Catching up with a Plant-Based Athlete


In addition to being the Head of Product Design at a tech startup in Boston, Katie Edwards is also an elite athlete, a member of the Boston Athletic Association, and an Olympic marathon qualifier. She’s also a vegan, fueling herself solely on a plant-based diet. We sat down with Katie to get her take on how a plant-based lifestyle can translate to glowing health — for yourself and the planet.

You have quite the impressive athletic track record, Katie! (As in, a literally impressive record of running track.) Were you always athletic?

I've been running competitively for more than 15 years — a long time! As a kid, I played soccer and I danced, and I did cross country skiing; I was always very interested in sports. I joined cross-country in middle school. Both of my parents were runners in college, and I think they saw that it would be something that I would enjoy.

Running came really naturally for me as a kid. At first it was just an outlet for all of my energy, and then I fell in love with the competition aspect. I would say now as an adult, it's more about just staying healthy and carving out some time to think and breathe and reflect on myself.

Sure, but you’re not exactly just going for an easy jog a few times a week. Didn’t you recently qualify for and run the Olympic Marathon Trials?

Yeah, I did. I guess the competition aspect still runs through my veins. Even when I'm running along the river, I want to catch people and feel strong and fast. But I do try to take it as a reflection opportunity too, to start my morning with a run. I think about the day ahead, run off some anxiety, calm my head while I'm out on the trail.

How did you work your way up to qualifying for the Olympic Trials?

I did my first marathon about four years ago, and my goal was to try to break three hours. That's an aggressive first marathon goal. And I did that, and I did it without taking any kind of supplements or anything throughout the race. I felt really good and it was just a great experience — I ran faster than I thought I would.

And then I started trying to chip away at faster times. So I had my eye on improving by 10 minutes or so, and it took me a few years to get there, but I eventually did it this fall when I ran a 2:44 marathon (the cutoff for qualifying for the Olympic Trials is 2:45). It was really fun to focus on a goal again. I didn’t realize how much I’d been missing that college competition aspect of running.

That’s amazing. Which marathon was that?

I ran this really small race up in Lowell, Massachusetts. I was totally by myself out there, but I made a friend during the course of the marathon. I told him I was trying to qualify, and we just ran together and talked and chatted. His best time was 2:46, so we helped each other get our new personal records together. It’s so fun to meet people through sports as well. It helps keep it enjoyable and helps me not take myself too seriously.

And you put in all that training effort on top of your full-time job?

Training for a marathon takes so much time, and it can be really challenging, especially in the winter in Boston, when the sun doesn't come up until 7:30 in the morning and it's like negative ten degrees outside. But it’s just about being diligent and putting in the time. I always carve out time in the morning before work, so I'll get up at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. to make sure that I'm consistently getting a run in before work.

The longer training runs I try to do on a Saturday so I can get it out of my system and enjoy the rest of the weekend. Those long, hard training runs definitely take a toll on your body.

Were you always a vegan or is that a recent lifestyle change? Was it a tough transition to make?

I've been a vegetarian for over five years, and I think the initial transition from full-on carnivore to vegetarian was a bit more difficult than the transition from vegetarian to vegan. The initial inspiration was environmental impact and animal cruelty in the U.S., then going vegan was just about taking it the next step further.

I had to learn how to make balanced meals that didn’t center around meat. Growing up in the Midwest, it's a lot of meat and potatoes, so I really had to learn how to build a balanced meal without meat — that was the first big challenge. But there are so many great blogs online, and I started by just finding those five to seven go-to recipes and experimenting with those.

What kinds of changes did you notice when you went vegan?

When I cut out dairy from my diet, I felt so much better. It was super easy and super shocking. Again, I come from the Midwest where people love cheese, but once you cut it out, you feel so much better and you don't want to go back. I had fewer digestive issues, and I also noticed my skin cleared up and I just felt like I was burning clean energy. You just feel like you can go faster and longer and you have more energy. It’s hard to describe, but I have definitely noticed a change in that way.

I go to the doctor regularly to check my iron levels (a lot of runners are anemic), and I haven’t noticed any negative impact. When I first started eating a vegan diet, I also used apps like MyFitnessPal to log meals and make sure I was getting enough nutrients. I take a B12 supplement and get plenty of protein through protein-rich grains and nut butters, and I eat iron-rich veggies like spinach.

And hemp hearts?

Yes! Manitoba Harvest hemp hearts were a more recent discovery. I love smoothie bowls in the morning. I eat them year-round, and I’ve experimented with different fruits and protein powders. Hemp hearts are such an easy way to add extra protein. Every morning it’s like a little dessert that makes me happy.

Any words of wisdom for other athletes thinking about making the switch to a plant-based diet?

At first I struggled with figuring out how to create a balanced meal. Having to figure out how to replace a turkey sandwich can be difficult at first, especially right out of college if you aren’t already an experienced cook. But using apps to track nutrients to make sure you’re getting enough food and not eating too much stuff you shouldn’t be eating can be really helpful. And learning to repeat those handful of go-to recipes.

And it’s so worth it. There’s such a huge benefit for the environment and animal rights. I feel like I have more energy, my body recovers quickly, I’m injury-free, and I feel like I’m burning clean energy. And having fewer digestive issues on those really long runs is another big bonus.