I’ve known Emma professionally for years now and whenever I run into her, I am blown away by her boundless energy and crazy good vibes. A Vega alum, Emma is a holistic nutritionist, education strategist and co-founder of Pineapple Collective, an avid runner and spokesperson for Brooks Running and 5Peaks.

Since so many of you may be busy training for spring races, I thought this would be the perfect time to tap into Emma’s expertise on staying plant-centred through training…and how to dig deep to keep the momentum going.

1. You lead a super busy lifestyle and still manage to keep your training up and run multiple races a year. Since it can be easy for January motivation to wane by now, can you share what keeps you motivated and energized? 

I stay motivated by attaching personal meaning to my goals. It could be training for a race with someone significant to you, like a mentor, or someone you are mentoring. It could be envisioning a celebratory act you’ll reward yourself with (like a massage) in conjunction with completing a goal (like making homemade meals for two weeks).

Right now I am focused on training for my 4th marathon: the Ottawa Marathon (May 29th). I am training to run a ‘Boston Qualifying’ time of (sub) 3 hours 35 mins (my previous best was 3 hours 45 mins). In runner talk (and an “Emma-ism”)…that’s an “anything but average” race time. But ultimately, getting that time goal isn’t enough to get me out of bed when it’s wet and raining, or cold and dark (or all four). I need a deeper emotional connection to achieving that goal. So when thinking about the next race I would pick, and needing to race my heart out, I thought about destinations that represented someone, or a memory or future hope. It ended up being a no-brainer once I thought of it. I chose to run Ottawa because it was the first marathon my Dad ever ran.

For those I am just getting to know me through this piece, I lost my Dad to a fatal heart attack in 2009, when he was just 53. He was highly active, and a big part of why I am active. Having this emotional connection to the race will keep me accountable when I don’t “feel like it” somedays, and propel me forwards when I feel like giving up. I’ll be imagining him running by my side.

Through a combination of a very active lifestyle, high stress work, repetitive injuries and misalignment, my Dad was in a state of chronic inflammation. I think a lot of us who are more active can often brush off inflammation as “normal”…But I believe this was a major contributing factor to his cardiovascular disease.

Through this experience and my own education, I have come to believe, and advocate you shouldn’t have to sacrifice longevity for performance. I plan to run for as long as possible, and stay active through out a long and healthy life.

2. What food do you pack with you on the road?

For day trips, or long days of meetings/driving/training, I like to make chia pudding in mason jars (leakproof lids – great for purses and bags). I’ll often make a Vega One shake with unsweetened almond milk and ice, or buy a fresh pressed juice when I am out. I’ve also been known to eat a whole avocado right out of the skin like it was a bowl of ice cream. I have a mini sea salt shaker, perfect for snacks like this!

When I am going overnight somewhere, I pack nuts and seeds for emergency snacks (I really like Living Intentions Sprouted Superfoods blends), and single packets of almond butter (easy to pair with apples or bananas, which you can generally find at most coffee shops and in airports). I usually buy almond milk as soon as I arrive, and bring packets of plant-based protein with with me for quick breakfasts or pairing with a dinner salad.

3. In all of your years spent educating runners, what are the most common nutrition mistakes you see?

Under consuming carbs either from a desire for weight loss, or not planning ahead.

Often runners don’t consume enough carbs pre-run, and they “bonk” or hit the wall. I recommend if you have 30 minutes, eat a piece of fruit like a banana, or diced pineapple, or a date based energy bar. If you have 60 minutes or more, have a more complex source of carbohydrates like herb roasted potatoes, oatmeal, or avocado toast.

Or I often see runners who wait to fuel mid-run until they are hungry, or avoid refuelling because they are running for weight loss or too focused on speed. Runners need to consume calories proactively to allow for digestion time, and stay energized (finishing strong). Carbohydrates keep our muscle tissue fuelled, and protect it from breakdown (extending our endurance).

I recommend refuelling with fluids for all runs, and for runs lasting longer than 60 minutes, adding a natural source of simple carbohydrates every 45 minutes. I like using coconut water, beet juice, carbohydrate based sports drinks like Vega Energizer, or natural gels like Honey Stinger. Or if you’re in the US and can find them, Huma Energy Gels. For longer trail running workouts I like Vega Energy Bars, and Munk Pack oatmeal squeeze packs.

4. What is your favourite pre-run snack? 

Some of my favourite pre run snacks are oatmeal with anywhere from a tsp to a tbsp of coconut oil stirred in (makes it super creamy, and coconut is a great fuel source for endurance runners), a banana smeared with almond butter and dipped in hemp seeds, or diced pineapple and coconut water. These are great options whether you run in the morning or at night.

5. What is your best advice for other runners looking to transition to more plant-centred eating plan?

You won’t regret it. Within a month of switching up my diet, I started to notice benefits in my recovery time, energy, sleep and motivation. This all results in becoming a faster, stronger runner.

I’ve been on what I call a “plant-strong, pescatarian” diet for 4 years now, and I’ve been able to crush goals like running two marathons in a week – something I once would have never fathomed – without injury. I owe this in big part to a holistic approach to recovery, and a nutrient dense diet.

Get to know Emma
@emmarunsvan
Check out Emma’s Website