Athletics / Guest Posts / Nutrition

Plant Based Spotlight: Melissa Hickey – All World Triathlete

Today, we are so happy to hear from Melissa Hickey – a friend of mine since elementary school, and a very accomplished triathlete. Melissa, a lifelong athlete, has an epic story when it comes to finding her own way in sport and nutrition – one that is fairly recognizable to me. All I know, is that she is absolutely crushing it out there on the trails, and I won’t be surprised if we see this lady in the pro field one day.

I began my plant-based journey in the spring of 2015. Originally, I am from Colorado, but spent my first two years of college in Seattle, Washington. I’d like to say that I adapted right away to the college lifestyle studying daily and figuring out my life path. Instead, I spent that first few months focused primarily on making friends, partying and occasionally cracking open a textbook.

Regardless, it was freeing going to college. I had grown up in a relatively healthy-eating household. In a family with five kids, my Mom intentionally cooked nutritious meals including animal products and even encouraged dairy milk to “build strong bones”. Therefore, by the time I got to college and was exposed to all the less healthier food options, I went all out. For breakfast, I would eat multiple bowls of cereal with a side of tater tots, sausage and pancakes. Lunchtime would consist of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, sugary coffee, and celery with peanut butter (for a semblance of health). Dinner was typically a pasta, burger and French fries. There was no limitation. I had so many options and wanted them all. Obviously, the drastic change in diet, in addition to the heavy drinking from partying, cumulatively added to my weight. By the end of those first months of college, I was 35 lbs heavier than I was when I first arrived. Keep in mind I had spent my entire life playing competitive soccer year-round and maintaining a healthy weight, so this was shocking to say the least.

Initially, like many others who have gained a significant amount of weight, I naively thought my workouts were just not long enough. I spent my winter break back in Colorado at a gym and then returned to college to continue with the workouts without changing my diet or lifestyle. I ended up gaining more weight and returned home for spring break feeling horrible about what I was seeing in the mirror but unable to make the connection. It wasn’t until a friend from Boulder, CO noted that she had been vegan for a couple months and had lost a significant amount of weight that something clicked. This was my first introduction to vegan/plant-based living. I wanted to lose weight and was promised success if I cut this and that out. It worked. I lost ~ 10 lbs within the first couple months of being vegan back in Seattle. I then looked more into what I was doing. I researched and understood the animal rights. I started meal prepping healthier options in my dorm’s lounge. I stopped drinking almost entirely and felt amazing. My lifestyle had done a 180.

Although I enjoyed Seattle, Colorado was a more sensible decision to finish my college years, and I moved back to finish my degree and continued my vegan/plant-based journey there. I spent the summer immediately prior to starting school again in Colorado working out. I had just bought a nice road bike in Seattle and woke up every single morning at 7am to ride my bike roughly 10-20 miles. I’d then jump into my neighborhood pool to cool off. I didn’t really know how to swim at this point. I could stay alive, but far from anything that resembled a stroke. I eventually wanted to see if I could swim, so I spent a couple mornings researching “How to Swim” on YouTube.

After about one year of riding my bike and learning to swim through YouTube videos I took a chance and showed up to my first master swim class to learn how to properly swim. At this point, I had already signed up for my first half Ironman after joking about it with a friend (who never actually ended up signing up…). It was ambitious to say the least. I had no intention of doing well, I just really wanted to finish the race. My “training” schedule was barely training to be honest. I was a regular at a Monday/Wednesday morning spin class and a Tuesday/Thursday morning master swim class all before rushing off to lectures. Running was done intermittently on the treadmill, but hardly above a 5-10km in duration. But with the same somewhat foolish aspirations, before I had even completed one half Ironman, I was signed up for another. Over this ever-evolving process, my ambition and desire for Ironmans has only grown spiraling into multiple half and full ironman distances and podium finishes.

Nowadays, I typically refer to myself as “plant-based”. I still follow the general guidelines of veganism, I just prefer not to use that term as I know it can be intimidating to others who believe it must be an all-or-nothing lifestyle change. I believe plant-based eating has significantly improved my life, however, I refrain from lecturing others on the animal rights or health benefits. Just for myself, it seems to work as I have been able to accomplish so much, and it really started with changing my diet. I have always strived to lead silently or by example. You can live plant based, do Ironmans, travel, eat out with friends and enjoy your life. This isn’t a dichotomy. Live your life, just make sure you get some veg.

What Does Melissa Eat in a Day?

Breakfast/Pre-Workout: This is my favorite meal of the day. I could eat breakfast every day. All day. I eat big meals in the morning for this reason.

  • 1 cup oatmeal + peanut butter (No added sugar. I get this in bulk. Always cooked on the stove. Peanut butter is not measured. I LOVE peanut butter. Add in some almond milk, cinnamon on top and I’m happy).
  • Coffee with almond milk
  • Occasionally some fruit

* I eat at least 1 hour prior to a morning training session.

Morning Snack/ Post Workout: Depending on the exertion of the morning training session, I’ll have a plant-based vegan protein shake and maybe protein energy balls. Also trying to stay hydrated after this session. Been really enjoying coconut water post workout to replenish electrolytes!

Lunch: By this point I’d typically be at work. These meals are prepped early in the week and vary depending on what I have in my fridge. Here are some options I typically go for:

  • Rice, beans, veggie sausages and avocado. Simple and lazy girl’s meal.
  • Quinoa, fruit, chia seeds, cinnamon and almond milk (makes a cereal consistency)
  • Orange Tempeh and Snow Pea stir fry

Pre-Workout Snack: My afternoon training sessions tend to be longer or more intense. A good snack makes a HUGE difference in my attitude and ability to complete this session.

  • Peanut butter and banana
  • Granola and almond milk
  • Rice and beans with seasoning (curry, sesame seeds or Italian seasoning)
  • Nuts
  • Occasionally a caffeine spike. Coffee is my go to.

Dinner: Topping off the tank for another day of training to follow.

  • Rice, beans, potatoes, massive amounts of stir-fried veggies
  • Salad with quinoa, salad dressing for a source of healthy fats and piled on veggies
  • Pasta, stir fried veggies, tempeh or tofu (prefer GF pasta)

Dessert: I have a massive sweet tooth and don’t like to deprive myself. If I’m buying something directly from the store, I will pay more for a smaller portion of something sweet rather than buy the larger, bulk option. I want to stop after one serving…not seven.

  • Homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies
  • Granola and almond milk
  • Fudgy peanut butter cup plant-based protein