DIG DIET Taj Michelich 2
6 Apr 2015

Eat Better - Grind Further

Why healthy eating can help BMXers not only avoid injury, but recover from injuries faster too...

Words by Matt Ruscigno / Illustration by Taj Mihelich / Additional text by Brian Barnhart

When I was in high school I use to bum 25 cents to have a dollar leftover from my lunch money so I could buy a half gallon jug of ice tea to bring to the trails when school let out. I grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania- home of Posh, Catty Trails and Nam (RIP)- where BMX and excessive amounts of ice tea go hand-in-hand. My only thoughts about food and drink was getting enough of both. 'You gonna finish that?' was probably my most often asked question about food. But then, through hardcore shows and music, I discovered veganism and started thinking about where my food came from.

This came full circle while I was traveling in Europe with BMXer Thomas Hooper, now a prominent tattoo artist in Austin, Texas, and at a fest in Germany met Matt Coplon- then the vocalist of one of our favorite bands: Reversal of Man. Matt saw our BMX bikes locked up and found us so we could discuss all the skateparks we had hit (he wished he had his bike) and where we were finding vegan food (Germany was great because of falafel, but France was a challenge).

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Thomas Hooper - Photo by Jeff Allen


Matt Coplon - Photo by Rob Dolecki

We are fortunate that we can control some factors and reduce our risk for injury now and disease later.
- Matt Ruscigno

Matt is now the Sales Team Manager at Profile and still vegan 20 years later. Similar to what I do, he eats healthy at home, prepares a lot of his own meals but knows it's not always easy to eat healthy away from home. He admitted to relying on peanuts and potato chips from gas stations while traveling with Profile, but added that plant-based and healthy options are way more available today than ever. You just have to look.

In college I studied nutrition to learn more about diet and it turns out that what is good for the animals and the environment is also good for our health. I started eating plant foods because I didn't want to eat animal products but as I got older and learned more I started to think beyond where I was going to ride on the weekend and about my long-term health. Turns out that those who live the longest and have the lowest rates of diseases eat a predominantly plant-based diet.

Plant foods like beans, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts are good for us not just because of the nutrients they have (of which they have lots!) but due to the phytochemicals they contain. Ever heard of lycopene from tomatoes? Or isoflavones in soybeans? These non-nutritive plant compounds may help prevent heart disease, stroke, type-2 diabetes all the other major killers of Americans. And what we eat now matters for our health when we are old. Not just because of the habits that we make we carry with us, but because these compounds help heal our cells every day.

There are many factors that affect our health; the environment, the risks we take and plain old luck. But we are fortunate that we can control some of these factors and reduce our risk for injury now and disease later. Nutrition and food choices are a powerful tool and most people simply don't know, don't care or don't know enough about food to let it be helpful.

JJ Palmere seriously injured his back 3 years ago and progress was going slowly despite seeing a variety of doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists. He took matters into his own hands, radically changed his diet to completely raw vegan (only uncooked fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds!) and even surprised himself when his back healed quickly. Here's what he had to say...

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JJ Palmere - Photo by Kevin Conners

"My diet consist of 100% all organic, raw, fresh fruits and vegetables. A wide range of nuts, seeds, sea weeds, grasses, sprouts, super foods, super herbs and spring water. The way i developed this diet was from a very serious back injury that occurred about 3 years ago. After being ran in hopeless circles by doctors, chiropractors, and physical therapist i arrived at a point where i didn't see any progress in my injury while spending tons of money and time with no results. I knew it was time to do something different. After a lot of research i came to the realization that i was going to try the natural path to see how that worked out. Surprisingly, within a short time I started to see some results and progress in healing. Through this journey of transforming my lifestyle to being a raw vegan and completely healing my back injury. The experience was so profound that it was enough for me to be a believer in what i was doing. Going back to my old ways wasn't even a option. Being a raw vegan didn't only heal my injury but completely changed every area of my life for the better. I strongly feel its brought creativity, awareness, love, strength, longevity, energy, recovery and a true meaning of what health feels like from experience." - JJ Palmere

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JJ Palmere - Photo by Kevin Conners

The way i developed this diet was from a very serious back injury that occurred about 3 years ago. After a lot of research i came to the realization that i was going to try the natural path to see how that worked out. Surprisingly, within a short time I started to see some results and progress in healing.

-JJ Palmere

JJ continues to eat this way and while I can't promise that eating raw vegan will magically heal injuries, I can say we know there are benefits at a cellular level.

Most athletes pay very close attention to what they eat to help them in recovery not just from injury but from everyday abuse. Do you pay close attention? I don't think many BMXers do, but they should.

rob dolecki BMX seatgrabtable KT

Did you know that photographer Rob Dolecki kills it in front of the lens too? You do now. East coast seat grab table. Photo by Keith Terra

Rob Dolecki, DIG photographer and long-time vegan, who is seemingly always on the road, is just as skilled as a good-food-finder as he is a photographer. And it is exactly that- a skill that takes time to develop. Just thinking about eating healthier is a step in the right direction. Sounds crazy, but you have to start somewhere. The next step is seeing what other people do; the video below I made with Rob as part of a project on vegan athletes I make called Strongest Hearts.

While I can't promise that eating raw vegan will magically heal injuries, I can say we know there are benefits at a cellular level.
- Matt Ruscigno

Rob Dolecki - Strongest Hearts

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What can you do now? Start with where you are at. Maybe cooking gourmet meals isn't for you, but you could order a bean burrito next time instead of a meat one.

Here are some other ideas:

Reduce the amount of processed food you eat.

So much of what passes as food today is refined wheat, refined corn and refined sugar; 'foods' that are nearly devoid of nutrients and have no health benefits whatsoever. From soda to corn chips these foods make up a large part of the Western diet. Look around at what you eat- can you reduce any of these or replace them with healthier options?

Eat more of the vegetarian foods you already eat.

Do you eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? How about oatmeal? You are probably already eating plant-based foods and don't even realize it! Start by expanding these foods and meals. Add more fruits, vegetables or beans to these types of meals.

Reduce the animal products you don't eat often.

You won't miss these so let them go first. Substitute plant protein for meat protein in the meals you eat. Tofu instead of chicken in stir-fry. Try adding beans or choose from a plethora of 'fake meats' that mock the taste and texture of chicken, beef or pork.

Don't give up all of your favorite less healthy foods immediately.

If you love pepperoni pizza more than anything, suddenly removing it may bum you out. The most sustainable changes come when they are done over time. Make the easiest changes first and when those no longer feel new, move onto the more difficult ones.

Find recipes and cookbooks that you like and create time to cook.

Skip the gourmet and go for the fun ones. Vegan with a Vengeance, Please Don't Feed the Bears and No Meat Athlete have easy recipes and are fun to read. And the internet has millions of vegetarian and vegan recipes, obviously. We spend so much money eating out- you could save hundreds of dollars by making some meals at home.

Explore unfamiliar shops and markets.

Health food stores and ethnic markets carry a variety of plant-based foods like non-dairy beverages, meat alternatives, produce, snacks and a variety of products that you have probably never seen. There are many types of non-dairy milks, grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and even more ways to eat and prepare them. Why limit yourself to the boring stuff in a 'normal' grocery store? Make time to try different products and the different preparation methods for each. Have fun with this!

Keep healthier foods around and have a plan.

If you do this, it will be harder to lapse into old ways. Form habits and prepare your environment so when you are busy and hungry healthy options are easier to choose. Canned or prepared soup and beans and pre-cooked grains stored in the fridge reduce preparation time.

What you do most often is what matters most.

Eating well doesn't mean you have to eat carrots at a party while everyone else is eating pizza and cupcakes. Preventing chronic disease and eating for everyday health comes from your regular habits, not what you do once in awhile. - MR

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Matt Ruscigno. Photo By Brian Barnhart

About Matt Ruscigno...

I've always had respect for the vegan/ straight edge movement, but it took a long time for me to figure out how to live that way. Making decisions that are very different than your peers can be difficult, but I've found many benefits to doing so. Matt Ruscigno has been at it for 17 plus years and is now a leading expert in vegetarian nutrition. He has a wealth of knowledge on why a plant based diet is beneficial to riders, other athletes, and humankind in general. He is a Registered Dietitian educated at Penn State University and Loma Linda University. Adding some contrast to his scientific community, Matt brings a punk/ do it yourself approach to his practice. His work includes personalized consultations; the bulk of his clients being endurance athletes.

An endurance athlete himself, Matt has completed 500 consecutive mile overnight bike races through Death Valley, joining many others as living proof that vegan athletes can excel. In addition to "Strongest Hearts" and public speaking engagements at places like Whole Foods, he has also co-authored several books including "No Meat Athlete" and "Appetite for Reduction". But before all that, he was a BMXer, coming up in the Pennsylvania trail riding community. Matt is revolutionizing the way people look at nutrition by applying his background in BMX and his vegan/ straight edge ethics to positively impact peoples health. - Brian Barnhart

matt ruscigno bmx DIG tattoo 3 BB

Minor Threat black sheep and a DIG tattoo. Our kinda guy... Photo By Brian Barnhart