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NBSV 143


Transcript of the No-Bullsh!t Vegan podcast, episode 143

Sports nutrition coach Vic Johnson on plant-based endurance sports, and embracing nutritional grey areas

Karina Inkster: You're listening to the No Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 143. Sports Nutrition Coach Vic Johnson is on the show to discuss fuelling endurance sports on a plant-based diet, embracing grey areas in nutrition and health, and more.

Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your go-to, no-BS vegan fitness and nutrition coach. We are coming up to five years of the No Bullshit Vegan podcast, which is pretty hard to believe, honestly. So thank you so much for tuning in and supporting the show, and just generally being awesome. And if you're wondering how you can support me in producing this show, submitting a star rating and a short review of this podcast is my number one request, as it helps new listeners to find this show.

So on your podcast listening app of choice, please rate this show and write a short review, and I would greatly appreciate that. I recently heard from a new listener, and I'd like to highlight what she said. I won't use her name, but it starts with M, if you're listening. So here's the message: ”Hi, Karina. I just discovered your podcast a few days ago, and I'm already hooked and have been binge-listening to it for the past week. It's very well done, informative, interesting, professional, and most of all, inspiring. I'm just starting to transition to a more plant-based diet for the first time in my life at age 43 to help combat my obesity and PCOS symptoms. I already feel so much better from it. Better digestion, less brain fog, better sleep, more energy. Your podcasts keep me inspired and stimulated to stay on the right track. So I thank you very much for helping me to change my life."

Well, thank you so much for writing me this message. Producing a podcast is not like posting on social media, where you get replies and comments. I just put this out into the world, and I don't hear from listeners, unless they take the time to write a review or message me, personally. So, again, I'd really appreciate you submitting a star rating and review of this show. But you can also get in touch with me in a whole bunch of other ways, including at my website,, and on Instagram @KarinaInkster.

Now introducing Vic Johnson, our guest for today. I have to thank his sister, Marian, who was a client of mine, a while back. She is the one who connected us, so thank you for that. Vic is a sports nutrition coach with outdoor athletes, working primarily with trail runners, cyclists, triathletes, skiers, and other mountain athletes. He has degrees in psychology, public health, and dietetics.

Vic has eaten a primarily plant-based diet for over 15 years and has competed in endurance sports since high school. He loves helping athletes achieve their ultimate potential in their sport through sustainable nutrition and fuelling. Vic says his favourite vegan meal is anything with potatoes, which I can definitely get behind. Here's our discussion.

Hey, Vic, nice to meet you. Thanks for being on the show today.

Vic Johnson: You, too. Thanks for having me.

Karina Inkster: Of course. Let's start with your vegan background story. So I want to talk about a lot of things related to endurance sports and fuelling on a plant-based diet. But for you, personally, how did you come to veganism?

Vic Johnson: So it started a while ago when I was like 15, 16. I was in high school. And my dad had some health problems, and so most of my family started trying to support him just by eating more plant-based. My mom had been vegetarian for, I don't know, 20 years or something like that, so she had done it for a while.

I was in high school trying to become a better runner. I was doing track and cross country, and I was trying to do anything I could to improve recovery times and just feel more energized. And my mom was like, "Well, you should try doing this thing. Go all in." Because at home, that's the food that we had. And I was like, "All right. I'll give it a try. I'll go fully plant-based vegan for a week or two and see how I feel."

And all of my teammates and my coach were like, "You're going to die. This is not a good idea." I tried it, and I felt amazing. I felt really good and kept rolling with it. And then my friends would have questions for me. Like, "Where do you get your calcium, or your protein, or whatever?" And I had no clue. I didn't know what to tell them. And so I started doing my own research, and reading books and research articles and stuff, at a pretty early age in high school, so that I would have answers. So that I wouldn't just draw a blank when people asked me those questions. That's kind of what got me started being very interested in nutrition, in general. From then on out, I stuck with it, and now that's my career.

Karina Inkster: Now that's your jam.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: It's your thing now. That's awesome. So is your whole family plant-based?

Vic Johnson: No, not necessarily. We have a big family, which you know my sister.

Karina Inkster: Thanks to her for the connection, by the way.

Vic Johnson: Yes, exactly. During that time, most of my sisters were plant-based. My mom was, my dad was, and now it's probably half-and-half or so, in varying degrees of whole food versus not, versus... When they're traveling they'll eat occasionally animal products or something like that. So varying degrees, but at family functions, it's definitely a norm to have plant-based foods and stuff like that. That makes it a little easier when everyone around you is kind of doing it, too.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: That's very cool. So have you found that your reasoning or your motivation, if that's what you want to call it, for being plant-based, has changed since when you were 15?

Vic Johnson: Yes, for sure. So my dad got Type 2 diabetes, and that's kind of why we all made that switch. So my very first reasoning was I made that connection. "When I'm older, I don't want to deal with these issues, and I don't want health issues." And that's when I started looking into the research. That was obviously one of the biggest reasonings that I saw or evidence behind it.

And so that was my very first reason, which is great. That's stuck with me. Obviously, longevity and preventing chronic illness and that sort of thing is really important to me. And then along those lines, I was really interested in Scott Jurek, who is an ultra-runner who is plant-based.

Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm.

Vic Johnson: And Brandon Brazier, who's a triathlete. They were some of kind of the early voices in that space. I was interested in that as well. Like, "Okay, what can this do for my athletic ability?" And that was one of my main reasons. I would say, as I've aged and gone through formal training in nutrition and also a public health program, and just as my worldview has changed as well. More and more of those reasons come from more of the environmental impacts, as well as just the ethicality of trying to eat in a peaceful manner for other organisms. And so all of those reasons, I would feel are equally important, but recently, probably more so, more of those environmental and ethical reasons.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. It seems a lot of folks are going plant-based these days for those reasons, specifically.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: And then they notice down the road, "Oh, yeah. It's got health benefits." And, "Oh, yeah. It improves my athletic performance and all this other stuff."

Vic Johnson: Totally.

Karina Inkster: Ethics are still... I don't know, man. We need more people who are coming to it from all sorts of perspectives.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: But it seems like those, for a lot of people, come later.

Vic Johnson: Yeah. And ethics and environment are very tied together, I think-

Karina Inkster: True.

Vic Johnson: ... a lot of the times. I could also be driving less, and there's so many... You pick your battles, right?

Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm.

Vic Johnson: But I think a lot of people, especially athletes coming into it, are coming from a place where they're like, "All right." Especially outdoor athletes, where they're like, "This is my playground. I need to protect these spaces that-

Karina Inkster: Oh, right. Of course.

Vic Johnson: ... I run in, or bike in, or ski in, and-

Karina Inkster: Yeah.

Vic Johnson: ... this is one way that I can do that, and I would feel unethical if I'm not doing that."

Karina Inkster: Right.

Vic Johnson: I feel like those are hand-in-hand, a lot of times.

Karina Inkster: That's a good point, actually. Yeah. Well, how did you get into coaching other athletes with their nutrition?

Vic Johnson: Yeah. Great question. We moved to Flagstaff, Arizona relatively soon after we got married. This was probably five-ish years ago. I was looking for a new job. My undergrad was actually in Psychology-

Karina Inkster: Mine, too.

Vic Johnson: ... so I had done... Oh, nice. It's a great degree to have under your belt. But so most of my jobs had been involved in psychology, up to that point. And when we moved to Flagstaff, I was like, "I feel like really my passion is more of the sports outdoors nutrition realm. And if I could start doing something in that realm, I think that would be really cool.” I didn't, at the time, have any formal training in it. I had been doing it for 12 years or something like that. I reached out to just some of the professors and dieticians in the area, and eventually, I got connected with a professor at Northern Arizona University, and he, himself, is plant-based and he has a nutrition research lab at the school. And he was like, "Hey, we're working on some of these really cool plant-based projects. I feel like you and your experience would be an added benefit to us." And so I started working for him. And then one of the research projects, we started working more and more with the athletes at Northern Arizona University.

And so I ended up doing one-on-one coaching with these athletes. He just set me loose and told me, "If there's athletes that want help with their nutrition, not necessarily plant-based nutrition, but any sort of fuelling nutrition, you can help them." And I would do team seminars and stuff like that. And so that's where I got my first experience doing nutrition coaching.

I started an Instagram account, which actually used to be Vegan Trail Runner. Since then, I changed it. But someone reached out to me. He was a ski mountaineer athlete from Spain, living in training in Switzerland, and he was like a pro athlete. He was like, "Hey, I'm this pro athlete. I want to go plant-based, but I have no idea how to do it as an athlete." And he was like, "Do you coach people?" And I was like, "Will you pay me? I do now."

And so that's kind of how it started. And then relatively quickly after that, that same professor who I was working for helped start a new program at Northern Arizona University, which was a Master's in Public Health Dietetics program. So you become a dietician through the program. I also have a degree in Public Health. And he was like, "You should definitely apply to the program." And so I got in and just completed that program this last summer.

Karina Inkster: Oh, awesome.

Vic Johnson: So I've been coaching ever since we moved to Flagstaff, but officially with my degree and stuff, only for a couple of years now. I've worked with hundreds of athletes around the world already. I feel like I have a lot of experience now, and the letters by my name to justify that as well. And just that formal training helped really solidify a lot of knowing how to look at the research and that sort of thing, too. It was really valuable.

Karina Inkster: Yeah, absolutely. It's a good combo of the hands-on experience and-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... the letters after your name/relevant education-

Vic Johnson: Exactly.

Karina Inkster: ... are both important.

Vic Johnson: Exactly. Yes.

Karina Inkster: That's cool. Okay. Well, let's talk about the endurance athlete piece then. You mentioned Scott Jurek and Brendan Brazier. These are high-level, very well-known vegan distance or endurance athletes.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: So I kind of feel like there's a lot of endurance athletes out there who are plant-based versus folks who are in either other sports or strength-related sports.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: But even then, a lot of people have misconceptions and they're like, "Well, you can't just fuel on plants. How the hell are you going to do that?" Right?

Vic Johnson: Right.

Karina Inkster: What are some of the things that you either work within your work with clients or that you just kind of generally think about for your own training, when it comes to fuelling endurance sports specifically on plants?

Vic Johnson: Yeah. Fuelling is a little different in between those two different disciplines. More strength-based stuff versus endurance stuff. And even within endurance sports, technically sprinting is an endurance sport versus an ultramarathon, where they're out there for over 24 hours or whatever, depending on the distance.

Karina Inkster: Right.

Vic Johnson: And so even within endurance sports, there's different strategies around fuelling and stuff. I would say that the majority of my athletes, there's kind of two main realms that we work within. One of those is more of the day-to-day nutrition. So what are they eating for their meals, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks? Are they eating enough? We look at energy balance, especially for endurance athletes, unless someone's trying to really bulk up. But endurance athletes are burning a ton of calories, especially if they're training a lot.

And so making sure that that energy balance is where it needs to be is really important. And then the other realm is more of the sports nutrition kind of sexy side of things, if you want to put it that way, where you're looking at, "What are you eating right before a workout? What are you eating during a workout? What are you eating post-workout?" Recovery nutrition.

And so those are the two main realms that we focus on with my athletes. And as far as how would that differ from strength athletes - and I have worked with some CrossFit athletes and stuff like that as well - macronutrient distribution is slightly different, right? The endurance athletes, it's really important for them to really focus on carbohydrate and have a ton of carbs. And not that isn't important for strength athletes as well. It's one of the primary energy sources for them, too. But just the amount of carbohydrate. For example, the recommendation right now is anywhere from 5 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight, which is a lot of carbs.

Karina Inkster: Wow. That's a lot.

Vic Johnson: Whereas, more of a strength-based athlete might be focusing more on utilizing body fat for fuel. Injured athletes do that, too. There's lots of crossovers, but also focusing especially in recovery with high doses of protein and things like that. So macronutrient distribution is a little bit different between the two. And then also the timing of when those athletes are eating before a workout or during a workout may be different depending on the type of sport they're doing, too.

Karina Inkster: Are most of the people you work with plant-based? Or are they coming to you because they want to learn more about it, or because they already are? What's the deal?

Vic Johnson: It's a pretty good mix.

Karina Inkster: Okay.

Vic Johnson: I would say probably half of them are plant-centred, or at least plant-curious. Actually, the clientele who I have right now, I think only one or two of them are plant-based out of... I usually work with 12 to 15 athletes at a time, and so a relatively low percentage. So I work with all sorts of athletes with different dietary backgrounds.

But I would say that normally the majority of the athletes who come to me are athletes, like that very first one, who are like, "Hey, I am interested in doing this." Or, "I've been doing this for a year. I feel like my training's kind of plateaued, and I'm not sure that I'm doing it right. Can you help me do it right and still be able to do it, but be a good endurance athlete and have good performance?" So that's probably the majority of the athletes that I work with.

Karina Inkster: That makes sense.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: We kind of have the two streams, since we're doing strength training and nutrition, not the endurance piece. Actually, a lot of our clients do strength training with us, but then they have other endurance sports that they're doing the strength training for.

Vic Johnson: Right.

Karina Inkster: Like it's cross-training, basically.

Vic Johnson: More endurance athletes should be doing more strength work.

Karina Inkster: Yes.

Vic Johnson: That's like our one Achilles heal.

Karina Inkster: For sure.

Vic Johnson: We don't do enough.

Karina Inkster: You've got to convince all those hardcore runners-

Vic Johnson: I know.

Karina Inkster: ... to start doing strength training to improve their running.

Vic Johnson: Oh, it's night and day. It really is.

Karina Inkster: Yeah.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: For sure.

Vic Johnson: That's true.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. So there's a lot of folks out there who are coming to us because they're already vegan and they just don't want to bother with the trainers who are like, "Oh, have your whey protein shake and-

Vic Johnson: Right.

Karina Inkster: ... make sure you're eating your chicken breasts and whatnot."

Vic Johnson: Right.

Karina Inkster: They've got it nailed, but then the other half are curious. They're making the transition.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: They're not really sure if they're doing it right.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: I can see how that kind of support can be helpful.

Vic Johnson: Have you had a lot of athletes come to you, who have seen a documentary? Like seen "Game Changers" or something like that?

Karina Inkster: Okay. Yes.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: When "Game Changers" came out, we had a huge influx.

Vic Johnson: Yeah. The same here. Everyone was like, "Whoa. There's something here." And obviously, documentaries are a little, I don't know if exaggerated is the right word.

Karina Inkster: Oh, absolutely.

Vic Johnson: They're sensationalized.

Karina Inkster: I would agree. Yeah.

Vic Johnson: But still people are like, "Hmm, there's something here. This is interesting. This is cool. I want to see what I can do with this."

Karina Inkster: There was definitely a "Game Changers" effect-

Vic Johnson: Yes.

Karina Inkster: ... for clients.

Vic Johnson: For sure. That’s awesome.

Karina Inkster: I don't want to go down the whole documentary rabbit hole. It's a positive if more people are thinking about veganism. Right?

Vic Johnson: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

Karina Inkster: I just don't know if it's worth it, if it's at the expense of legit information. So "Game Changers" was okay, yes sensationalized. But there were other ones, like, "What The Health."

Vic Johnson: Yes.

Karina Inkster: Just to point out that one, where it's like-

Vic Johnson: The science is a little bit-

Karina Inkster: ... pretty inaccurate.

Vic Johnson: ... stretched on some of those.

Karina Inkster: Yeah.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. So I don't know if it's worth it, in that case.

Vic Johnson: Sometimes you might look at it, and be like, "Well, the ends kind of justify the means."

Karina Inkster: Yeah.

Vic Johnson: But I just feel like especially with plant-based eating, there are so many positives that are absolutely scientifically backed, right?

Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm.

Vic Johnson: Even just looking at environmental stuff. And if you can say, "There is no doubt about it, that this is better for our planet and better for our long-term health as humans, to be able to have enough food and water to drink long-term,” right?

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. Yeah.

Vic Johnson: Even if you just isolate that, that's a good enough reason. You don't have to bring in these other reasons that are like, "Well, there's actually not a scientific conclusion on that. The majority of the evidence doesn't actually say that." And people want these really neat and tidy, black-and-white answers with nutrition and health and things, and that's not how it works. It's way more in the gray areas.

I feel like sometimes it's even damaging to the vegan or plant-based movement, if we can call it that, when people are kind of overzealous with the evidence and saying, "Well, this study showed this, and this study showed this." And it's like, "Well, yeah. But you have to look at that study design." Looking at the real preponderance of evidence, that's something I feel like I learned more in my program was, "All right. How do we look at research?” There's enough solid research that we don't have to pretend like this other research proves something, you know?

Karina Inkster: Right. It's kind of crazy though. I had to take a graduate degree to learn how to read-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... peer-reviewed research.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: Like this shit is not taught-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... in schools, and it should be.

Vic Johnson: Access. You have to have an affiliation with the university in order to access-

Karina Inkster: Right.

Vic Johnson: ... these things, unless you're paying a subscription to PubMed or whatever, which most people aren't going to do. And so what they're doing is they're seeing the research when a news company puts it out. And the news company puts it out with whatever slant they want to do, or they're cherry-picking the studies to put out, you know? What I always tell people is still look at the study design of the meta-analysis, but it's going to be your best bet to say, “All right. What is the scientific consensus on this certain topic?” And that's usually a pretty safe way to do it. So you can even just Google the topic, and then meta-analysis, and see what comes up and look for some solid research. And that's a good way to go about it.

Karina Inkster: Totally. That's a good suggestion. Or Google Scholar - you can at least see abstracts, if you don't have access to the full-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... text.

Vic Johnson: Exactly.

Karina Inkster: Which would be nice if we all did.

Vic Johnson: I know. I feel like though the world would be a more informed place.

Karina Inkster: Would it be though? I don't know if people would take the effort.

Vic Johnson: Yeah. Maybe not.

Karina Inkster: Humans are lazy. Me included.

Vic Johnson: Hopeful wishing.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. Do you ever use It's unaffiliated.

Vic Johnson: Huh.

Karina Inkster: So it's not sponsored. It's not affiliated with any organization. And they do a really good job of... And it's nutrition-based, so you're not going to find studies about-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... like strength training and stuff. But for supplements and nutrition. Yeah. They do really awesome work around summarizing the research that's been done on something and how good quality of a study it was.

Vic Johnson: Oh, I like that. They kind of rate studies. That's really helpful.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. Was it randomized? Was it correlational? All this kind of stuff.

Vic Johnson: Yeah. That's awesome.

Karina Inkster: That's super cool. What you just said about nutrition not being black and white though, and living in grey areas more. I kind of feel like more professionals especially, but just people in the industry, whether it's nutrition or fitness, need to embrace the grey areas. And not enough people do, because we like our boxes. We like our labels. We like our easy answers.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: So how does this kind of translate into nutrition? Why is there so much grey area? And why do people not like it?

Vic Johnson: I think people feel uncomfortable with any sort of dissonance. Like a psychology degree, you probably remember the term, "cognitive dissonance,” when you have a behaviour, and there might be research showing a different behaviour. Any sort of dissonance in that is really uncomfortable for people. And so it's really easy for people to take camps, make it extreme camps among the... If there's a spectrum of ways of being, people tend to gravitate towards the extremes, especially if there's any sort of persecution.

Vegans have to answer a lot of questions. They're constantly getting, "Where do you get your protein?" And so they might double down on, "Well, protein actually isn't that important. If we're eating enough, we're getting enough protein,” right? And then the rest of the world is saying, "No. We need all of this protein. We need so much protein." When in reality, it's like, "Well, it kind of depends on your situation." And for most people, it's probably more in the middle.

Protein's important, but it's not some superfood that's going to solve all the world's problems. And so people just tend to gravitate towards these extremes. Those are the eye-catching news articles, too, right? And so those are the studies that get highlighted. But when in reality, when you're looking at the meta-analysis, it's like, "Well, actually, it's usually more in this grey area. It's more somewhere in the middle." It can be tricky for people to navigate, especially if they don't have a background looking at research.

Karina Inkster: This is why critical thinking, and research analysis, and basic stuff should be taught way before grad school.

Vic Johnson: Yes.

Karina Inkster: It would be ideal.

Vic Johnson: Yes, absolutely. We should be learning those things early.

Karina Inkster: Well, I think another reason why this grey area dislike exists is because it doesn't sell, right? The things on social media, for example, that get likes, and shares, and followers are the exciting, sexy things.

Vic Johnson: Yep.

Karina Inkster: Not the everyday training over and over, doing the same shit day in, day out, that actually works, right?

Vic Johnson: Yes.

Karina Inkster: It's kind of the same thing. When someone comes up with this new diet that eliminates 32 foods, let's say. It sounds sensational. It's exciting. People are like, "Oh, my God, it's going to work." It sells.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: But the grey area, which is moderation, in most senses.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: It's not exciting.

Vic Johnson: No.

Karina Inkster: It's not going to get followers.

Vic Johnson: No. It's absolutely not. One of the greatest examples of that is a greens powder, which there's a time and a place for athletic greens or something like that. It can be very helpful if someone's traveling, or almost like an insurance policy to make sure they're getting stuff that they might not be getting in their everyday diet. But athletes will see that and be like, "Great. I don't need to eat vegetables anymore. I don't need to eat fruits anymore." And it's like,-

Karina Inkster: Right.

Vic Johnson: ... Yeah. That product sells and it has a place, but you still need to eat real food, right? But that's less sexy. It's less exciting and more time-consuming to go shop, and meal prep, and do whatever you need to do to make sure that you have fruits and veggies ready to eat. And so people are going to gravitate towards that sexy, shiny object, that's going to be a quick fix for them. That's not how health or nutrition works. That's not a sustainable thing for anyone to do.

Karina Inkster: I often say to folks who have questions around fitness or nutrition, the answer, no matter what the question is, "It depends." And I think that's why there's so many grey areas-

Vic Johnson: Yes.

Karina Inkster: ... because it has to take into account 20 variables. "Is protein important?" Well, it depends. Are you a sedentary person who's eating enough calories? Probably not. Are you an athlete-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... who's like top performance, probably yeah, you know? Got to take other variables into account.

Vic Johnson: Yes, exactly. No. That's exactly how I've seen it, too.

Karina Inkster: Are there specific things within vegan nutrition that you see changing in the last two to five years? Is there new research coming out? I don't know the answer, myself, but are there things that's changed?

Vic Johnson: Yeah. There's definitely more and more research on it, especially with athletes, which is really, really kind of cool. It's nice that more people are familiar with it, and are demanding and buying products that are vegan. Because it makes it easier for people, right, If there's more available vegan products. Even if they're the fake meat stuff that isn't necessarily health food, but it helps people make that transition. Big companies like Beyond Meat, something like that, it helps people who are diehard meat fans be like, "Huh? This actually tastes really good, and maybe I could do this.” And even if that's not necessarily that much better for their health compared to a burger - there's still a bunch of saturated fat and whatnot - just environmentally-wise, it's amazing if more people can do that.

Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm.

Vic Johnson: And so I think that that's probably the biggest thing that I've seen recently, it's more accessible for people. They don't have to work quite as hard. There's just more information, more products, and more people doing it, so you don't feel so isolated.

Karina Inkster: That's a good point. I went vegan 20 years ago, way before it was cool. And nobody else, except for my best friend was vegan. So it was cool to have that support, but literally nobody else.

Vic Johnson: Oh, yeah. I bet you felt so alone.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. That was way before social media. Facebook did not exist. Instagram did not exist. There were no online communities for it-

Vic Johnson: Oh, yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... back in the day. Things have changed.

Vic Johnson: Right. No, yeah. You probably felt pretty isolated. I can imagine. As far as what I knew, 15, 16 years ago in high school, I was the only one that I knew who was doing that. It did feel kind of isolating, but it also kind of forced me to double down on it in a way and be like, "Yeah. I need to know what I'm doing. I need to fully understand this if I'm going to keep doing it." It was good for me to have that-

Karina Inkster: Right.

Vic Johnson: ... opposition.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. Actually, that's an interesting point. So are there specific things? You've mentioned a couple of things already in passing - calories and macros. Are there other things that are specific challenges to endurance athletes who are completely plant-based?

Vic Johnson: Yeah. Some of the people who are coming to me come because they've been like, "I've been doing this and it doesn't seem to be working." Or, "I feel super low energy, all of a sudden." Or, "I got my blood work done and my iron was low," or something like that. And so that's something that I do with all of my athletes, is we'll do blood work when we start working together. I'll have them do a draw whether through their insurance company or their healthcare provider. Or I work with Athlete Blood Test as well, and they work with my clients, too.

And then I'll also have them track at least for a couple of weeks on an app called Chronometer. You're probably familiar with it.

Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm.

Vic Johnson: Just so we can get a rough idea of what their intake looks like. We'll look at macronutrients, micronutrients. I think a plant-based diet is very micronutrient dense, for the most part. Like plants and fruits and veggies and whole grains and legumes are really rich in those things, but especially if there's not a lot of variety in an athlete's diet. And they're eating the same sorts of things every day. Maybe they're not eating any nuts and their magnesium is slightly low or something like that. And so that's something that we can look at and see when they're tracking that dietary intake. But by and far, the biggest issue that I see is under-fuelling, because they're used to going from this-

Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm. Same.

Vic Johnson: ... calorie-rich diet. The standard American diet, very calorie dense, to this, more nutrient-dense, but not as calorie dense diet. And they feel like they're eating the same amount of food, but they're just not getting in the same amount of calories that they were. And so usually with those athletes, I say, "All right. We're going to back up a step. And we're going to say, I don't really care about what you're eating, the types of foods you're eating. We're going to make sure you're hitting calories first. And if that's adding in some more processed foods to be able to do that at first, while you're kind of transitioning, that's okay. This is more important that you have the energy that you need regardless of where it's coming from, than focusing on those nutrients."

And then once they kind of get that down, we try and focus on, "Okay. Let's get that same amount of calories, but from maybe some better food choices, better sources." But, yeah. Relative energy deficiency in sport, or RED-S, as I'm sure you're familiar with, it's something that's way more common than you might think, and especially amongst endurance athletes. Very frequently, I'm working with an athlete and we'll look at their caloric intake versus expenditure. And it's like, "Whoa! We are 600 to 800 calories."

Karina Inkster: Like, "How are you even functioning at this point?"

Vic Johnson: Yeah. And it's amazing. The body will take care of itself for a while, but it'll catch up to you, right? Someone might be able to have that big of a calorie deficit for several months, at least several weeks. But then they'll get an injury, or they'll continuously be sick, or they'll just start feeling super low energy. And so that's usually one of the very first things that we address when I work with an athlete is, "Let's look at your intake and expenditure and make sure that for your goals, we're supporting what you need."

Now with different athletes, there might be different goals. Someone might have a body fat percentage that is higher than what their ideal body should be at. And so maybe we do want to create a slight deficit with that person, but that means that we have... we're walking that line, right? "We're creating a deficit, but we don't want your training to be so high that you're risking injury or something like that." And so sometimes we have to back off training slightly while they're in that fat loss stage. So it's really, again, just like you're saying, it depends on the athlete kind of where they need to be in that energy balance.

Karina Inkster: Well, we see that in our clientele as well. And we're not talking about athletes even. We work with a couple athletes, but it's mostly professional folks who are working crazy hours in high-level jobs, and they want to be long-term active, right? They want to age well. They want to be like my grandma, who's 97 and still kicking ass, and strength-training, and swimming, and whatnot.

So they're not doing sports or training as their main thing. But even then, especially with newer vegans or people who are just testing out the whole plant-based thing for the first time, sometimes we do the same thing. We look at a couple of weeks of food logs. And we're like, "Dude, how do you even have the energy to work, never mind then go to the gym and do an hour-

Vic Johnson: Oh, yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... of strength-training after?" You know? But I think-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... the idea of veganism for weight loss is so prevalent in the world, right? People are always using the plant-based diet as the next best weight loss tool, which by the way, I have problems around. That's a whole other discussion, right? Again, it's a grey area. And also as an ethical vegan, I want people to come to it and stay vegan. And I generally think people who come to it as a "diet," and I'm using air quotes for diet.

Vic Johnson: Not as a lifestyle.

Karina Inkster: Not as a lifestyle, exactly.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: They're generally not going to stick with it for that long.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: Yeah. Even folks who are just trying to work out three or four days a week at the gym and are new vegans, they're eating the same volume of food. They're plate is as full as it was when they weren't vegan, but they're now eating basically fewer calories for more nutrients, which is great.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: But they're probably going to have to eat a larger volume of food, which I think freaks some people out sometimes.

Vic Johnson: It does. And it's tough on people, too. A lot of times digestion kind of suffers at first, because-

Karina Inkster: Right. Yeah.

Vic Johnson: ... they're used to eating maybe 15 grams of fibre a day, and all of a sudden-

Karina Inkster: Yeah. And now they're doing like 70.

Vic Johnson: ... it's ramped up to... Yeah. It's ramped up to 45-

Karina Inkster: Or more.

Vic Johnson: ... or even up to 100 grams a day. And it's like, "Whoa!" The gut does... the microbiome needs a little bit of time to adjust to that.

Karina Inkster: Mm-hmm.

Vic Johnson: And for some people, that's a huge turnoff, right? They'll be like, "Well, all of a sudden I feel super bloaty and gassy, and I'm not making it through a workout without having to go to the bathroom several times." And it's like, "Okay. Well, we need to slow that down a little bit. First of all, we need to time that pre-workout meal better, and make sure that there's not a huge amount of fibre in that." But also just lowering the fibre load and slowly advancing that and saying, "All right. This week we're going to try to hit this much fibre and do these sorts of foods.” And then slowly advance that until their body adjusts and gets used to that. It's hard for athletes who are like, "I want to do this, but my digestion feels horrible, so I'm going to stop."

Karina Inkster: Yeah. Well, this is where you come in, where you can lead people through-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... that process.

Vic Johnson: Yes, exactly.

Karina Inkster: Even people who are on their feet, not necessarily athletes, but people who have active jobs or even just walking around.

Vic Johnson: Oh, yeah.

Karina Inkster: It's a pretty decent calorie expenditure.

Vic Johnson: It is.

Karina Inkster: I always use the example of when I trained clients in person, which I did in gym situations for seven years before I went completely online.

Vic Johnson: Right.

Karina Inkster: My calorie expenditure at that point, including my training, which is basically the same still-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... was like 3,300 to 3,500-

Vic Johnson: Oh, yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... easily a day just to maintain.

Vic Johnson: Oh, yeah.

Karina Inkster: And that's a crapload of vegan whole foods, man. I was eating basically nonstop.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: All the time.

Vic Johnson: Oh, totally. People have this crazy idea that, "Oh, I'm this little runner girl. I only need 1200 calories." It's like, "Have you seen your training load? No, you don't. You need like 4,000 calories."

Karina Inkster: Yeah, exactly.

Vic Johnson: So, yeah. It's kind of a wake-up call for a lot of athletes, I think.

Karina Inkster: Totally. So what does your own training look like?

Vic Johnson: We have a two-month-old right now, so it's kind of whatever I can do right now.

Karina Inkster: Good times. Mm-hmm.

Vic Johnson: But normally, I try to do at least a few races a year or a few epic adventures. Maybe they're not official races, but they're like self-supported things that I want to do. Hit a certain number of summits or something like that, in a certain given amount of time. But I usually am either running or cycling every other day. In the winter, it's more running or skiing. I do a lot of cross-country skiing, too. And then I try to do strength training as part of that. And even if it's something small, 15 minutes every other day or something before I go out on a run.

Karina Inkster: It makes a big difference.

Vic Johnson: Yeah. Working with the glute bands. I have a kettlebell down here and doing lunges and squats. Even if it's relatively lower weight, I feel like that helps. That just helps keep my body in the place where I can give it a big training load, and keep running and keep cycling without injury. And I totally notice when I let the strength training slip, I get injured so fast.

Karina Inkster: It's pretty common.

Vic Johnson: All of a sudden, I just start getting niggles. And so it's something that I have to do consistently, especially during a real... like if I sign up for a race and I have a three-month, four-month training block, where I'm intensively training and hitting certain number of mileage every week, I really dial in the strength, because it's just so important.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. I think that's a good reminder for folks who mostly do endurance training.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: You can't not do strength training, and assume you'll stay uninjured-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... long-term.

Vic Johnson: And it is tricky because the endurance side of things, especially if you're doing ultra distance stuff, it takes a ton of time. That is a lot of time. And so someone says, "Oh, well, you need to be doing either daily strength stuff that's shorter, or throw in two to three strength workouts a week". And it's like, "When? Where? How do I fit that in?" But what I've learned is that even replacing some of those endurance workouts, it's worth it. It pays off to have that strength work thrown in.

Karina Inkster: Well, and as you said, it doesn't have to be an hour a day of dedicated strength training, especially if you're doing other sports.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: 15 minutes is great. If you're not messing around, there's a lot you can do in 15 minutes.

Vic Johnson: Yeah. You can get down to it. Right, exactly.

Karina Inkster: Yeah.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: So how do you think about your own fuel then? I'm assuming that changes based on whether you're in a training block or not. Are you thinking about overall calories? Are you thinking about whole foods? What are the priorities for-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... Vic's fuel?

Vic Johnson: Yeah. So I've done this long enough where it's rare that I'll track my food. I feel like I'm at a pretty intuitive place with things. Where I'm just constantly checking in with my body and saying, "Okay. Do I need more?" And if I don't need more, then I won't eat more, right? If I'm not hungry, I won't eat. And if I'm hungry, I'll eat. And sometimes those cues can kind of throw you off, if you're not used to that.

Or you might be perceiving a hunger cue, but it's really some sort of craving or something like that. And so that can be a tricky balance. That's my goal with my clients too, is to help them get to that place where you don't want to have to be tracking your food all the time and weighing stuff. It's not sustainable.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely.

Vic Johnson: It's not sustainable. And so trying to help them get to that place where it is more intuitive, and they're just tuned into their body is really helpful. So for me, yeah, I feel like probably 90% of the time I'm mostly whole foods, and then maybe there's 10% of the time that I'm eating more processed stuff. If we go out to eat, or we want some vegan ice cream on the weekend or something like that.

I eat a lot. I'm eating all day, especially when my training is high. I'm always snacking, eating big meals. And the way that we eat is very simple. We're not necessarily making recipes. It's more piecing together whole foods, a lot of the time. So we'll just make a big thing of rice, have some sweet potatoes and baked potatoes. Make some crispy tofu, and then have whatever veggies and sauce on that. You can do variations of that all the time. So we're pretty simple. For lunches, I do a ton of beans and tortillas with nutritional yeast or something like that, just because it's easy and it's quick. I'm not super fancy with the way that I eat. I keep it pretty simple. Then occasionally, we'll make a novel recipe or something that looks good, but most of the time it's pretty simple like that.

Karina Inkster: That that's a good way of looking at it. I think that overwhelms a lot of folks is-

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: ... again, what sells. Is the fancy new recipe. Or, "Look, I ate a five-course vegan meal at this amazing restaurant," which is great. We have so many options now. But that's not what you're going to do on a day-to-day basis in your house.

Vic Johnson: No. Not at all. Yeah. My breakfast is the same. I eat oatmeal. I'll pretty much alternate between oatmeal and toast every other day. I feel like if you can get one meal and just knock it out and it's like the same every day, and then you can kind of focus on... and then if you're even just making one other entree, and then you have that for leftovers for lunch the next day, it just saves you so much time in the kitchen to simplify like that.

Karina Inkster: Absolutely. So where can people find out more about the coaching that you do and generally connect with you?

Vic Johnson: Yeah. I'm posting on Instagram. I try to post once every day at least, and that's at mountain.sports.nutritionist. And then I have my website, where people can sign up for a discovery call, and that's, Or if you Google "Mountain Sports Nutrition," I'll pop up, too.

Karina Inkster: Awesome.

Vic Johnson: Yeah.

Karina Inkster: We'll have direct links in our show notes, too. So folks can just go there and then not have to type stuff in.

Vic Johnson: That's easier.

Karina Inkster: We'll do that, too. But Vic, it was so great to connect with you. Thanks so much for coming on the show, and I cannot wait to get this out into the world.

Vic Johnson: Thank you for having me. A really enjoyable conversation.

Karina Inkster: Thanks, again, Vic, for speaking with me today. Much appreciated. Head to our show notes at to connect with Vic. And don't forget to submit a star rating and review of this show as the absolute best way to support it. Thanks so much.

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