If you look at things as a whole, this country is unhealthy. We do a lot of things in our daily lives that are based on emotion. When it comes to something that is as important as your health, if you base things on emotion, you’re going to stick to your ice cream, pizza, and cheeseburgers. Plant-based cyclist and wellness coach Ian Cramer says it’s important to grow a thick skin and do things based on evidence. If you base things on evidence, a lot of doors will open up and you will truly find health because evidence points towards a diet that consists of more whole plant foods for health, longevity and decreasing chronic diseases. Ian hosts The Ian Cramer Podcast where he tackles life and wellness. He shares his wellness journey and all the rich benefits of that plant-based diet has to offer.
Ian Cramer is a plant-based cyclist and wellness coach out of Rochester, New York. He is also the host of The Ian Cramer Podcast, available on iTunes and other podcast playing platforms. Ian is an enthusiast for life and wellness. He shares with us his wellness journey and all the rich benefits of that plant-based diet has to offer. Please welcome, Ian Cramer.
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Plant Based with Ian Cramer
We have a very special guest, Ian Cramer. How are you?
I’m doing well, Kevin. Thanks so much for having me on.
You are a plant-based cyclist. How did you get into this journey you are on now?
As far as the cycling goes, this was the summer between my sophomore and junior year in high school. I went to high school in rural upstate New York, a very small high school graduating class of 1984where if you were an athlete, you had to play every single sport. I enjoyed soccer, basketball, baseball all year round from seventh grade onto when I was a senior. I didn’t like to run that much. It didn’t interest me. In the summer, when I knew I had to get in shape for soccer, a friend called me up and said, “Do you want to go for a bike ride on these Rails-To-Trails?” We convert old railroad beds that aren’t used anymore into very flat cinder trails for walking and biking. I said,“Sure.” I went on a mountain bike and I liked it.
I kept riding by myself on these trails on the road. I was riding so much on the road, I was wearing holes in my mountain bike tires. I thought, “I want to get something a little more efficient and faster.” I bought my first road bike between the summer of my junior and senior year of high school, it was an Aluminum Trek1200. I rode that thing for six or seven years all the way through undergraduate and graduate school. That’s where the cycling came in. I didn’t start riding competitively until when I was in graduate school at Miami University.
The aspect of plant-based cyclist came in graduate school. It was during my first year there, my first semester, I was buying my groceries for the first time because I had lived on campus in undergraduate for all four years. I wasn’t buying my own groceries. I dine in dining halls. I’d like to be very transparent with people. I didn’t grow up vegan, I didn’t grow up plant-based. I was buying copious amounts of Greek yogurt, some chicken and a gallon of milk a week because I thought I needed it. It was a tradition and it’s what I grew up with.
My brother got me a gift for Christmas, the DVD ofForks Over Knives. I watched it twice back to back because it was so amazing. There was an athlete there, Mac Danzig, the MMA fighter. I thought, “We’re not super similar but we’re both athletes,” he says he can thrive on this. The health benefits also struck me as, “I didn’t know that all this could happen.” I decided to give it a try. I was training a lot, I was cycling a lot and gave it a try. It felt great. Among the benefits were my recovery got better, my energy levels went up, and I dropped fifteen pounds effortlessly, which is great for endurance athletes. That’s where the plant-based comes from, just watching a movie, doing it, making mistakes, and it’s worked out ever since.
How was the initial transition? Was it tough cutting out meat? The meal prep is probably the toughest thing, coming up with new meals to eat in place of all the meat you’re eating. What was the toughest thing for you? Was it an easy transition for you going from a standard American diet to plant-based?
It was a relatively an easy transition. My transition was over the course of a year or so where I was slowly phasing out the animal foods that I enjoyed. Before or after, I was never big into recipes. That’s one of the things that people stumble on is they think that every single meal of every single day when you’re on a plant-based has to be based on a recipe. That’s not true. The process for me was relatively painless, although there certainly were mistakes, it went well. I kept things simple. Shoot for whole plant foods and you’ll be good to go.
You said you noticed the benefits almost right away with the transitioning over?
I did. One of the first benefits that I saw was I was sleeping better. I was eating a lot more salad off the bat, which is common for people. It was a salad at 6:00 or 7:00at night, a couple of hours later go to bed. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out within ten minutes and my sleep quality got better too. That was a nice perk. I noticed that I was less sore and I had more energy to get through my workouts, to get through my 50, 60, 70-mile training rides. I was also leaning up. My power to rate ratio was also going up which is the holy grail for endurance athletes. I listened to my body which was the other key and I said, “How do I feel as a whole?”What I encourage people to do is whether it’s, “Have I had too much to eat? Or is this a positive thing for my athletic endeavors?” Just listen to your body and take it from there.
Ian, you lost about fifteen pounds. You’re an endurance athlete, that must have been good for you. What would your advice be for people that are more on trying to maintain their weight? Maybe it’s bodybuilding or trying to stay in the weight class they’re in but going vegan, is that possible for weightlifters and other athletes?
David Carter is known as the 300-pound Vegan. There’s also Patrik Baboumian, one of the strongest men in the world who is going to be on the new movie, The Game Changers. David Carter’s retired now, he was in the NFL. His story is that he had all these nagging injuries and he went plant-based. He made a lot of mistakes but after he made those mistakes, he was able to keep his weight on and he felt a lot better. It’s possible for athletes who are looking more towards putting on muscle and putting on weight for athletes like in American football.
The key is to focus on calories and calorie-dense plant sources. If we’re talking about calorie density versus nutrient density, if you take 100 grams of beef versus 100 grams of beans, the 100 grams of beef is going to be much more calorie-dense. There are more calories in that 100 grams versus the black beans. When you’re eating a plant-based diet, you are inherently going to be eating foods that are less calorie-dense. You’ve got to be mindful of which foods out there are more calorie-dense in the plant-based realm. Foods, for example, your complex carbohydrates or starches. You’ve got your potatoes, quinoa, oats, brown rice, even things on the fatty-end of the spectrum, which is still very healthy. If you keep it whole foods, your avocados, olives and beans are great examples.
It’s very possible. Not only do I feel it’s possible, I feel that once you get through the growing pains of figuring out how much food do I need to eat to feel satiated and to not lose too much weight, you will be a better athlete in the long-run. When it comes to things like recovery and chronic inflammation. There are some plant-based ergogenic aids that help more endurance athletes. Usually, my audience is 20, 30 and 40-year-olds. The icing on the cake is you decrease your risk for chronic diseases in the long-run and you live more ethically as a side effect. Even if that’s not your primary, as a secondary you live more ethically, you have a smaller carbon footprint. Any way you look at it, a plant-based diet wins.
How could somebody find those dense caloric foods? Do people switch more over to the plant-based protein powders or are there other good foods that you can intermix in there? Also, you said that it was a lot of trial and error. What were some of the mistakes you made that you can share to the audience so they can plan ahead?
I strongly discourage people from taking protein powders even the plant-based ones. You would be better off, you would be getting more bang for your buck if you’re eating the whole food. One of the huge myths that people have is if you go plant-based and you’re getting the vast majority of your calories from whole plant foods, you’re not going to be getting enough protein. That is a myth, it’s a lie. Who has been perpetuating this? From speaking to all these doctors and scholars on my podcast, reading all these books, and absorbing all this information, the roots of this lie has been coming from industries and media. I don’t blame them.
It makes sense that the milk and dairy industries, the meat industry, and the egg industry say, “We need to sell more of our product. What does our product have in it that could be called beneficial? It has a lot of protein. Let’s try to market these and convince people that they need more protein in their diets. That protein would make them healthier.” We’ve been hearing this message for the last20 years or 30 years or probably before my lifetime. We see these messages on TV like the milk mustaches, beef is what’s for dinner, and all these pork and eggs. They have protein and we need more. We hear that message and it’s not necessarily factual.
What I say in my library presentations that I give in the Greater Rochester area is,“Food companies with rare exceptions don’t care about your health. They care about making more money. With rare exception, do not take health advice from food companies.” They take them from the professionals who study this stuff and want to make you healthier. The whole protein myth. If you are not calorie deficient, it’s impossible to be protein deficient. Even if you were a crazy mad scientist working in your lab and dissecting food. You had this list of 10,000 foods on the planet and they’re all plant foods and you say, “I want to design a purposefully protein deficient diet that is also calorie sufficient.” It can’t be done.
With that said, what I want to stress to people is that if you are getting enough calories from whole plant foods, you will be getting enough protein. I frame it that way and I say, “You can do whatever you want, you do you.” I say jokingly,“I lay it out for you all to play it out.” It doesn’t bother me what you do, but I’m here to lay out the facts and say, “You don’t need this but in the end, it’s your choice to eat these plant-based protein powders. You would be healthier and better off if you instead ate pea protein. Just have the whole piece. Eat the whole food and you’re not only getting the protein in that food, but you’re also getting the antioxidants, phytochemicals, and a lot of vitamins and minerals that you need for recovery.”
I completely agree with you with the food companies. It’s the same as pharmaceutical companies. Before you start doing your own research into healthcare, you’re watching TV and it’s like, “These people want to treat my depression with Prozac. There’s a lovely commercial. All these people look happy. It seems like it’s fit for me.” You see that all day and you’re like, “There’s no way it could be anything bad for me.” You do the research and that’s a billion-dollar industry. They want to push their medication as these fruity pebbles, cocoa puffs, Weedies, it’s all breakfast for the champions but high in sugar. You’ve got to do your research, which is very important and don’t trust everything you hear.
I enjoy some nights relaxing and unwinding. I watch some TV with my wife and it surprises me. I went years without watching any cable, direct TV or a regular TV. We moved into a new house and we got this special TV bundle. We were watching the mainstream TV and it’s amazing to see how many ads there are on TV for pharmaceutical and for everything. We’re seeing a lot of these more “obscure” because I don’t think they’re as common. You’ve got to think about the side effects of taking these medications. I’m more coming from the angle of chronic diseases. We have things like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease as well. These are food-borne illnesses, 99 times out of 100 with rare exception. These are chronic illnesses that are coming from your relationship with your food and lifestyle in general. Rather than slapping a pharmaceutical Band-Aid on your signs and symptoms, let’s get to the root cause, fix the reason why you have these chronic diseases.
Going back to the second question, what were some of the trials and errors and the learning process of going vegan?
First and foremost, it was a calorie thing for me. If you have endurance athlete readers, you’re burning easy 4,000 or 5,000 calories a day if you’re working out or doing a double or riding for 60, 70, 80 miles on your bike. You’ve got to pay attention to nutritional or calorie density and getting enough calories. Early on, I may have been focusing too much on things like salads, although very healthy, but not a whole lot of calories. I needed to learn and a helpful book for this wasThe Starch Solution by John McDougall. I had to learn what plant-based sources or calorie-dense. Beans, legumes, and starchy vegetables like potatoes are great.
The other struggle that didn’t have to do with food like eating out, being social, growing a thick skin and ignoring the haters and naysayers. I’ve been a fan of Reddit and I peruse it to get a pulse of the plant-based athletic community and vegan community, like, “What are people talking about?” This one post struck me as particularly upsetting. Long story short, this person wrote in from Northeastern Louisiana and the title was, “I’m never eating at another family function again.” This person said, “I’m vegan and my family members sneak animal products into the plates and the food that I’m eating purposefully because they want to harass me and joke around, jab him in the ribs with your elbow thing.”He’s like, “I hate it,” and I feel bad for him. At this point, I’ve been on whole foods plant-based for eight, nine years and I’m very comfortable with where I am. My friends and family are very comfortable and accepting of what my desires are. I feel bad for people like that.
Going back to your question, that’s something that I had to get used to early on is saying no to hotdogs, cheeseburgers at social functions, a picnic in the park and take steps to bring your own Boca Burger or own dish. It took a bit of forethought. It sets you apart from the main group, you’re not like everyone else in terms of what you eat, but you’re 99% the same as everyone else. The one thing that’s a bit different,“I just eat a little bit differently. Does that make me into an alien? Is that what you’re trying to get at?” You’ve got to be comfortable with who you are and you’ve got to know, “I’m doing this for me. I’m not doing this for anyone else.”Maybe it’s because you want to be a better athlete, or you have a chronic disease that runs in your family. That was not the case with me even though that’s what struck me as the most powerful message in Forks Over Knives. You got to have your reasons for doing something. Stay true to yourself. What I say is,“March to the beat of your own drum. You do you and let them hate. You’ll find a circle of people who’ll accept you and respect what you do. Stick to your guns, be firm, and do your best.”
Ian, can you talk about cycling? Do you do any races now or anything like that? I got a road bike. I was looking for a new activity to do around. I moved to a new town and didn’t know what was going on. I’ve seen all these bikes going across. There are a bunch of bike shops.I’ve got a bike, tried it out and it’s a really amazing form of exercise.
I love cycling and I hate running. Again, you do you. If your sport is running, good for you. If your sport is swimming, two thumbs up and more power to you. Here’s what I say in terms of athletics, “The best sport for losing weight is the sport that you’re going to do every day.” It’s a sport that lights your pants on fire. As far as cycling goes, I am in a period now where I’m taking a break. I’m not riding on my trainer and out on the road very much. I’m putting those metaphorical eggs into another basket. In my previous years in grad school, I raced competitively for Miami University’s club team, which I enjoyed. A great cycling culture out there. I love group rides. After that, I spent a time in Atlanta, Georgia for a couple of years. I raced down there and enjoyed that. Coming back to New York, I raced with a team. I’m a Cat 3 road cyclist, middle of the pack and middle of the road.
What does that mean Cat 3?
If you were to start racing, you would start out in Category 5, it’s basically a beginner. Category 5 is Cat 5. Based on your finishes or the number of races you have under your belt, you can upgrade to Category 4 and Category 3. The example that everyone knows is Lance Armstrong, he’s a Cat1Professional. They do that for a living. All the cyclists on the Tour de France, they’re all Cat1Pros. You train hard and do well in races, you Cat up into the next category. I’m a Cat 3 but I can hold my own. I raced a few races a couple summers ago with the big boys. It was a Cat1, Cat 2, and Cat 3, it was category one, twos, and threes in one criterium race in Buffalo, New York.
The other thing that I’m most proud of is the summer of 2015, me and three other buddies who I met in graduate school rode our bikes across the country in the Race Across America2015. It’s a single stage cross-country bike race. It goes from Oceanside, California to Annapolis, Maryland. Although for us it was a relay, so I didn’t do all 3,200miles myself. I probably did about 800 miles or 900 miles in the neighborhood of 110 miles to 120 miles a day for seven days straight. I had my sights set on doing it again. This time being on a two-man team and doing it with another buddy who is plant-based so we can attract attention to the plant-based movement and say, “We’re eating no animal products. Where are we getting our protein? How are you riding our bikes?” For that, it would be about 200 miles a day, for seven days or eight days straight.
I would encourage people to go into your local bike shop and say, “I want to ride around the park. I want to ride fast with this group in town.” Your local bike shop can help you out with finding the right bike. If you’re wondering about group rides or,“How do I get started?” in every major or minor city, there are these cycling coalitions and groups of riders. Do a quick Google search and email the president or vice president and say, “I just moved to the area or I want to get fit. I want to get in better shape, or what are some good group rides and areas to ride around the city that are safe?” That’s the other thing, people are concerned with getting hit by a car. Just utilize your resources. Since an undergraduate, I’ve said to myself, “Utilize your resources.” There are a lot of people around you who know a lot more than you do about certain topics.
You don’t have to know everything, you’ve got to find people that do. If you could share with the audience one piece of advice that has resonated with you over the years, what would that be?
Stick to your guns, march to the beat of your own drum and do things based on evidence. You are going to encounter some haters if you’re changing a big part of your lifestyle that sets you apart in a way from the main group, from people in general. 97% of people are omnivorous and everyone’s thinking that’s the way you should be, but that’s not the only way things should be. If you look at things as a whole, this country is unhealthy. If we’re doing things the way everyone else is doing, it’s not going to end well for you. Grow a thick skin and do things based on evidence.
We do a lot of things in our daily lives that are based on emotion. I’m not saying that’s wrong. In certain situations, that could be helpful. When it comes to something that is as important as your health, if you base things on emotion, you’re going to stick to DQ Blizzards, Go-Gurt, Cheez Doodles, and cheeseburgers. Again, no judgment from me, you do you but if you base things on evidence and the evidence is a mountain in terms of transitioning towards a diet that consists of more whole plant foods for health, longevity and decreasing chronic diseases, if you do that, then a lot of doors will open up and you will truly find health.
What is your podcast all about and where can people find it?
I say jokingly that my podcast is creatively named The Ian Cramer Podcast. I started this podcast and the simple tagline is,“It’s a podcast that interviews doctors and scholars of lifestyle medicine and plant-based nutrition.” I like evidence. I like learning and I’m very inquisitive. I thought what better way to learn more about getting healthier than to interview the experts. There are a lot of doctors, dieticians, some PhDs on the podcast. It’s on the iTunes storeandStitcher. You can find links and little thumbnails or headshots of every episode on my website, Plant-BasedCyclist.com. It’s going great. I’m learning a lot. A lot of people every day are saying, “Your podcast is helping me.” It’s a labor of love. I’m hoping that it gains more traction and in the long-term help people understand more of the evidence-based health implications of eating either plant-based or another way.
Ian, thank you so much for coming on. This was a great episode and I’m looking forward to a couple of your podcast episodes. I would love to have you back on anytime.
It sounds great, Kevin. It’s great to meet you. Thank you so much.
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