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A nine-time Ironman finisher has revealed how she transformed her physique and overall health on a vegan diet.
56-year-old Veronica Mailer, who lives in Austin, Texas, was vegetarian for years. She went vegan overnight for ethical reasons, after seeing a video that she says ‘put [her] over the edge’.
Mailer, who says she found the dietary transition easy after finding alternatives for dairy foods like cheese, started to feel ‘better and better’ as the days went by.
“Just healthy wise, I didn’t have sniffles or stuffy noses in the morning. I didn’t have allergies. Just slowly but surely, breathing was, it was so much better, particularly, running and swimming,” she told Plant Based News.
“[Before] I couldn’t even cut the grass without wearing a mask on my face. I would have swollen eyes and completely stuffed up nose after working in the yard and allergies here in Austin are pretty bad with cedar and oak and I have absolutely nothing anymore.
“I used to have to take medicine, which I despise and Zyrtec, or something. I didn’t have to take anything, not a thing. And I’ve had no problems with breathing with a stuffy nose, none of that. That was to me, the most noticeable thing.”
Mailer, who had been a runner her whole life, said she noticed she had to start paying closer attention to her nutrition as she got older, saying ‘you can’t just muscle through everything and you want to have a good recovery’.
An Ironman race involves a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride, and then a 26.2-mile run.
“So, you need to have the ultimate fitness to be able to do something like that,” said Mailer. “And again, you have to know exactly when to eat, how much to eat, what to eat, to get the best bang for the buck for your muscles, so you can be able to perform for hours and hours and hours”
According to the athlete, before she went plant-based, her coaches would tell her to stop consuming dairy three weeks before every race – which she says would always have a positive impact on her performance.
“I had the benefits and then I would just do the race and then I’d go back to eating the way I was,” Mailer said. “But since I’ve been completely vegan, it was just noticeable as far as the consistency. I think I had a much better recovery rate than when I wasn’t eating as well. Or, before going vegan, I think I had a tougher time with injuries. I think it plays a big part.
“Sometimes, I almost think, that the dairy is a bigger issue then the meat, as far as joints, ligaments, connective tissue. I think it’s really important to keep everything clean and plaque-free. And I think dairy products are sometimes almost worse, in my opinion, because they affect your respiratory system a bit more, even then the meat products.”
Although her exercise and plant-based diet were going well, Mailer decided she wanted to finesse what she was eating, and embarked on a 90-day body transformation. When she started tracking her food intake, she realized she had been unaware of the macros she was taking in.
“I realized that the amount of fat I was eating, although they were under the guise of good fats, was sending my fat percentage through the roof and thereby, sending my calories over the top,” she revealed.
“So I would do long runs and sometimes on those days, I would eat less than what I was, the calories I was spending, sometimes more. But then the next day, if I had a day off, I wouldn’t even necessarily eat as much, but it would still be way more intake than I was expending.”
Foods she regularly consume include pea protein plant milk, beans, tempeh and tofu, and some meat substitutes.
She says when she started tracking, she also realized she was not consuming enough protein. She focused on her macronutrients, eating more protein and carbohydrates, and reducing her fat intake.
“focusing on the macros was what made all the difference in the world,” she said. “Within, I would say within four weeks, very noticeable that everything started feeling better.
“I started running faster and I didn’t have the little aches and pains, because I wasn’t carrying that extra little bit of weight, but it was definitely… The difference was figuring out my macros and figuring out exactly what to eat, to get the calorie deficit on a daily basis.”
After the 90-day transformation, Mailer said she felt like she did 20 years ago, when she could do exercises like unassisted pull-ups. She said her balance has improved, along with her core strength.
She added: “I don’t know what the word is, but I just feel, quicker. My cadence, my turnover when I’m running is much quicker. My strength, it’s much stronger, just much stronger than I was before.
“And I think for me, it’s the pull-ups are a big deal, because I used to be able to do so many and then for the longest time, I could maybe eke out four, but now, I can do 15 with no problem. And, that feels great.”
Advice for change
When it comes to those hoping to make significant dietary and exercise changes themselves, Mailer said: “Look at the big picture. A lot of times people expect changes immediately. It’s a lifestyle. It’s not something that you start one day and you feel different the next day.
“It should be a lifestyle. It should be like brushing your teeth, an everyday thing. It’s something that will, in the longterm, make a huge difference in your life. Just, you want to focus on the little wins, the little gains and how you feel if not, week to week, then month to month.
“And then over time, it’s just a fantastic feeling to know that you go to bed easy, that you haven’t hurt anything that you put in your mouth, you haven’t, there’s nothing feels better than to have a clean conscience going to bed and the fact that you’ve helped yourself be a healthier version of yourself.”