An Interview with Vegan Athlete and Dietician Matt Ruscigno

Written by Katie Vann

Matt Ruscigno

Matt Ruscigno is not your ordinary dietician. When he’s not trekking 3,300 miles cross-country on a bike and running 50-mile races, he’s busy creating a web documentary series on vegan athletes, giving talks about the benefits of vegan food, and consulting others on their own personal eating habits. And he still managed to find a few spare moments to talk with us for this featured interview.

He’s visiting the DC-area this week, so don’t miss your chance to meet him while he’s in town. Event details are below.

What inspired you to create your “Day in the Life of Vegan Athletes” web documentary series, which highlights how plant-based eating has improved their athletic performance?

Sasha Perry, the other co-creator of the series, and I were chatting one day about how we have so many amazing friends. And it dawned on us that many of them are below the radar as vegan athletes. They don’t have websites or sponsors but are out busting their ass on a vegan diet every day. Since she’s a filmmaker and I’m a Registered Dietitian, it didn’t take long to combine our professions and come up with the series!

We also didn’t want to say, “you should be vegan” but rather to show what vegans are capable of doing. I’ve always believed in the power of being a good example, and the series reflects that. And most of our shares actually come from people in the discipline and not vegan groups! Which is great, but also surprising. Where is all the love from the vegan groups? Haha.

Matt RuscignoQ: You have quite an impressive athletic resume! How has your diet been a factor in your athletic endeavors?

A: I joke that I don’t really consider myself an athlete! I rode BMX bikes, skateboards and did tons of physically-demanding activities as a teenager but avoided what’s normally considered athleticism. It wasn’t until I rode 3,300 miles cross-country after college that I thought about fitness. Was I fit enough? Could I get enough vegan food in Kansas? If I failed, would people blame veganism?

But when I did it with no problems (if you don’t count getting hit by a car and being hospitalized as a problem!) I realized that I wasn’t anywhere near my personal or physical limits. Veganism has taught me that there’s always an alternative if you are motivated and wiling to work for it. I take a similar approach to physical endeavors, and it has opened up my world tremendously. I think it’s a bonus to have been vegan while doing the world’s hardest ironman in Norway or riding 760 miles across France and back in three days!

Q: Are there certain vegan eating guidelines athletes should adhere to that the general population might not need to?

A: Carbohydrates are your friend and the best fuel for your workouts! This is a simple point, but one that is often overlooked. Also athletes have more leeway with extra calories. Sometimes just eating enough in a day can be a challenge! If they are eating an otherwise healthy diet based on whole grains, fruits and vegetables I think athletes can treat themselves more often than other people do.

Q: As a Registered Dietician who works with individuals looking to improve their diet, what do you find are the common challenges people face when trying to change their diet? What advice do you give them to overcome these challenges?

A: Changing behaviors is hard! Those who say it is easy are usually exceptional people. For the rest of us we need a plan with specific, realistic objectives and a support system of friends and family. Most people want to do too much, don’t last and then blame themselves. Don’t beat yourself up! We need to involve our friends and be realistic to make lasting, positive changes in behavior.

Matt RuscignoQ: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

A: I want to give a shout to Sasha as she just got back to Australia after 10 weeks on Sea Shepherd as a producer for the upcoming season of Whale Wars! Also to say thank you to everyone who has helped with my events over the years. I’m in an extremely privileged position to do these races and then do speaking events about them! This wouldn’t be possible without the help of friends, acquaintances and activists. Thank you!

Live in the Washington, DC area? Join Matt Ruscigno this week! On Wednesday, March 27 from 7-8:30 pm, Matt will be speaking at the COK office in Takoma Park, Md., and on Thursday, March 28 at 7 pm, Matt will be hosting a nutrition discussion at Sticky Fingers Sweets & Eats. View details and RSVP.