / comments:
1) I've tried Jai repair and think its pretty good (tastes very earthy, but trying to get used to that). Any updates on a less costly plant based protein power?
2) What do you think about the studies done on the benefits of cordyceps? There seems to be some conflicting information out there?
3) Why all the hate on lower carb diets? Most vegetables are low carb naturally. Low carb doesn't mean bacon/eggs every meal.
4) The podcast with Ben Greenfield was my favorite so far (I'm about 5 episodes behind right now). One thing you've asked for is suggestions on the podcasts. I would say make the ads better. For example, when you do the ad for Audible, it would be great to include a 1 minute clip from Finding Ultra, and maybe a suggested title to listen to that month.
1) JAI REPAIR - We are considering some options on reconfiguring. Right now it's in beta mode. I am doing my best to source vendors to bring the cost down considerably - right now our margins are so low - but I know I can bring it to market much cheaper. Plus lots of interest internationally and as of now shipping costs are ridic, so looking into int'l distribution p'ships. Also developing some new products...keep everyone posted.
2) CORDYCEPS - yes, there is some conflicting studies. In my experience, there are always conflicting studies on everything if you look for it (coffee, red wine, soy, etc.). I focus on paying attention to my body. And I know from much experience using cordyceps since 2008 that I experience an increase in endurance and reduction in fatigue when I am using them. I don't get winded as easily and recover well..
3) LOW CARB: Why all the hate? When have I ever been a hater? I've had more than a few guests on the podcast who are proponents of versions of low carb diet - Vinnie Tortorich, Brian McKenzie, Ben Greenfield -- and treated them with nothing but respect and curiosity. I try to focus on my personal experience. For me, a plant-based diet works. It repaired my health wholesale and has fueled my endurance adventures beyond what I could have ever imagined. I don't judge things I don't have direct personal experience with. That said, I am not convinced that the ketosis brand of low carb is a healthy or sustainable long-term wellness plan.
4) Good point. haven't done ads for audible lately but if/when I do I'll keep that in mind. One thing I do need to do is shorten the long ads before the interview. Sorry about that:)
Is ethical veganism compelling to you? It's great that you're such a good role model for people interested in plant-based diets. A lot of people go vegan for their health and stay vegan for the animals. Is this the case for you? Would you ever consider consuming animal products?
Great question. I went plant-based purely for health reasons. But I can say with all honesty that in walking this path -- and educating myself more fully along the way -- that I have learned quite a bit about the ills of factory farming and the unsustainability of our food system. It is erected in a very specific way to prevent us from understanding or even thinking about how our food is produced - and a system that is beyond cruel. And so yes, I have become much more interested in -- and sensitive to -- the ethical concerns. far more so than I expected to. It is a huge and very important issue. One that is not going away. And one we must confront and solve if we want to perpetuate our race on a planet of rapidly dwindling resources.
What limitations do you encounter eating a plant based diet? Clearly vegan-ism has worked well for you and gotten you into great shape and helped with your endurance but what are some of the benefits that people don't often talk about?
Also, can you share your favorite recipe?
Thank you very much for doing this AMA and I look forward to your responses.
Limitations: hmmmm. I will say it can get tricky when traveling if you don't take the time to prepare ahead of time. bring food for flights. Find out where the good markets / restaurants are in the new town; trying to get a hotel room with a small kitchen, etc. I'm lucky here in LA as it is very easy - but I know that's not the case with everyone. Otherwise it has become pretty much rote for me and I don't overthink it too much.
Other benefits: good soild sustainable energy all day without the peaks / valleys or food comas post-meal. regular (easy) bowel movements. Solid sleep. freedom from cravings. living more sustainably. knowing you are not participating in a system of industrialized cruelty. mental clarity - no brain fog. decrease in appetite - when you begin eating very nutrient dense foods, your body is sated and does not trigger you to overeat. when you eat nutrient poor foods, you get hungry again in the next 1-2 hours because you haven't actually "fed" your body what it needs.
Hi Rich! Thanks for the AMA!
What inspired you to try plant-based/vegan?
What were the first benefits you noticed?
How long did it take to notice the benefits?
Do you think plant-based diets would be beneficial for all/most athletes?
Just before turning 40 I was 50lbs overweight and had a moment walking up a simple staircase one night when I had to stop 1/2 way up - out of breath, sweaty, chest pain - knew I needed to change the way I was living. This was the beginning....I found my way to becoming plant-based almost by accident trying a few different things. When I made the switch the difference in how I felt was basically a miracle.
Benefits: huge increase in energy levels / vitality; progressive weight loss; enhanced mental clarity; skin cleared up; sleep / mood improved; cravings for unhealthy foods faded; energy so high it empowered me to begin the process of getting fit - something I hadn't been in almost 20 years
Noticed benefits w/in 7-10 days. Went through an uncomfortable detox for sure which wasn't fun. But when I got to the other side of that the difference was remarkable
Yes, I do. I realize not everyone may be ready to get 100% plantpowered, but we can all eat more plants. Just the alkaline nature of the diet alone is hugely beneficial for all athletes - it's anti-inflammatory and thus expedites recovery, prevents undue fatigue and illness, which allows an athlete to train harder & longer without overtraining or losing training time due to illness / injury - protracted over a course of a season this translates to performance gains. And not just for endurance athletes - lots of MMA fighters, boxers, hockey players, basketball players, etc. are realizing benefits & gains...
Thanks so much for being a part of the 2012 DC VegFest! We're looking forward to the possibility of having you speak again in 2013.
Now here are my questions:
Do you incorporate any sort of strength training when preparing for marathons and iron mans. If so, what?
Aside from just getting enough calories, do you watch your macros (protein, carbs, fat) at all? If so, what sort of ratio do you try to get?
What's your favorite snack? Do you have a post-race go-to meal? Do you ever throw caution to the wind and munch on the bad stuff (i.e. oreos, unfrosted poptarts, etc.)?
Strength - yes. Core & functional body strength exercises are a priority. Plus a rigorous yoga paractice.
Snacks - avocados, raw almonds, almond butter balls, fruit.
Bad stuff - I have an insatiable appetite for Kettle Chips. Horrible. But I can't say I don't indulge from time to time as a reward. Not a good habit. There are plenty of vegan junk foods out there. And it's easy to trick yourself into thinking you are eating healthy because something is technically "vegan" - this can lead to delusional food choices!
Thanks so much everyone for such an amazing array of questions. I hope I have acquitted myself well so far. Lots of curious questions about how to get started on a plant-based diet, so thought I would just post directly on this. For me, I had to go all in. Line in the sand, all or nothing. I'm just wired that way. But I know most people aren't. And that is perfectly perfect. Which brings me to this idea of "perfection". Throw it out the window. In my opinion this attempt to adhere to some personification of perfection when it comes to diet or fitness just sets one up for failure and defeat. Nobody is perfect and nobody will ever be perfect. Let it go. Unfortunately the idea of going plant-based for those curious can set one up for this defeating paradigm. "I tried a plant-based diet but 3 days in I caved and had a steak. I couldn't do it. It was too hard. It didn't work for me." I hear it all the time. Instead, shift the perspective. OK so you slipped. No biggie. rather than use that to fuel an exit, instead look at it as an opportunity to better understand how you tick. What your cravings are, how you faltered. then adjust accordingly. Start slow. Make just ONE change. Swap the milk for almond milk for example. or just ditch drinking soda. That's it. Small little things generate momentum. And momentum can be everything. Dial in that one behavior change, then tackle another. Make that chicken breast a small side dish to an entree of greens / vegetables rather than the reverse. You see where I am going. Progress over perfection. Baby steps. Momentum. As you start to adjust and feel different, take note. Pay attention to how you feel. Start to move your body and connect. Then look at what's next. Propel yourself forward. Don't judge yourself harshly for mistakes. In recovery they say if you beat yourself up for a mistake, you just made a second mistake. let it go, and move on to the next best choice for you. To reiterate - I'm not here to tell anyone what to do or eat. I'm just here to share my experience and be helpful to those that want it -- that's it!
I loved Finding Ultra and thanks for doing this AMA!
My question for you is: what effect, if any, do you think your history as an Olympic grade swimmer in your teenage years had on your ability to bounce back from the ravages of middle-age sedentary life?
Certainly it was a factor. But let me clarify. I was never Olympic grade. I was good, but never great. At Stanford, I was essentially a bench-warmer. That said, I knew how to train - how to push myself physically and mentally. And it's something I very much enjoyed as a child. And I'm sure that deep down I still had that "base" of endurance and muscle memory from that stage in my life. Not everyone is going to be able to get off the couch and in a matter of a few months head out for a 24 mile run - I get that. However, and at the same time, I still cannot over-emphasize enough just how enormous the impact of changing my diet to plant-based had on everything. I would have NEVER returned to being an athlete had that not happened.
Hi Rich! Thanks for the AMA!
I'm a woman in my mid 20's. I've already lost 50 lbs. Now I'm aiming for that very last 15 lbs to my goal weight, but it's been harder than I thought. I've decided to cut all carbs as much as possible and only have it once or twice a week, if that. I got to the gym for 1hour to 1hour and 30 minutes 5 days a week and drink plenty of water.
Any other advices?
Great work - congrats! yeah that last 15 can be tough. Not knowing you it's hard to give very specific advice. But I would encourage you to take your focus off the weight loss and shift your perspective onto just creating new, long-term sustainable habits related to diet and exercise. It's not about the goal weight - it's about transforming your life. Do that and the weight will come off. Maybe not as fast as some short-term dietary fix, but eventually. And if you have adopted a new healthy and active lifestyle that you can adhere to ad infinitum, it will come off as a by-product of this new way of living -- and that's the prize
Somehow slightly disappointed that this didn't turn into an elaborate Rick Roll
me too buddy
That's a very personal question. I'm not a barefooter, but I do think most shoes -- with all their stability -- lead to some atrophy in the foot muscles. So I do think a shoe that is somewhat minimal and allows your toes to move and your feet to feel the ground is a good idea. I like the New Balance Minimus line. In LA I almost always wear flip flops - I don't like to wear shoes unless I have to!
Hello and thank you for doing this AMA. It isn't often I get the opportunity to interact with a legitimate Ultraman! I have two questions for you, if you don't mind. Your book has inspired me to attempt my own ultra and to take a real look at what is fueling my body.
I read your book and I really liked the fact that you added all of the nutritional info in the back. On top of that, what is a good vegan cookbook that I could use that doesn't require a ton of special ingredients or hours to cook?
I started running seriously last year and completed my first marathon in November. What is some advice you have for someone who has only done one full and several half marathons, but wants to train for an ultra? I've always wondered what the differences in training are.
Thank you for your time and I hope to see you back here again!
Edit: I just saw you have your own cookbook. I would like to amend my first question to any other cookbook or website is the best for people who want easy ideas for vegan meals. Thanks!
COOKBOOKS - I have a super cheap pdf download cookbook called Jai Seed - you can get it on my website richroll.com. 77 pages of super easy recipes I use to fuel my training and very family friendly. My wife Julie came up with all of them with the specific idea in mind that they should be facile, simple, easy to prepare and satisfy finicky eaters and kids. Our kids love te chia seed pudding. Other books: Thrive Foods, by Brendan Brazier; Engine 2 Diet by Rip Esselstyn; 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Coleen Patrick Goudreau; Real Food Daily Cookbook.
RUNNING: Be careful about volume. You must be very cautious in ramping up mileage. the heart & lungs develop fitness more quickly than the legs. You need to give those muscles, tendons & ligaments time to adjust. When training for Ultraman, I never ran two days in a row and spent many weeks just doing short ez runs to acclimate my body. Most people go out and run every day and ramp up too quickly, then end up injured. Also - focus on core strength / functional strength - don't skip the gym; and make sure you use foam rollers & rehab work - active release therapy, etc. This will help prevent injury.
Hi! Thank you for doing this AMA! How does it feel when you finish a race, when you cross the finish line? Wish you all the best, you are a great role model!!
Thank you. Certainly the elation of just crossing the finish line of any race -- no matter how well I do -- is a transformative experience. But for me, it's really not about the destination. I endeavor to always be very in touch with the fact that the true value is in the journey and the experience of all entailed in crossing a finish line. The lifestyle is the true reward.
How do you feel about supplements, protein powder etc? I also follow a plant-based diet and as I am sure you know the first question someone always asks is, "Where do you get your protein?" I have never had a problem getting protein into my diet but I have thought about exploring supplements, particularly for B12.
Thanks for doing an AMA. Your podcast is wonderful! I have been listening since day 1. Keep it up!
I endeavor to meet all my nutritional needs through whole foods. That's the key. Supplements have their place, but I do not support reliance on them as the primary source of your nutrition - protein or otherwise.
I do use a plant-based protein supplement (my own - Jai repair) but it is hardly a daily thing - only when I am training incredibly hard, feeling unusually run down or when I know I have not eaten properly that day. That's why it's called a "supplement" - it's for occasional use.
B12 is the one nutrient you cannot get on a plant-based diet. So this is the one thing I do supplement with daily (I have a product called Jai B12). It's very important. And in fact, many people on a more standard diet are also B12 deficient - get a blood test to find out.
For those in northern climates, I also support Vitamin D supplementation, irrespective of your dietary preference.
As for the protein question in general - here is a post I wrote on the subject that should answer this question for everybody - "Slaying the Protein Myth": http://www.richroll.com/nutrition/slaying-the-protein-myth/
I just interviewed Michael Arnstein - aka "The Fruitarian" for the podcast the other day. The dude's diet is essentially comprised almost entirely of raw fruit, and he is a 2:28 marathon runner. His protein needs exceed almost everyone else on the planet and yet he has no issues, so draw your own inferences.
Hi Rich -
Thanks so much for being such an inspiration! I have a personal trainer/coach who travels around speaking on nutrition, healthy lifestyle, etc. but he is absolutely anti-vegan. He claims that all vegan athletes that are at the top of their game (i.e. yourself, Mac Danzig) turned vegan after they were already a pro and are just sustaining at this point.
What is your take on this? I will never be a professional athlete, but I am veggie and traditional thinking says that I will never progress as quickly as meat eaters. It's disheartening that my coach doesn't see me in the same light based on this lifestyle choice.
Your trainer is not alone in this belief. A belief many nutritionists support as well. You have to understand that there is some paradigm breaking going on here. Certain trainers / nutritionists are simply repeating a curriculum they were taught in their professional education. But know that much of the research science that is taught in these programs has been underwritten by powerful ag lobbies very invested in people believing you need animal products to be healthy & perform. In my experience this is not true, but I don't fault these professionals for their perspective - it's what they were taught. And there are no powerful broccoli or kale grower lobbies to fun research on the benefits of eating plant-based - it takes big money for this research and there must be a huge profit motive behind it. This is why studies like The China Study are so important yet rare. In my case, I certainly did not switch to eating plant-based after I was accomplished at triathlon - it's the exact opposite. Plant-based nutrition created me to become an accomplished triathlete. Period.
Hey there. Injuries: Well, I have crashed my bike a few times - never fun. But as for true injuries, I tend to have issues with my calves from time to time. So I have increased my attention on form / technique in my running; rehab work like foam rollers, chiro and ART (active release therapy). As for avoiding injury - see thread above. Good luck!
what was your sole reason for becoming an advocate of vegan nutrition?
How long have you been a vegan?
Do you ever just look at bacon with lust sometimes? I feel like that would be an issue every now and then.
Becoming plant-based changed my life in so many radically positive ways, it began with a simple desire to share my story. We are the most prosperous nation on earth, and yet we have never been more sick or obese. heart disease is still america's #1 killer - 935K suffer a heart attack annually. 385K of these people die. Obesity rates are at around 42%. Diabetes is an epidemic. And yet these illnesses -- and man others incident to western society -- are easily preventable and in many cases reversible, via a few simple dietary & lifestyle alterations. I spread the word because I don't want to see people suffer unnecessarily. There is hope. there is an answer.
BACON: I am human. It smells good. Really good. I am not one of those people who is disgusted by the smell of meat (or claims to be). I ate it forever ad I enjoyed it. And from time to time, I crave it - for sure. And to deny this fact would be dishonest. But my life is so much better without it, that I make the choice to not eat it. It's not worth it. Plus, pigs are pretty cool animals.
I run a lot (12 miles a day), but I do it in two runs (6m each). I can't see myself going 100 or 50m in one shot. I'd get cramps or pain or something somewhere! How do you go 100 miles non-stop? Or is walking one mile every 15 enough to keep you going? Most of the guys I read about have some sort of walk:run ratio. I always feel like I should not stop or I'm not running!
Very few people -- basically almost nobody -- runs 100 miles without brief stops or employing the run/walk method.
Do you drink coffee or use any kind of caffeine?
I have gone back & forth on this. I have been off coffee and back on it. It's a drug. It's also a performance enhancing drug. I noticed that 1 cup of coffee in the morning has provided a performance boost in my training. So I allow myself this. But I have to be very careful. if I start having more than 1 a day, then it's time to quit. Progress not perfection. Always room for improvement. Other downsides - it is acidic, which leads to inflammation. So best to opt for cold pressed coffee if you can find it. It's also dehydrating so you have double down on the hydration.
Rich, your book helped me curb my drinking b/c I saw alot of myself in your story. So thanks for that!
What did you do when you craved a burger or taco? I'm always hungry when I try to eat veggie. I never feel full. How did you overcome that urge?
I have been able to break most of my obsessive cravings by simply quitting them and weathering the detox until I broke the chains that imprisoned me to that cycle of unhealthy behavior. So you have to really quit first. the obsession wil fade. Then it will disappear. And you will be free. Does that mean you will never have a craving? No. But the cravings won't become obsessive. I deal with them by being prepared. Always having a healthy choice within arms length - like a vitamix smoothie in a thermos. Hit that, and the craving fades..
Hey Rich, thanks so much for doing this AMA.
What is your opinion on the barefoot/minimalist running trend? It grew quickly after Born to Run but seems to still have strong following. The Harvard study shows its safe if done properly, but do you think its the future. Will we see a large decrease in shod runners around the world?
It's very interesting to see the evolution. At the end of the day, no shoe is a panacea. I rotate all different types of shoes from quite minimal (vibrams & new balance minimus) to more standard, like Asics...I think it's very important for the feet to experience the ground. To make sure the foot & toe muscles are exercised and not atrophied. To run varied terrain to make sure all the leg muscles get flexed. But at the end of the day, take personal responsibility by doing your won experimentation and find what works best for you.
What are your thoughts on intermittent fasting?
I think there are some benefits to this. I know Mike Zigomanis - plant-based pro hockey player -- swears by this.
do you feel like a vegan diet changes body chemistry in terms of how you smell? how body odor smells? what kind of deodorant do you wear before big events?
Absolutely. I really don't need to use deodorant as much. My skin got better. Even my poop doesn't really smell bad!
Hi Rich! Thanks for doing this. I have been a Vegetarian for a few years now and have been considering making the switch to Vegan, though I'm a bit hesitant. So I wanted to ask you, as a Vegan Athlete:
1) What are your favorite or go-to Vegan meals? 2) If you want to grab something quickly or on the go without preparing a full meal, what do you go for? (particularly prior to exercise) 3) What is your favorite way to prepare Quinoa?
I'm from the same town as Tim Bradley and watching him train as a vegan for the pacquiao fight really inspired me and I'm hoping to make the jump. Hopefully you can help and thank you for your time.
Hit Trader Joes and grab a package of precooked lentils. they're like $3 max. Perfect - I eat them right out of the package. In a pinch, a veggie bowl at Chipotle is great. Love veggie burritos. Quinoa - just boil it. I like it cold as a morning cereal, over a salad or with veggies.
I have been a vegetarian for about 2 years now, and have had issues regarding being tired a lot. It has been especially bad the past few weeks where I have been falling asleep incredibly early. I am wondering if you could give me some tips regarding diet so as to increase my energy. Thank you so much for any help!
Had to know without knowing exactly what you are eating & doing. But something is definitely amiss. First, get a blood test to identify any deficiencies - iron, b12, d, etc. Something is definitely not right. How much veggie junk food do you eat? Do you have a gluten sensitivity? Could be any number of things...
2 Quick Questions for you Rich!
How long did it take for you to get into really long form racing? Did you do 5k's or 10k's for a year or something?
What is your favorite smoothie to make in your Vitamix?
I don't race frequently. When I do race, I want to line up 100% prepared. And I never feel like I am as prepared as I could be. So I like a very long prep window. For Ultraman, I usually begin training in March for a race that starts end of November. favorite vitamix blends? I have some videos on this on my YouTube Page: http://youtube.com/richroll66
I listen to many podcasts but not so much nutrition oriented as just mind expanding - The Moth, NPR, This American Life, Joe Rogan, Bill Maher, KCRW's The Business, etc.
Hey Rich, thanks for doing this. What's the one piece of advice you would give an athlete on a vegan diet?
don't overthink it
Rich, do you ever have a cheat meal? if so, what is it?
I don't believe in cheat meals or the philosophy behind them. Why clean up your diet just so you can poison yourself once a week? I don't get it. I look at nutrition through the prism of addiction. And honestly, I think as a society we are addicted on a mass scale to foods that are making us sick. yes, addicted. Sound crazy? Check out "Salt, Sugar, Fat" - new book that looks at big food companies and how they manipulate their products to trigger our pleasure centers and thus enslave us - much like the tobacco companies. If you maintain a cheat day, you remain imprisoned to those cravings, addictions and obsessions. Personally, I would just walk around all week day dreaming about my cheat day. You are never free until you break the habit completely. Weather the detox and cravings for a few weeks, sure. But then the obsession lifts. And you are truly free.
That said - there are plenty of vegan junk foods out there. And I do have occasion to "cheat" by eating some of these I know are not so great. Like Kettle Chips. terrible. I am human. A flawed work in progress....
What's your stance on alcohol? It's vegan and have benefits when consumed in moderate amounts.
Well, I'm a recovering alcoholic. So there ya go. If I wasn't an alcoholic, I'd probably get drunk every day. That's a tautology (I think). As for what's ideal for you, I think you need to answer the questions for yourself. All I can say is that it ain't good for me!
I'm no vegan, but I enjoy vegetables but I can't afford to buy enough vegetables to eat enough of them. What are some vegetables that pack the most bang nutritionally that one could easily maintain in a home garden?
I concur with the below. Plus beets. Love beets. Keep the greens - blend them or sautee
How do you compete in something like Ultraman without getting stress fractures or other injuries associated with overuse?
Being very cautious about volume with respect to running. Most of my endurance fitness is developed on the bike. Beause you can ride much longer than you can run - you can maintain an elevated HR for hours this way, creating a base of endurance fitness without risk of the injuries so common to runners. I never run on consecutive days - always a day between. Do not overlook rehab - ART, foam rolling, acupuncture, chiro.
As my training schedule takes up a larger and larger chunk of my time, I find some old hobbies falling by the wayside, and oddly enough I'm okay with that.. for now.
What hobbies have you held on to from your pre-running days, and how do you manage your time so you have time to get away from the rigors of training once and a while? The hardest thing to do sometimes is get some R&R, even when the body needs it...
Yes. Agreed. I would say that training is my hobby. But I have other interests, mostly creative - writing, blogging, photography (see my instagram @richroll). Fortunately for me, my interests all dovetail - they conspired to allow me to write a book, share my journey, etc. Otherwise, it's all about family - spending time with my wife and kids and doing stuff with them.
Can you walk us through a typical week of training? I mean everything. Running, swimming, cycling, strength training, flexibility if you do anything for that, mental training, nutrition (obviously not everything you eat, but whatever is relevant to your training).
That's an enormous question - can't answer it in full, although I discuss this at length in my book. But here is a thumbnail: Monday - rest day Tues - double run day (am & pm run) Wed - am swim . pm medium length bike Thurs - am bike / pm run Fri - am swim / bike brick Sat - long bike Sun - am swim + long run
Add in - at least 2 yoga sessions + daily meditation + core workouts
In all your accomplishments, there had to be a moment where you felt like quitting - what was your motivation to keep going?
Yes. But I also invested a ton of time into the prep/training and many sacrifices along the way, all of which would be for naught if I gave up. Plenty of dark moments -- I recall a few of these rather vividly in my book -- my answer generally came down to having faith that something bigger was at play. case in point - could never have predicted that i would be a doing a reddit AMA and that tons of people would be asking me questions. It's beyond imagination.
Gotta take a break from the AMA for a little while. I'll come back this evening and continue to post and respond. Over the moon at the response - you guys have been awesome and I am really enjoying this. Keep posting the Q's and I'll catch you in a couple hours. AMA!
Aspiring ultra runner here. What is the one thing you wish you would have known starting out, that you know now about distance running/ultras (training etc)?
That it's not about a performance goal or beating yourself up in training every day. It's about finding joy in the journey. Finding peace, happiness and fulfillment in those quiet moments alone on the trail. And embracing that.
What prompted you to decide to go vegan?
Hey Drew - answered this somewhere above. So many comments and threads can't say where but it's up there somewhere!
Hi Rich! Thank you for doing this AMA. I have to let you know how much of an incredible inspiration you are to me. 5 years ago at age 24 I weighed 320lbs (I am 5'6). I began to run and lose weight. I dropped 175lbs and later read your book which lead me to want to try my first ultra last year (a 50K). Just a few weeks ago finished my first 50 miler (Mississippi 50). Thank you for jumpstarting this area of my life! My question is how in the world to I transition to a 100 mile race from here? When finishing my 50 miler I just couldn't fathom doing it again. Any advice that you have would be welcome please! *edited for clarification
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