Meet Jackie: Plant-Powered Nutritionist and Athlete

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Nothing gets me more excited than a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (or BHAG). Seriously - I LOVE to think big and push myself to the next level. It excites me just as much when others take on monumental goals for themselves as well. I’m your biggest cheerleader if you’ve decided to run a marathon, or joined a fitness group, or decide to go back to school for that graduate degree. When people pause their lives and analyze their path and decide to do something about it I am inspired and on board. When people take control of their lives and feel empowered to extend past their comfort zone to learn more about themselves, I’m your biggest fan. I will encourage and support you because I fundamentally believe in the ever evolving human.

When Robbie approached me about running across the U.S., I was nothing short of ecstatic for him. What a big turn of events from managing a busy and booming pizzeria. His physical, mental, emotional, logistical and organizational demands would be monumental - but he would be pursuing a BHAG so it would sustain him! This transcon run would be big enough, daunting enough and exciting enough to keep his passion ignited and renew his motivation. I was stoked for his newfound excitement for really taking charge and creating his own life story. Robbie asked for my expertise in vegan nutrition planning as well as to act as crew chief for the epic journey of a lifetime and without hesitation I said “yes!”

A Little About Me

I’m from Austin, TX (yup! born and raised) and have been 21 years meatless. I more recently found veganism 5 years ago, and as my journey has evolved in the plant-based vegan world I only become more and more intrigued with the science, data, activist stances, and new recipes to try. When I gave up dairy in 2014 I suddenly stopped feeling sick after my meals! I remember having the realization that one could feel full AND feel satisfied - not sick. I never looked back. I discovered I was lactose intolerant and had been completely unconscious to how I was feeding my body. Once I started paying attention and becoming more aware, educated and conscious I could never include animal products in my life again.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.

That Maya Angelou quote really stuck with me and was a mantra for me. Since I knew better and had become much more conscious about the exploitation of animals and the health and environmental effects of using animal products for our consumption, I felt a fundamental obligation to do better. I had to walk the walk and embrace veganism fully. It was a solo journey for a while and at times was difficult without a like-minded community. My family was supportive, my co-workers intrigued, but largely I was forging my newfound vegan path on my own - spending a lot of my spare time researching and learning.

Once I became fully vegan I noticed my athletic recovery improved significantly. I found many new PRs and a Boston Qualifying marathon time all while sustaining a whole foods plant based diet.

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More recently I took a break from endurance running to pursue cycling. I had always LOVED cycling in triathlons, but hadn’t taken the sport too seriously until fall of 2017. I joined a local women’s team and noticed how quickly I was able to recover during a single race or in between races or workouts. This proved very important in the sport of bike racing as I only needed to spend a small amount of time recovering in the draft and could push again without feeling completely fatigued from the previous attack or big push, earning me many podium finishes. This was exciting considering it was a brand new sport to me and I knew my fuel sources played a role in my athletic successes.

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My Epic Journey

In the spring of 2018 my husband, Jamie, and I decided to push the pause button on our decade-long career of teaching and take a sabbatical year. We chose to thru hike the Appalachian Trail, a footpath that goes from Georgia to Maine through the Appalachian mountains to kick off the year. We hiked 2,190.9 miles on the trail with an elevation gain equivalent to summiting Mt. Everest 16.5 times while carrying all our own equipment and food to sustain us. It took us 5 months to complete the hike (which is considered to be on the quicker side) and we did the entire hike on a vegan diet. Our start date of June 16, 2018 was the first day Jamie decided to go 100% vegan. We plunged together into the wilderness and roamed the woods with lighter food weight than most and were lucky not to experience extreme weight loss issues.

I was so careful about planning our nutrition ahead of time. I knew that losing too much weight would be problematic and was a legitimate concern, so I spent a lot of time researching different foods and calculating their caloric density in my AT spreadsheet, aiming for high calorie foods. We needed to get between 2,500 calories and 5,000 daily calories (Jamie needed more calories than I did as men lose weight much more easily than women do on the AT). By the end of the hike, I weighed exactly the same as I did when I started, and Jamie lost about 12 lbs. Of note, he had intentionally gained 15 lbs before starting our hike in an effort to curb too much weight loss below baseline. We were able to stave off “hiker hunger” because of our incredible nutrition

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Becoming a Plant-Based Nutritionist

My experience with hiking the Appalachian Trail gave me a sense of what Robbie’s undertaking would be like with a Transcon Run. Though there are some pretty stark differences, I actually think there are more similarities than differences in our undertakings. Food weight and caloric density would not be a concern for Robbie, but he will also need to consume significantly more calories than we did because running 40 miles a day is significantly more taxing on the body than backpacking 20 miles a day in the mountains. He will be moving at a much faster rate than we did and therefore burning more calories. I think there is a lot of overlap in the mental game when planning or executing something of such grandiose proportions, and I think my experiences on the AT will help me significantly to crew Robbie.

The transition from completing the Appalachian Trail to becoming Robbie’s crew chief and nutritionist for the Transcon has been somewhat seamless. I have also decided to take classes online at The Center for Nutrition Studies to earn a certificate in plant-based nutrition and will complete the course right before the start of the Transcon. I aspire to use my experience as a vegan endurance athlete who thru hiked the AT as well as my experience with planning Robbie’s nutrition on the Transcon to help others who want to make the switch from eating animals to plants. For many people making that full switch can be daunting, but I know that the benefits are layered and can affect not only one’s individual health and well-being but that of the health of our planet.

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Stay in touch!
I wrote daily while on the Appalachian Trail and posted my thoughts and reflections on my blog: www.jackiejamie.com. Subscribe to my blog there to learn about my future endeavors as a plant-based nutritionist (coming soon!)

Please also stay in touch with me on Instagram: @veganathleteatx