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In 2006, Hillary Biscay became the first person to earn six top-five Ironman finishes in one season. Two years later, she won her first championship. Then, in 2009, the Tucson, Ariz., resident took a step that she said has made her an even better athlete: She cut meat, eggs and dairy out of her diet. "I read John Robbins' book 'Food Revolution,' " Biscay said. "It was shocking to learn about the amount of energy required to produce animal products, and its environmental impact."
Although Biscay worried that her vegan lifestyle and four-to-six-hour-a-day training regimen would leave her feeling hungry constantly, it actually had the opposite effect. "It made me a lighter, faster and stronger athlete," she said. Last year, she placed second in the Ultraman World Championships -- that's a 6.2-mile swim, 261.4-mile bike ride, and 52.4-mile run -- in Hawaii, with the fastest women's course debut in history. She chatted with espnW about her rules for fueling up.
1. Pick the right protein. Since she was never a big meat eater, dairy used to be Biscay's main source of protein. "I could easily chug half a liter of nonfat milk in a day," she said. Now Biscay focuses on plant-based sources, adding chia seeds and brown-rice protein powder to her morning cereal, snacking on garbanzo beans and making shakes with Vega Complete Whole Food Health Optimizer (myvega.com), a hemp-based supplement. "My diet contains less protein and more carbs now," Biscay said. "But I'm choosing only the complete kind that my body can use -- it's quality over quantity."
2. Tune into your body. "As an asthmatic, it always felt like I had crap in my lungs when I ran," Biscay said. After going vegan, that feeling went away. "I learned that my body doesn't process milk products well. Now when I'm tempted by cheese or frozen yogurt, I remember how it affects me."
3. Eat more often. "I used to eat a big lunch with lots of dairy," Biscay said. "That left me feeling bloated during my afternoon runs." Now, she eats several small meals throughout the day to keep up her energy without getting weighed down. Biscay has coffee and whole-grain cereal with almond milk before her morning workout and a banana afterward. Lunch is typically a veggie panini or peanut butter sandwich, and she follows her afternoon workout with a fresh-fruit smoothie with greens and protein powder. For dinner, Biscay likes to whip up an "everything but the kitchen sink" salad piled high with nuts and seeds, greens, avocado and beans and serve it with bread. And treats like Trader Joe's peanut butter pretzels, soy lattes and vegan cookies keep her from feeling deprived.
4. Ice, ice, baby. Instead of having pasta the night before a big race, Biscay's longtime ritual is to eat a carb-heavy breakfast the morning of the day before the race, like bagels or pancakes. At dinner, she likes to pack away an entire pint of chocolate or peanut butter (vegan) ice cream made with soy or coconut milk. "It provides easy-to-process sugar and fat to fuel me through my race," she said. "Plus, it's delicious."
5. Refuel the gourmet way. After tough races, Biscay often treats herself to expertly prepared fare. "I love this vegan ravioli with avocado and quinoa from Hawaii's Mauna Lani Bay Hotel," said Biscay, who is a member of the resort's pro team. "It has the healthy fats and protein you need for recovery." Other favorites: veggie burgers and a vegan BLT made with tempeh.