I first heard about Heather when I read the interview she did on Forks Over Knives (read it here) and I immediately reached out to her to ask if she would like to be featured. Heather is a cardiologist, vegan, ultra-marathon runner and ironman triathlete. What a combination and such a wonderful example of a doctor who walks their talk!
How long have you been vegan?
I’ve been vegan for over 11 years, since March 2005. Before that, I had been vegetarian for 13 years.
What made you decide to become vegan?
I was a vegetarian throughout college and medical school, but I became a vegan during my cardiology fellowship. I had originally become a vegetarian because of animal cruelty. However, as I learned more about the plight of farm animals, I felt like it was the right thing to do to also cut out dairy and eggs. In addition, in my own research as a cardiology fellow, I had read about the work that Drs. Esselstyn and Ornish had done to successfully reverse heart disease with a plant-based diet.
What differences have you noticed with your training or lifestyle?
I feel like I recover faster from harder training sessions than my teammates.
Tell us about your chosen sport and training. What does it involve?
I’m a triathlete, which is a competition with a swim, bike, and run. I compete in races of all distances, from a short sprint triathlon, to Ironman-distance races of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run.
How often do you train?
I train six days a week, either one or two workouts in a day, with longer workouts reserved for the weekend. The amount of time I spend training depends on what I am training for, and if training for an Ironman, then I am training up to twenty hours in a week.
Tell us about some of your achievements to date?
In July of 2010, I completed Ironman Lake Placid, which was my first Ironman-level triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride, 26.2 mile race). I competed internationally at the Maccabiah Games in the summer of 2013 and earned a bronze medal for the United States as a Masters (adult) level triathlete. Last summer in August of 2015, I completed Ironman Boulder. Five years older on a tough, high-altitude course, I still finished over an hour faster than my first Ironman.
How do family and friends react to your vegan lifestyle?
My immediate family is all vegetarian, so they are supportive of my vegan lifestyle. Friends are curious.
How do you promote your vegan lifestyle?
In my practice as a cardiologist, I promote veganism as a lifestyle that is potent enough to prevent and reverse heart disease. In my daily living, I show people how easy it is to be vegan, from easy recipes, to lots of choices in restaurants.
I love entertaining at my home! I love having friends and family over for a big barbeque – I’ll make tofu and veggie skewers, have my dad behind the barbeque cooking up veggie burgers, and will have plenty of vegan desserts, like carrot cake, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies. Feeding people good vegan food shows them how delicious, filling, and easy, eating vegan can be!
What do you eat in a typical day?
Sample Day in the Life:
Breakfast: 5:15 am: pre-workout, homemade soy latte with 1 cup coffee and 4 oz steamed soy milk, and green smoothie – almond mik, green vegetable (kale, spinach, chard, etc), carrots, celery, banana, ½ tbsp. chia seeds, spirulina
Snack: post-workout: oatmeal with mixed fruit, at the hospital at work. If I just did a strength workout, I’ll add Sun Warrior or another vegan protein powder to oatmeal. Then throughout the morning, I’ll usually sip coffee with almond milk creamer (So Delicious or Califa Farms brand). Late morning, I’ll often eat an apple to tide me over till lunch.
Lunch: Varies. I may make myself a salad from the salad bar in the doctors dining room, and I’ll take a piece of fruit for dessert. My salad will have greens, carrots, cucumber, beets, marinated mushrooms, baby corn, and a sweet oriental dressing (not whole foodish because it’s got hfcs or something decadent in it to make it sweet). Or, if there’s a vegan hot meal option, which there often is, I’ll have that. For example, we’ve had several varieties of tofu stir fries lately, or I might have a pasta, with noodles and marinara, to which I will add either cooked vegetables or veggies from the salad bar. Whatever I choose, I add veggies to it to fill myself up, especially if it’s something a little more decadent like a tofu stir fry.
Snack: Larabar, and maybe some more coffee with almond milk creamer
Dinner: Big (huge!) salad – I love Dave’s Korean tempha (a brown rice fermented protein), and will use half a package of that, with farmers market produce, including dark lettuce, heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, carrots, grated cauliflower, baked sweet potato, kimchi, pickled daikon, and oil-free miso dressing.
Snack: apples, berries, or sweet potatoes, and a couple pieces of Valrhona dark chocolate
What is your favourite food or recipe?
My favorite meal is a huge salad, with miso dressing, sweet potato, miso, and vegan kimchi
Do you take any supplements?
I take B-12 and an algae-based Omega-3
What advice would you give to people thinking of going vegan?
Take it one day at a time. Looking at veganism as something to do for the rest of your life can be scary. But, when broken down to one day, and then the next, you’ll see how easy it is to follow a vegan lifestyle.
What events or other exciting things do you have planned in the next 12 months?
I’m taking a break from triathlons this year, and am doing more swimming. When training in three sports (swimming, biking, and running), it’s hard to really become proficient at one. I’ve learned to to do the butterfly stroke, have improved my backstroke, and have even competed in a few meets in the individual medley.
I am also writing a book. I’ve always wanted to write a book to share what I, as a cardiologist believe are the keys to heart-healthy living.
What do you do outside of your sport/training for fun?
I have four nieces, ranging in age from two to ten years old, and I love spending time with them. Also, I have two retired racing greyhounds for pets, and while they don’t love going for long runs with me, they love to walk.
Who/What are your biggest motivators in life?
Providing the best care for my heart patients, and staying healthy.
If you’d like to connect with Heather and find out more about the work that she does, head on over to the following links:
Blog – http://www.veganheartdoc.com
Twitter – @veganheartdoc
Forks Over Knives interview — http://www.forksoverknives.com/heather-shenkman-vegan-cardiologist/
Thank you so much Heather. Keep an eye out on the blog every Fitness Friday for more vegan athletes.