Spencer Pumpelly is a pro racer and has been vegetarian since 2003 and a vegan since 2010. He most recently competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Pumpelly also earned an Economics degree from James Madison University. Below is an interview with Spencer.
When did you decide to pursue a plant-based diet?
I first thought about changing my diet in 2003. My father had just had stents and I figured it was time for me to start taking some preventative measures while I could. I was 28 at the time and genetically we are pretty similar so I knew I would be on the same path if I didn’t make a change. I tried eating less junk food and fast food but I found “less” was something that was subjective and before long I was back to my old eating habits.
Then after talking with a friend who was a vegetarian I thought about trying it. I was lucky that there was a veggie burger at the lunch counter at the racing school I was teaching at the time and I was able to go a few weeks successfully. About three weeks later when I was traveling home from a race on a small plane my buddies grabbed food before the flight and we were airborne before I realized turkey was my only option. Not wanting to be hungry for four hours, I went ahead and ate it. The feeling I got in my stomach was so bad I decided right then that I was never eating meat again.
After years of being a vegetarian, I became more familiar with both the health benefits of a 100 percent plant-based diet and the concerns the animals right movement had with all forms of animal products. Going vegan was becoming the clear answer, but I always considered it too difficult given the fact that I am on the road over 150 days out of the year. During one race weekend in 2010, I decided to give it a try just to see if I could do it and of course, just like going vegetarian, it was a lot easier than I had thought. Since then, I have dropped my cholesterol 50 points, I have set personal best times in both the 5K, and 10K, I ran my first ever half marathon, and I had my best season of racing ever taking 5 wins and 10 podium finishes in 16 races. The best part is that I dropped almost 20 pounds – and in racing, teams will spend thousands of dollars to shave 2-3 pounds off the car.
What are some of your favorite foods?
Given my travel schedule I end up eating out a lot. I have found that Moe’s Southwest Grill with their whole grain tortillas, brown rice, tofu, vegan beans, and other whole ingredients is my go to when I can find one. Other good spots are Chipotle, Subway, and I sometimes do Olive Garden’s whole wheat pasta with marinara or even bean burritos at Taco Bell without cheese if I am really stuck. When I am home my wife (who is also a plant eater) and I make lots of fun dishes with fresh ingredients and we have several good vegan friendly restaurants in the Atlanta area where we live like Mellow Mushroom Pizza and Cafe Sunflower.
What sources of protein do you like?
I have to admit I am really into some of the fake meats and I love the 27 grams of protein in the Tofurkey Beer Brats and Gardein Crispy Tenders but I also go for grains like quinoa and I love beans and tofu.
Do you have any particular sources for iron you prefer?
I get a lot of iron from beans and tofu both at home and on the road but I really don’t pay close attention to iron as it is in almost everything I eat.
What do you use for B12?
I use NOW brand liquid B12 drops when I am at home. On the road I really don’t worry much about it as I get a lot when I am at home and my trips are usually 3-4 days at a time. I don’t physically feel a difference from the B12 but I know it is something I need to pay attention to so I don’t want to risk it.