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Sep. 19 2009 - 12:03 pm | 278 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

The meat-free, manly marathoner: Q&A with Matt Frazier

Matt Frazier, on the run

Matt Frazier, on the run

Matt Frazier isn’t the first marathon runner to go vegetarian, and he’s not the first athlete to take their lifestyle to the web. In fact, as I’ve written before, diary-style health and fitness blogs are a burgeoning phenomenon: hundreds are out there, with bloggers offering daily updates on their workouts, nutrition, personal lives and wellness.

But Frazier, whose non-blog life has him pursuing a Ph.D. in applied math, stands out among the virtual crowd. For one, his commitment to a meat-free lifestyle, accompanied by creative cooking and major training benefits, has generated buzz in the food-and-fitness-loving blog-o-sphere. And, of course, Frazier’s a dude: that alone sets him apart, as one of a tiny handful in the blog community where he’s found his (mostly female) audience with his site, No Meat Athlete.

Frazier’s recent blogging successes – his unique visitors approached ten thousand last month – led him to take another major step towards blog world renown. He recently started Health Blog Helper, a website designed to help fellow bloggers maximize their traffic, choose reader-friendly topics and figure out ads, hosting and tech issues.

So far, this meat-free man has been a blog world success. But Frazier’s still got his eyes on a long-time goal: for seven years, he’s been intent on qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which means hitting a race time below 3:10. On October 4th, with several months of vegetarian fueling under his belt, he’ll go for it again at the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, New York. With his big event right around the corner, I thought it was a good time to introduce Extreme Self readers to the meat-free marathoner making waves in the blog-o-sphere.

I’ve asked this question to a lot of food and health blog writers now, and I always get a different answer. For you, what was the motivation to start documenting your life, nutrition and fitness goals online?

The first thing that got me going was that I was so excited about my decision to go meat-free, I thought taking it online would be a good way to share that with friends, make it a little more public. And, of course, it would make me keep it up: when there were times that I might have wanted to stop, I didn’t, because I had the blog sort of holding me accountable.

Beyond that, I think these blogs are a place for people to get inspiration, and it’s a niche where someone who’s not an expert can inspire and help other people. It’s cool when you realize you can have an influence, without being a quote-unquote “expert” in something.

You’re probably aware that there are very few of your kind: male health and food bloggers. And the community continues to grow, with mostly women joining the ranks. Why do you think it’s such a female-dominated online world?

I’ve definitely noticed, for sure. I don’t know, to tell you the truth. Maybe it’s a momentum thing, because women got into it first, so there’s a barrier to entry to men, or men think it’s a female thing to do. But there’s not much talk or mention of it among bloggers, and there’s never any exclusion because of my gender. Actually, I think some readers appreciate the other perspective.

Making gnocchi, a NMA favorite

Making gnocchi, a NMA favorite

You mentioned the influence that these blogs  have, and you’ve started a website to get health bloggers on their feet. Is this a community you’d like to see grow? Do you worry that more and more readers might seek out solutions to their health problems via blogs instead of medical professionals?

I should say that I started Health Blog Helper to make existing sites better, more informative, more useful and more successful. But sure, I’d also like to see new people join up and start their own blogs. I think most people realize that these pages aren’t written by experts. This is a very informal, non-expert, “what works for me” community, and I hope readers take it that way. I think the more information that’s out there, and the more ideas, the better.

I was really struck by your enthusiasm about the meat-free diet. How did you make the decision, and what’s your take on the ultra-healthy, all-clean eating fads among some athletes or advocates for the lifestyle?

It was about a year-and-a-half ago that I felt an increased awareness of what I ate and where it came from, but it didn’t stick right away. I kept telling myself that, as an athlete, my body needed meat and protein, and so “yah, meat-free might be ethically right, but my body can’t live that way.” I’ve always been into these inspirational talks, so I went to a Tony Robbins presentation, and he convinced me that the diet was healthy, and in particular that it was really good for athletes. And he’s right – a lot of top marathoners and triathletes do avoid meat and dairy products. So, I finally got it into my head that athletes could succeed through vegetarianism.

I guess I’d like to be really intense about what I put into my body, but that felt like too much right away. I do a lot of cooking, that’s a big part of my life, to enjoy food that might not be, like, 100 percent clean fuel. But it seems to work for [Robbins], though, and so many top marathoners eat that way. So, we’ll see.

You’re intent on qualifying for Boston. Tell me how you think your training has changed since your lifestyle change and since the blog got rolling. Is this next race going to be the one?

I was injured before I went meat-free, and spent a few months vegetarian before I even got back to running. When I did start again, one of my first runs back was a 12-miler. I did it 30 seconds per mile faster than I had before the injury. That’s when I realized something had changed, something might be working. And I just felt cleaner, less sluggish in track workouts: it felt like I was burning fuel in a more efficient way.

I’ve spent seven years trying to qualify, and I never thought it had anything to do with my diet until now. I’ve been hitting every goal, every milestone, in my training program. That wasn’t the case before. It’s still a risk, it’s still going to be hard going on race day, but I know that if it doesn’t happen this time, it will definitely happen at some point. I’m sure of that.

Good luck! And one last thing – your three training must-haves?

Chocolate soy milk. I used to drink chocolate milk all the time as a kid, so when I found out it was actually optimal for recovery, I started drinking it all the time.

Natural sport gels. Brendan Brazier gives recipes for homemade, all-natural gels, and they’re so much better than store-bought products.

Anti-chafing cream. It’s recently become a problem – you don’t want to know. But this stuff makes a huge difference.


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    I'm a full-time heath & science writer at Sphere and a contributing editor at True/Slant. I also contribute military health news to Danger Room at Wired.com, and have recently written for Marie Claire, World Politics Review and Next American City.

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