Dynise Balcavage talks about her inspiration, experiences, and favorite foods.

At Starlite Cuisine we love our customers. We had the opportunity to interview one our of favorite vegan athletes and a StarLite Cuisine fan, Dynise Balcavage, know as @vanillaandzag on Instagram and Twitter. Dynise inspires us by combining her loves of the vegan lifestyle, food, and running! Besides being a USATF-certified track and running coach, she is also the author of Pies and Tarts with Heart, Celebrate Vegan, and The Urban Vegan.

Dynise has done cooking demos from New York to Paris and has been interviewed for the New York Times. She is an avid runner who has run All-American racing standards in the marathon, half-mara-thon, 10 mile, 15K, 10K, 5K, 4 mile and mile. She has qualified for the Boston Marathon and New York City Marathon in each marathon she’s run. Dynise currently races with the Philadelphia Runner Track Club. Explore her blog here!

Q: How long have you been vegan? What is your food plan like?

I went vegan in 2006. I eat mostly healthy, seasonal foods, but I also love a good dessert or salty snack. Since I am an endurance athlete, I need extra protein, which I get via protein powder, and loads of tofu, tempeh, soy curls, seitan, legumes, and Beyond Burgers.

Q: How often do you workout?

I run 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day. I also do strength training and yoga during the week and try to fit in cross training. I am 52 years old and started running seriously at age 45.

Q: Is there something you do every day to improve as an athlete?

Yes, stay consistent and rest. Gains are made by small steps. No single workout will make you a better athlete – but showing up for each workout everyday will. At the same time, your body needs proper rest time- that’s when the real gains are made. This is especially true for master’s athletes (athletes who are older than 40).

Photo: Dynise Balcavage of VanillaAndZag.com

Q: How do you maintain a balance with protein on a vegan diet? Do you take any supplements? 

I try to remain aware of my increased protein needs and eat some quality protein at every meal. I try not to obsess over it. If I am marathon training or doing really high mileage, I tend to crave it more. I do take supplements but not every day. I alternate: one day I will take a vegan multivitamin. The next day, I will take iron. High-mileage runners can easy develop ferritin deficiencies. I’ve been there and don’t want to go back there again.

Q: What is the biggest misconceptions about vegan athletes? 

Are there really misconceptions, these days? Most people I know admire vegan athletes. When I joined my track club, Philadelphia Runner Track Club – with a roster of the fastest runners in Philly which included some ladies who have qualified for the Olympic Trials Marathon – I was afraid I would be the odd vegan out. Turns out, quite a few teammates are either vegan or vegetarian because they find it helps their performance, and there is ALWAYS a ton of vegan food at every club function I attend. I suppose some ignorant people might spew out stupid statements like “vegans are weak.” But there are too many facts that point to the opposite: that a healthy vegan diet is excellent for athletes. I think we can exhale and realize that those stereotypes are so last decade.

Q: Do you feel like you have to prove that vegans can be just as successful as non-vegan athletes? 

I don’t feel this way at all. Maybe because I’ve been vegan so long–and vegetarian since age 14 (I’m 52). And all you have to do is toss out a few key names: Carl Lewis. Venus Williams. Scott Jurek. Rhinos, hippos and elephants are vegan, and I would not mess with them! I also look at my own record. I have only been running for 7 years but I usually podium in my age group, even at competitive races with loaded fields, and this summer, I flat-out won my 2nd 5K ever, at age 52, beating out many a carnivore/omnivore and people half my age.

Photo: Dynise winning the Cherry Blossom 5k

Q: Who is your favorite vegan athlete?

I’m a fan of Scott Jurek, the ultrarunner. He grew up hunting then ditched the meat because he found he could recover better on a vegan diet. He’s won just about all ultrarunning events – not an easy task.

Q: What would you tell someone who wants to become a vegan athlete?

I’d say try it for 2 months and see if you notice a difference. Any athlete should try to eat a well-rounded diet and it’s the same for vegan athletes. I would also advise them to stock up on certain protein and nutrient dense vegan foods that will make their lives easier–StarLite Cuisine, perhaps, to make when you are too tired to cook right after a key workout? Also protein powders, beans and other vegan meal staples. I’d also advise them to read Scott Jurek’s book because it not only tells his story–about how going vegan helped his performance — but he also includes some tasty recipes.

Q: What are your fitness plans for this year? 

I would like to concentrate on PRing in the 5K and maybe the 10K – the races I feel most comfortable in and do best in. Each year, I always feel compelled to run a marathon. I just ran the St George Marathon this October and PRed. But training well for a marathon versus a 5K are two different beasts! I’ve been told I have speed at shorter distances, so I am also thinking about trying the mile and maybe the 400 or 800 in true track and field style to see how I like them. We’ll see. I also know that I want to work more yoga and cross-training into my schedule. They agree with me, as does running higher mileage.

Q: Do you have any tips for traveling as a vegan or eating vegan at an airport? 

I’ve traveled to more than 35 countries, and have rarely run into problems finding vegan foods at airports, especially nowadays. If you are worried, the best thing to do it to pack your own meal – PB & J on Eziekel bread is a no brainer. But most airports have plenty (planty?!) of options – especially at Mexican and Japanese restaurants. More airports have juice chains and healthy chains these days. Happycow.net is a great resource for veg travelers. It features vegan and vegan friendly restaurants all over the world.

Q: What is your favorite cheat food/meal? 

I don’t believe in “cheat” foods/meals. This mentality casts food as “good” or “bad.” It makes our special foods seem like villians and they are not. I generally try to eat 80 % healthily and enjoy decadent, snack-type stuff 20% of the time. My favorite foods are spinach, Mexican cuisine, pasta, coconut ice cream and any dessert that includes lemon. 🙂

More and more athletes are choosing to power their bodies with plants and Dynise is just one of the many amazing athletes out there.  Are you a vegan athlete?  Has this interview inspired you to keep up your fitness goals and resolutions?  Let us know in the comments and feel free to share your favorite tips on how to succeed!