This vegan athlete keeps it speedy on the race course and in the kitchen
Ruby Pan is a plant-based runner who competes for Penn Running Club and Team Humane League. She is currently studying Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. As a member of Penn's Animal Advocacy organization, she works with the Humane League, Mercy for Animals, and the Good Food Institute to reduce animal suffering at the local, regional, and national level.
What's your favorite post-workout snack?
I really like eating fruit after workouts, especially watermelon. If I have a particularly grueling workout, I might have a protein shake made with SunWarrior or Vega protein powder, bananas, and greens. Usually though, since most of my workouts are right before a meal, I just eat a balanced meal. My go-to quick meal is tofu, steamed vegetables, and a peanut butter sandwich on cinnamon raisin bread—not very fancy, but as a busy engineering student, I'd rather not have to spend more than fifteen minutes preparing a meal.
How much do you run? What is your running philosophy?
I run pretty much every day for an hour or more. That being said, I'm not afraid to go super slow on my easy days so that I can hammer it out on my workouts. I definitely think that some people get stuck in the "grey area" where they are going too fast for it to be easy, but not going hard enough for it to be hard.
Running in the morning helps me get ready for the day. I am naturally an active person, so on the days that I don't run or do some form of cardio, I tend to get incredibly restless. I consider my runs "my time" to think things through and, I guess, also meditate. In fact, once I thought through a problem from my engineering class problem set while on a run; the answer kind of just hit me at mile nine, and I booked it home so I wouldn't forget!
What did you grow up eating? And what lead you to a plant-based diet?
I grew up an omnivore, but definitely ate much healthier than what can be considered the "Standard American Diet." Sure, I had a childhood fondness for chicken nuggets and french fries (let's just say McDonald's Happy Meal toy advertisements were very effective), but my parents always stressed prioritizing healthy whole grains and fresh vegetables as a staples of my diet.
I had wanted to be plant-based from a really young age, especially after being exposed to PETA and Humane Society factory farming videos. I also be obsessed with watching Animal Cops (follows local SPCA and humane societies) on Animal Planet. I couldn't bear the idea of inflicting so much harm. Starting at the age of seven, I delved in and out of vegetarianism periodically. Through most of middle school and up to sophomore year of high school, I was pescetarian.
Junior year was when I started taking my athletics more seriously and became the third or fourth runner on the varsity cross-country team at my high school. I ended my pescetarianism there since I was concerned about getting enough protein. Also, it didn't help that there was a whole campaign against eating carbohydrates as well...
My interest in veganism resurfaced when I found out that our top runner was vegetarian, along with another very talented and fast runner on the team. I started gradually reducing my animal product consumption. However, it wasn't until college that I completely overhauled my diet and became vegan. I also joined Penn Animal Advocacy and Team Humane League, which supported me through my transition as well as reinforced my desire to be vegan.
Did you notice a difference in your performance when you transitioned to a plant-based diet?
I found that I recovered a lot faster and could run harder than I could before I went vegan. Also, plant-based foods didn't sit as heavily in my stomach as animal products did, so I could eat more and closer to my runs.
Of course, eating vegan does not necessarily mean healthy. I still indulge in vegan junk foods like cookies, ice cream, and chips—I'm a little crazy about pita chips, especially with hummus—but it's definitely not an everyday thing. I mean, Oreos are considered vegan, but they are definitely not health foods. However, I think eating these things in moderation is good for the soul.
What is Team Humane League?
Team Humane League is a diverse athletic group made up of runners, cyclists, swimmers, crossfitters, triathletes, dancers—you name it! We fundraise for The Humane League, an organization that works to reduce animal suffering. I am personally part of the Philadelphia branch, but there are teams all over the nation including New York City and Chicago!
You can donate on my fundraising page!
Who are your vegan role models?
There are so many amazing vegan athletes out there that it's hard to name a few! The first ones that come to mind are Rich Roll, Brendan Brazier, Sage Canaday, Laura Kline, and of course, our team captain and Ironman, Lia Belardo.
Did anything surprise you in making the transition? How did your community respond to your choice?
I was mostly surprised by how easy it was! My community is very vegan-friendly. My school especially was very accommodating in the dining halls—there were daily vegan and vegetarian options and one of the dining halls had a completely separate vegan and vegetarian section. It wasn't just salad, rice, and beans either (not that I don't like those, of course), but roasted tempeh, tofu stir-fries, burritos, falafels, and, my favorite, vegan mac 'n' cheese.
I am also super grateful for all the support I had while going through the transition, especially from my friends in Penn Animal Advocacy, the Humane League, and the Philly Vegan Lady Gang.
Have other people in your life adopted more plant-centric eating habits since you became vegan?
Actually yes! Some of my friends went vegetarian or vegan as well or expressed interest in doing so. Also, my parents, while still omnivores, have reduced their animal product consumption.
What do you wish more people knew about veganism?
Other than, yes, we do get enough protein? I want people to know that being vegan is not as complicated as people seem to think. We do not necessarily have to buy expensive meat and cheese alternatives, nor do we have to live on a diet of rice and beans. Most vegan food is not very expensive—vegetables, fruit, grains, and legumes can be some of the cheapest, yet healthiest, things that you can buy in a grocery store. If you aren't the type that enjoys cooking, there are a lot of vegan frozen meals available as well—of course, they would be more expensive than if you cooked from scratch, but that's the price of convenience. I recommend meal prepping and cooking in bulk.
Also, eating out is not that difficult either. Many places have become much more veg-friendly in the recent years. Even if you go to a steakhouse and there are no vegan entrees, you can still request something like a mixed platter of side dishes or request them to prepare something for you. Don't be afraid to ask! If you prefer to avoid that, however, there are plenty of web sites that allow you to search for veg-friendly restaurants in your area such as HappyCow.
What is your spirit vegetable?
Brussel sprouts! Muscles by brussels!