Hi Tera! Could you introduce yourself and give us a little background information on who you are?
My name is Tera McDonald and I live, work, and play in St. John’s, Newfoundland Labrador with my husband and two dogs. I am an adult educator at a post secondary institution here in NL. Throughout the past few years, I worked as a personal trainer and spent my happiest times as a running coach for the local Running Room. I started running in 2005, after settling some limiting body image thoughts, and I haven’t looked back! I am currently returning from a health concern which derailed my decision to start running ultra marathons in 2014, and now learning what this new body wants and needs.
Having previously been on the path to running ultras, how did you balance your vegan diet with intense athleticism?
I ate. A lot. The wonderful thing about eating a plant-based diet is that once you learn to cook a few basics, the kitchen becomes your very best friend. I started by switching to nutrient dense food as the base of my meals: quinoa, black beans, nuts and nut butters, and the holy chickpea. I swear, give me a can of chickpeas and a decently stocked spice rack and I can create any of 10 amazing recipes! The best part is that most recipes are doable in under 25 mins from kitchen to table and that suited my often hectic training schedule. Another way I found balance was doing meal prep for the week on Sundays. I would bake muffins, chop veggies for salads, make a soup, and plan out the main meals for dinners. On a typical day, I was eating between 2000-2500 calories to match the long runs and weight sessions. I had to be very organized and I always carried extra food.
Do you have any vegan athlete role models?
Scott Jurek (ultra runner) not only helped me reprogram my thinking about fuelling and recovering from my runs (look in ANY fitness magazine and it’s full of eggs and dairy as go-to recovery), but he helped me see that I could be a successful vegan athlete. His book Eat and Run is a go to favourite for me; not only for his accounts of his running history, but for easy, filling recipes. Another early role model is former Triathlete and Vega product creator Brandon Brazier. His Thrive cookbook is another that provided me with further proof that I could sustain my activities on a vegan diet. Brazier’s recovery drink recipes are amazing, not to mention his simple, but filling soups! Most of all, I began to seek out like-minded athletes and cooks on social media such as Instagram to meet my need for inspiration. This was probably the most helpful as I didn’t have those kinds of connections or support in my day-to-day life.
When did you become vegan and what was your transition like?
From 2002 - 2011 I was a vegetarian / pescetarian and in the summer of 2011, I took the full jump into the world of whole food, plant-based eating. I was never a fond lover of meat, though growing up in NL there was always plenty. My family fish and hunt as a part of their food stock; eating meat was a part of my childhood. This food style, coupled with an eating disorder that I hid from family and friends, led to me having my gallbladder removed in 2002. As you can probably deduce, my vegetarianism was the direct result of losing a piece of my body to a terrible diet. Fortunately, a university friend, who was a vegetarian, taught me how food could be different. It wasn’t easy at first as I spent many months learning that I couldn’t just remove the meat, eat the rest, and expect to be healthy. In fact, I had to teach myself what healthy actually was because I never really knew.
When I transitioned to plant-based eating, it was because I was interested in both reducing inflammation in my body and improving my recovery time while I was training for my first triathlon. Luckily, I stumbled onto some great online resources and started doing some reading about eggs and dairy that shocked the pants off of me. Based on this research, I eliminated eggs first and saw an immediate change. I then nixed the dairy and I haven’t looked back. In fact, I feel that I have more life in me now than I did as a teenager.
In your life currently, what is the biggest reward and the biggest challenge you experience being vegan?
I would say that the greatest reward is totally selfish: I am healthy, happy, and strong because of the diet I enjoy. Eating fresh, local vegetables provides me with the nutrients I need to be vibrant. I eat fruit throughout the day along with a variety of grains, seed, and nuts. I will shamelessly say that I have been asked for ID to buy alcohol just last week (I’m 36!) and this happens regularly. My skin is clear and healthy. I have the energy to tackle whatever workouts I decide, and I know that I am soon getting to a point that I will be able to take up rigorous run training once again.
I would say that the biggest challenge is eating in social settings with non-vegans. The options are often the unhealthiest whether at a restaurant or friend’s home. Don’t get me wrong…no one twists my arm (who doesn’t love french-fries, chips, or candy?) but too much of that and my glow dims. I could say that at a point in my vegan life, it was a challenge to eat at my family’s table, but now I eat there without trouble. I’ve learned to value the meal at home, and I prepare my meals daily. I spoil friends with the occasional cooked meal at my house and I’ve yet to have someone leave unsatisfied or hungry.
You have an amazing Instagram account with a constant stream of beautiful self-made vegan meals. Could you share your favourite recipe with us?
Well, thank you! I found Instagram to be such a great resource to just see what other vegans were eating; healthy, mindful, and joyful food at the click of a button! It really inspires me still and I love sharing my food. As for favourite recipe? This question is the hardest to answer; I have so many recipes that I love. However, I think my all-time favourite vegan recipe is from Oh She Glows, her Ultimate Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf. It hit her blog around the same time I was seeking food to feed a hungry athlete. I cannot imagine how many lentil loaves of Angela Liddon’s I have made in the four years since!
Thank you Tera! I wish you luck in your continued recovery, and hope that you find a beautiful new balance in this stage of life!