This 57-Year-Old Athlete Reversed Her Hashimoto’s on a Vegan Diet
Veronica Mailer, a fifty-seven-year-old marathoner and Ironman triathlete, who started running in her teens, knew something was wrong. In her late forties, Veronica was feeling sluggish and worn out, having trouble mustering the energy to run, or even get out of bed. She headed to her doctor, who ran a series of tests and found that Veronica had a rare immune disease called Hashimoto's, which attacks the thyroid gland and makes it difficult to function or perform at normal levels, much less the competitive athlete's usual routine oof pushing herself. She was devastated and started taking the prescribed drugs that her doctors told her would help. But instead, these meds gave her a racing heart, lung issues and she realized that she needed to take matters into her own hands. That's when she switched her diet and began to feel that relief, in the form of a mostly plant-based diet, was in sight. She kept going and things improved, to the point where she knew she could get back to feeling fully healthy again.
Veronica had already been eating a vegetarian diet, so she was determined to zero in on nutrition-based healing. She fueled up on beans, legumes, veggies, fruits, and pea protein for the better part of a year, and at the end of those 12 months, she could finally say "I’m completely normal, and everything is reversed. At my checkup, my doctors asked what changes I had made, and I told them I was eating vegan and they still kept pushing me to take hormones. At that point, I knew I had to switch doctors. My next step was to find a plant-based vegan doctor because they would get it."
I feel younger than ever, and have the stamina of an 18-year-old
Now feeling younger, faster, and stronger than ever on a plant-based diet, Veronica continues to break her personal records, "I feel 18 years old but with 39 years of experience competing," she says. She credits her diet with helping her get fit enough to win first place in a pull-up contest. She did 102 pulls ups in seventeen minutes, and admits she would not have had the strength to achieve it had she not gone vegan. "I feel like I’m reversing my age. It’s freaky. Everything is better. I have no puffiness or inflammation. I just don’t feel like an old lady at all."
Veronica sat down with her playful rescue pups at her home in Austin and shared personal advice for other endurance athletes--or anyone who wants to be healthier--on how to go plant-based. Her one secret that can work for anyone: "Figure out your exact ratios, I only saw athletic and health results after I fixed my nutrition." If you're an athlete, and especially if you're a runner, you need to understand the fundamentals of a vegan diet, to do it, and be healthy. Here is exactly what an endurance athlete eats on a plant-based diet, to inspire you to reach for your own healthy body goals.
Q. Why did you go vegan?
Veronica Mailer: I tried vegetarianism on and off, but as an athlete, I never quite understood the proper nutrition behind it. Being an endurance athlete, I felt like I wasn’t achieving good recovery from workouts, and I was getting weaker. I wasn’t as strong as I could have been. So I would always tip back into "maybe I just need to eat chicken" or something like that. Two years later, I saw a video of a mama cow being dragged away from her calf and that inspired me to make the switch, instantly. There was no way I could go back. No matter what, I was going to have to figure out the nutrition aspect of being vegan or plant-based. After watching that video, I can’t imagine putting anything through that suffering anymore. It’s not worth it.
Q. You're an endurance athlete, how have your results improved since going vegan?
VM: "Even from last year to now, my times have improved. When I figured out my nutrition, I started tracking my macros and I increased my protein intake. Even though I was vegan, I was eating too much so-called good fat, so my macros were way off. I was eating much too much fat and not enough protein. Once I figured that out, I increased my protein (in the form of beans etc).
"So from last year to this year, my mile time is down to a sub-8-minute pace, whereas last year it was 9:30. I’m doing a distance challenge. I did it last year, and it’s a series of races, Last year, I was in 7th place with a 30 minute 5k, and now my 5k is under 25 minutes. I came in first in my age group, and ahead of women in their forties. I’m turning 57 this month. Eating this way, as a post-menopausal athlete, is something I also think is so important.
"Women think they need to have meat in their diet because they're going through menopause, but that's a load of crap. Not necessary. I’ve had zero symptoms from menopause, and I’ve taken no hormonal supplements, and I'm healthy. My cholesterol has plummeted, my blood pressure is exceptional, and I can do pull-ups, up the whazoo!"
Q. That's very impressive... How many pull-ups can you do?
VM: I did a competition in July, and I did 102 pullups in 17 minutes.
Q. Do you think that was possible only now that you are vegan?
VM: Yes, because before, I didn’t feel like I had the strength. I’m stronger now than I was in my 20’s and 30’s. I ran track in college, but I was always “skinny-fat.” I was just skinny, but I wasn’t strong. Even when I was eating meat, I wouldn’t eat that much, so I never got enough protein, so I think it’s essential as a vegan to make sure you get enough protein.
Q. What were some of the issues you experienced before going vegan? How do you feel now vs. before?
VM: "I think it has to do with the kind of protein I was consuming. I was doing whey protein, and I think that was a big deal. I felt that the milk would help with recovery. It would be an okay thing to do, but I always had inflammation and soreness.
"I had allergies, and now that I have cut out dairy and whey protein, I no longer have allergies. I used to wake up with a stuffed nose in the morning, which doesn’t happen to me anymore. I feel like I have a leg-up on COVID-19, because I don't have all that swelling and mucus. even my swimming is better, and my breathing is easier when I am in the pool. And now, I don’t need to have that usual half-mile warm-up when I start my runs. My breathing is just ready."
Q. What kind of protein do you eat now that you are vegan?
VM: "I eat a lot of beans, but when I supplement now I use pea-protein. To me, it feels like the cleanest. I don’t eat as much soy, but I’m not afraid of it. I’ll eat soy a few times a week without any problem. But pea-protein has become my supplement of choice."
Q. What do you eat before and after a race?
VM: "I tend not to eat a whole lot before a race. I’m a fan of things like figs and dates, or some banana and chia seeds, which is what I prefer to eat when I’m needing to fuel up during an endurance race (since you have to eat during long training rides when you are preparing for an Ironman Triathlon). I have found gel-supplements that are vegan that have chia seeds in them, which is good since it's easier to digest. I prefer real food because it feels the best in my system. I can eat a banana during a race, and I think that’s the best thing that I’ve found."
Q. How long did it take to see results in your performance when you went vegan?
VM: "The first year I was expecting more immediate results, but I hadn’t figured out the nutrition. So I think that’s a big issue with people going vegan, making sure they are getting the correct ratios. It’s easy to be vegan and eat potato chips. It’s so much harder to be plant-based and eat whole-foods, plant-proteins, and have a healthy carbohydrate-to-fat balance."
Q. How did you figure out your exact ratios of carbs to fat to protein for best results?
VM: "I had a coach, Plant-Based Ben. He offered a 90-day transformation thing. I thought, “you know, I’m vegan, but I’m still not shedding this weight. I still don’t feel like I’m fast.” I was eating the right foods, but ultimately, the ratios in my diet were off. That was the first time I started tracking my macros. He gave me a fitness plan, and I just plugged my food in and found out I was getting maybe 4% protein in a day, so I didn’t see the results. I only saw results after fixing the nutrition. I always recommend if someone goes vegan, it’s important to find a nutritionist or someone who can help you balance your macros."
TB: What are your exact ratios?
VM: No more than 20% fat, if not less and at least 20% protein, and whatever else is leftover in carbs. I do not avoid or eliminate carbs. I embrace them. Many people cut that out, and I think that’s not a smart thing to do.
TB: What kind of carbs do you eat?
VM: Vegetables, fruits, I’m not afraid of the sugar in fruit. It’s just real food. I love grains. I don’t have granola, but I do have muesli, so I’ll have my nuts and rolled oats and chia seeds, but for the most part, it's just lots of vegetables.
"I have found a supplemental pancake mix that has a plant-protein in it. So I’ll have pancakes that are protein-based with blueberries. So for carbs, any and all vegetables and beans. For lunch, I will have a platter that is a massive pile of beans with other vegetables that I grow.
TB: How long did it take you to see results after your macros were in order?
VM: "I took thirty days. You go through a certain period of your body learning to process the food. Initially, there’s a lot of bloating and discomfort–because you are working on getting things out of your system.
"At first, my body had a hard time assimilating to things like beans, but now I can eat beans every day. Before, it was tough to eat many raw vegetables, beans, and whole-foods that frequently. I think it took around thirty days, and then everything just improved from there.
"Sometimes, when people go vegan, they don’t give their bodies enough time to assimilate and work through the other bad stuff out."
TB: How does your overall health compare with your peers?
VM: "I’ll be 57 this month, but I have the vitality of an 18-year-old. I feel like I’m reversing my age. It’s freaky. I just don’t feel like an old lady at all. When I talk to someone going through menopause, I always tell them, “I don’t have any symptoms!” I’m faster than I was when I was in my 40’s. My recovery time is incredible.
"I know it’s not just the vegan part of it but the nutrition from all the whole foods I eat. I think that’s what many people are getting wrong, or not doing it long enough and not figuring out the ratios of what to eat. Like anything else, if you are used to eating crappy food when you make the change to be healthy or go plant-based, there’s going to be an adjustment time but when your body adapts you'll feel so much better. it's worth it.
"I’ve been running since I was a teenager. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, so when my thyroid function was sluggish, I went to the doctor and they diagnosed me with Hashimoto's disease. I took whatever they gave me for literally two weeks, and I found that my resting heart rate was through the roof. So I stopped taking it and decided: I’m not taking any supplements, and instead I turned to nutrition-based healing. Since going vegan, my symptoms are gone and I feel completely normal. It's like, everything, all my symptoms, got reversed."
Q. How has a vegan diet helped you mentally?
VM: I just feel so free. There’s just no guilt. I’m just so happy. Everything makes me happy. I have no problem with anything. I don’t feel guilt at all. Everything I’m doing is proactive instead of reactive to what I’m putting in my body.