Plant-fueled Athletic Ambitions- Part 1

Throughout my vegan journey thus far, there has been one aspect of my lifestyle that hasn’t gone away: the desire to achieve my highest athletic potential supported by a 100% plant-powered diet. Can this even be possible? What are the implications of only eating a diet that does not contain animal protein? Can you be a strong, vegan runner? If I received a dollar for every time I got asked about where I got my protein or nutrients, I’d most likely put down a deposit for a Tesla Model S P85D… right now.

For most people, hearing about high-performance vegan athletes might be extremely shocking. It’s not just vegan endurance athletes that exist, but there are also vegan strength-based athletes. In the past few years, I got to meet a few plant-powered athletes, including Brendan Brazier, Scott Jurek, and Hillary Biscay. It was great to be able to have the opportunity to learn more about their athletic pursuits, mindset, motivation, and diet.

Before I switched to a vegan diet overnight in 2012, I did not know any friends who were vegan. I discovered that there are many vegan athletes around the world, but it’s very rare to find any in the same city. On this same thought, about 2 months ago I reached out to my vegan (and vegetarian) running friends, new and old, to share their insights on diet and training. This is only part 1 of this blog series, so be on the lookout for part 2!

Athletes interviewed:

  • Ford Palmer
  • Cliff Nielson
  • Aaron Stuber
  • Wout Vandegaer

Ford Palmer
Ford Palmer

Sponsor or affiliation: 

Ford Palmer: Sponsored by Hoka One One, New York New Jersey Track Club.

Cliff Nielson: Not a chance. I am a lone wolf, through and through.

Aaron Stuber: Sponsored by Beyond Meat and Skoop.

Wout Vandegaer: Pikes Peak Elite Track Club (US / Colorado Springs) and AVLO (BE / Lokeren). Used to be a Brooks silver athlete back in Europe.

How long have you been running?

Ford Palmer: Running since 7th grade. Running professionally since fall 2013.

Cliff Nielson: This past summer marked my 10 year anniversary of my first road race, where my passion for running was first ignited. It has been a long road with over 20,000 miles run, since that 21:56 5k in worn out basketball sneakers.

Aaron Stuber: I have been running since I was little, but only competitively for the last 4 years.

Wout Vandegaer: Started at age 23. Used to play soccer (winger) in high school. First race ever was an 800m in 2:00.32.


Cliff Nielson

What distances do you focus on?

Ford Palmer: 1500m / Mile

Cliff Nielson: I specialize in the mile run but I would love to compete in more lengthy trail races, in the future.

Aaron Stuber: The last two years have been ultra distance (50k to 50 miles) but prior to that I raced a lot of halfs, 25ks and a few marathons.

Wout Vandegaer: Mile – 5000m

Any highlights or PBs of your running career?

Ford Palmer: 5th at USA Outdoors Champions 2014. 3:56 mile, 3:36 1500

Cliff Nielson: My 1 mile and 10k personal bests are 4:06, and 29:43, respectively.

Aaron Stuber: Finishing top 10 at the North Fork 50k in a stacked field was a big accomplishment for me but I would have to say the highlight of my running career thus far was finishing the Bryce Canyon 50 miler last June on a bum leg and still managing top 20.  You can read that race report at:

Wout Vandegaer: 50.09 (400), 1:49:28 (800), 2:21:92 (1000), 3:45.73 (1500),
Ran the 1000m at the IAAF Golden Spike world challenge meet in Ostrava in 2011.

View More:
Aaron Stuber

Are you vegan/vegetarian and how long?

Ford Palmer: Vegan for four years.

Cliff Nielson: I would label myself as a vegetarian that just can’t fully commit to veganism. I stopped eating meat almost a year ago, but didn’t start labeling myself as a vegetarian until a few months ago.

Aaron Stuber: I have been vegan for more than 10 years now.

Wout Vandegaer: Since 12ish months, vegan for 70-80% of the time. Travel is sometimes a constraining factor. 100% vegetarian since September 2013.

If you are vegetarian, do you think you’ll transition to veganism?

Cliff Nielson: I think that transition to veganism is a natural one and I am on that path. I just have to give my friends and family a chance to get used to the idea of me being a vegetarian before I make the jump into full-on veganism. I will say that I follow a 98% vegan diet, already. I just like having that 2% of flexibility, just in case, for social situations.

What led you to that diet/lifestyle?

Ford Palmer: I had high blood pressure going into my junior year of college. I watched Forks Over Knives and went vegan the next day.

Cliff Nielson: I initially started following a plant-based diet to improve my athletic performance, but I eventually became more convinced by the ethical and environmental implications of consuming animal products. My reasons for following a plant-based diet are, in order of magnitude: ethical, environmental, health.

Aaron Stuber: I wanted to improve my health and performance as an athlete but I was also curious about the environmental and ethical arguments for abstaining from animal consumption.  I read The China Study, The Food Revolution and some works by Peter Singer, went vegan almost overnight and never looked back.

Wout Vandegaer: The enormous carbon footprint of a non-vegan lifestyle is not sustainable for our future generations.

Wout Vandegaer (right)

How has your diet impacted your training?

Ford Palmer: My mile time has dropped from 4:25 to 3:56 in four years.

Cliff Nielson: My energy throughout the day and during my training sessions became more consistent and reliable. I could come back, day after day, motivated and ready to train hard. I also became a much more happy and positive person, as well.

Aaron Stuber: A plant-based diet has impacted my athletic performance mostly from the perspective of improved recovery and optimal fueling during long, low intensity cardiovascular efforts.  I have found fruit to be an ideal fuel during training and racing that causes minimal stomach issues, provides immediate, easily digested fuel and keeps me hydrated.

Wout Vandegaer: It improved my recovery from harder track workouts or long runs.

Do you have any favorite vegan athletes that inspire you?

Ford Palmer: I’m a fan of Scott Jurek, I’ve read a few of his books.

Cliff Nielson: Rich Roll and Scott Jurek, of course. Another guy that inspires the crap out of me is Josh LaJaunie- he was a 410 lb. average joe from Louisiana that went vegan, lost 220 lbs and started running ultramarathons.

Aaron Stuber: I am fond of Brendan Brazier, Rich Roll, David Carter, Scott Jurek and many other vegan athletes.

Wout Vandegaer: Brandan Brazier (triathlon / fitness) / Rich Roll (ultra-triathlon) / Scott Jurek (ultra-running) / Arne Gabius (2:08 marathoner)

Do you take any supplements (please list)?

Ford Palmer: I take a B complex vitamin to get an adequate amount of B-12.

Cliff Nielson: Supplements that I take with consistency: Glutamine, Beta-Alanine, Citrulline Malate, L-Carnitine, Creatine, Vitamin D3, Vitamin K2, Folate, Magnesium, and Vitamin B Complex. I also take a daily multivitamin.

Aaron Stuber: As a Skoop athlete, I use their entire line of whole food, plant-based powders. I also take a vitamin D and vitamin B12 supplement a few times a week.

Wout Vandegaer: Vega protein, B12 complex.

What is your favorite vegan dish?

Ford Palmer: My favorite vegan dish would have to be quinoa, veggies, beans, avocado, and cumin. My favorite vegan snack is hummus and chips.

Cliff Nielson: Literally anything Indian. I have recently fallen in love with Chickpea Masala- it is more of a treat for me because of how loaded it is with coconut milk.

Aaron Stuber: Anything Indian, Ethiopian or Middle Eastern.

Wout Vandegaer: A hearthy warm beet salad with nut cheese.

What’s your favorite vegan restaurant?

Ford Palmer: My favorite “vegan” restaurant would have to be any burrito chain such as Chipotle, Qdoba, Moe’s, and Pancheros.

Cliff Nielson: There is a Vegan/American restaurant here in downtown Phoenix, Arizona by the name of Green that I absolutely love. They also have a vegan dessert shop next door that has the best vegan cookie dough that I have ever had.

Aaron Stuber: An even tie between Watercourse in Denver, CO and Vita Café in Portland, OR.

Wout Vandegaer: Watercourse Foods (US / Denver, CO)

What motivates you to continue training and only eating plants?

Ford Palmer: I’m training to be the best that I can be and make the 2016 US Olympic team. I don’t consider my diet necessary for my training. It’s more of a health thing for my future. My training has definitely propelled my running times though.

Cliff Nielson: I am a highly goal-oriented person and while my training modality may change, I will also continue to train, just because I love growing and becoming better. Regardless of my athletic endeavors, consuming plants is here to stay. It is an absolute no-brainer, when it comes to contributing to other living creatures, as well as the environment.

Aaron Stuber: I love the way I feel when I am exercising every day, regardless of the activity.  That “high” keeps me going.  Eating only plants is the best way, in my opinion, to optimize athletic performance while also significantly mitigating your contribution to climate change and reducing violence towards animals.

Wout Vandegaer: Want to prove that my training is going better than it was a couple years back. I want to race harder/faster on the track than I did before.

Do you have a website or social media that others can follow?

Ford Palmer: @GoFordPalmer-Twitter handle

Cliff Nielson: The one stop spot for everything Cliff Nielson is This site also doubles as an outlet for me to explore the different avenues for endurance optimization. I also manage a endurance performance optimization monthly newsletter.

Aaron Stuber: You can find me at and follow me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter from there.

Wout Vandegaer: Mostly Twitter – , Rarely –




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