Viva La Vegan!
Cheryl Pannonechanged her life forever with a resolution on New Year’s Eve 2008. She wanted to become healthier, so trained for a 5km marathon and was instantly hooked. Then, she decided to go back to school and earn her Bachelor's in Health & Wellness and personal trainer certificate. After watching the movie Food Inc., she decided to become vegetarian, which then led to reading, researching and watching everything she could to learn about the food industry eg Forks Over Knives, Slaughterhouse, China Study, Whole and many others that converted her to becoming a whole foods vegan shortly after. Cheryl eventually went further and earned her certificate in plant-based nutrition at Cornell University. Today 6 years after her resolution, she now run marathons, bike, lift weights, yoga and has been featured in Vegan Health & Fitness magazine, writes weekly blogs for, and is developing her own vegan website. Cheryl and her husband are both vegan. They met at a half marathon, he proposed at the finish line of a full marathon and they recently got married in Las Vegas where they exchanged vows at the start of a half marathon.
Why Vegan?
How and why did you decide to become a vegan?
I became vegan after I watched the documentary Food Inc. The day after, I went through my cupboards and went shopping for healthier food. I started out as a vegetarian and soon after that became vegan. I was devastated on how factory farms treat the animals and how foods end up in our supermarket shelves. I learned that ordering a cheeseburger in the drive through window for a buck, impacts the health epidemic, welfare of our animals, oceans, lakes, land and air. I became vegan to become healthier, save animals and our earth.
How long have you been vegan?
Over 6 years.

What has benefited you the most from being a vegan?
I am now in my 40s and I have never felt better. I have more energy, my endurance for races has increased and my recovery is much quicker, allowing me to get back out there sooner.  My hair, skin, nails and body feels and looks younger. Most of all, I know that I am not contributing to the horrible treatment of animals, supporting big business, or wasting our resources.

What does veganism mean to you?
Veganism to me means a lifestyle where I know that I am consuming foods that have not come from sick, mistreated, angry, and drugged animals. I know I am not contributing in using our most precious natural resources to feed, water, and process these animals and other processed foods. I am living a lifestyle that I know is healthy for my body, mind and soul.

What sort of training do you do?
During the off season I run on my treadmill on average 10-15 miles in the morning or I mix it up and ride the stationary bike or elliptical. During the nicer weather, I run outside in the morning and my long run days are Sundays running usually around 20 miles. I average 50-60 miles a week.  I also, go to the gym 4 nights a week to lift weights, participate in kick boxing classes or yoga.
How often do you (need to) train?
I train 7 days a week, with Saturdays being my light easy days.
Do you offer your fitness or training services to others?
Although I don’t have a regular clientele right now, I do have my Personal Trainer certificate and I do offer my services to family and friends whenever they need it. I am building up my website to offer my wellness services that includes educating, recipes, fitness and resources to turn to.
What sports do you play?
I run long distance, bike long distance and lift weights.
Strengths, Weaknesses & Outside Influences
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegans and how do you address this?
If I had a dime for every person who thinks I don’t get enough protein, I would be rich. People are so brainwashed with what the food industry tells us with commercials, news reports, product labels, and government agencies, that they simply don’t realize that whole foods such as kale and other leafy greens have more protein than meat. They believe that because meat is a complete protein in amino acids and that veggies are not, therefore are inferior and do not provide essential nutrients when in fact the opposite is true. I am always asked the same question, “Well what is it that you eat then?” I simply explain to them what I eat and that I am getting all of the nutrients my body needs to keep me healthy through whole foods.

What are you strengths as a vegan athlete?
My biggest strengths is being able to increase my endurance and having enough energy to do so. I am increasing in muscle mass and decreasing body fat. I recover much quicker after an endurance event. My last marathon I was at the gym the next day and felt great.

What is your biggest challenge?
I have faced many challenges over the years being a vegan. Since I am the only vegan in my family, I think the hardest challenge was my family and friends, and convincing them that this is my lifestyle and trying to explain to them why. Family gatherings, holidays, going out to eat, and travel were all challenging but, I have overcome them and plan ahead meals, call restaurants to see if they can accommodate, and make dishes I can eat for holidays.

Are the non-vegans in your industry supportive or not?
The people who I work with simply do not understand what it is to be a vegan. They will ask me if I can eat fish or eggs and can’t understand why I do not. They will often ask me if there is anything I can eat or if I only eat salad. They will make comments saying that healthy food is expensive, don’t taste good and is boring which also leads to another misconception. Vegan foods made from whole foods is the most delicious and nutritious that can be easy, fun and inexpensive to cook.
Are your family and friends supportive of your vegan lifestyle?
It took my family and friends a very long time to accept my lifestyle, simply because they didn’t know anything about it. I had always grown up in a meat and potatoes household. Both of my children are not vegan, although they do enjoy vegan dishes that I cook, they will not give up animals products. My son loves bacon so much that he has a bacon air fresher in his car. I still get the occasional joke or comment, like someone offering me a hot dog or burger at gatherings. I mostly laugh and brush it off, knowing that I am putting healthy food in my body and saving animals.

What is the most common question/comment that people ask/say when they find out that you are a vegan and how do you respond?
“Where do you get your protein?” “How can you run marathons eating no meat?” “You are not getting enough nutrients, you are going to become anemic, and you need calcium from milk and protein from meat.” I respond by telling them that I eat a very healthy well-balanced diet and foods such as, leafy greens, other vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds all contain the required nutrients that my body needs to keep me healthy and strong. Animal products often lack essential nutrients such as fiber and phyto-chemicals that have been proven to fight cancer and other chronic illnesses. Animal proteins have saturated fats and high cholesterol, which contributes to many illnesses.

Who or what motivates you?
I have a few favorite vegan athletes who I deeply admire and inspire me to keep me motivated and help me to improve in my athletic goals, runners such as Richard Roll, Scott Jurek, Brendan Brazier (I have read their books), Matt Frazier, Ruth Heidrich and Catra Corbett. I follow their websites for great inspiration, articles and recipes.
Food & Supplements
What do you eat for:
First I just want to mention that 90% of what I eat is made from scratch. I make meals in bulk and plan ahead of time. My husband (who is also vegan) and I like to eat out at our favorite vegan restaurants once in a while.
Breakfast - Every morning I have my favorite breakfast, which is organic peanut butter or almond butter on spouted whole grain bread - sometimes I make my own waffles for this - with banana and a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice.
Lunch - I have a smoothie that usually consists of kale, spinach, little bit of fresh cilantro and parsley, blueberries, banana, pumpkin, sweet potato, avocado, celery, nuts, chocolate protein, wheat grass, spirulina, chia seeds and a splash of agave. I like to mix it up and put other great veggies in them.
Dinner - We always have a garden salad with homemade dressings. My favorite is a miso ginger dressing, topped with crunchy lentils, homemade pickled beets and other veggies. With the salad, I will sometimes make a soup such as tomato or cream of broccoli, or dishes such as Soba noodle pasta with sauces, black bean burgers, rice or quinoa casseroles, and the list goes on.
Snacks (healthy & not-so healthy) - My favorite snack is crunchy chickpeas with lots of seasoning. I also make granola, energy bars and crackers. I snack on fresh fruits sometimes dipped in peanut butter. I will bake once in a while making healthy treats such as, brownies, cupcakes and breads. My one bad not-so healthy snack that we both have a weakness for is tortilla chips usually the Whole Foods brand. We don’t buy them that often because we will simply don’t have control over eating the whole bag. We usually save them for holidays. Oh and lots of water throughout the day.
What is your favourite source of:
Protein - Sunwarrior chocolate protein blend.
Calcium - Kale, kale and more kale, broccoli, tahini, oranges, dates and fennel - just to name a few.
Iron  - Pumpkin seeds, lentils, beans, collard greens, and of course more kale - just to name a few.
What foods give you the most energy?
Since most of what I eat is whole foods, I have to say all of it but, if I have to choose I would say fruits such as, dates which are an athlete’s favorite, also, banana, kiwi, lemon all of which provides a natural source of fructose, and Chia seeds or sprouted barley.

Do you take any supplements?
The only supplement I do take is a vegan B12, Sunwarrior protein in my smoothies and the spirulina.
What is your top tip for:

Gaining muscle - Eat lots of foods that contain natural fats and proteins such as, quinoa, millet, avocados, sweet potatoes, peanut or other nut butters. Do less cardio and lift heavier weights with less repetitions.
Losing weight - Although the above are essential sources of proteins, to lose weight I would recommend limiting some of these and eating more foods that will provide healthy fibers and carbohydrates for energy such as leafy greens, and some fruits. Exercise with more cardio and light weights and more repetitions to build tone in the muscles that will burn fat calories faster.
Maintaining weight - Eat a well-balanced diet consisting of mostly vegetables, fruits, some nuts and seeds and whole grains. With a balance of exercise consisting of light weights and cardio.
Improving metabolism - Eat foods that are high in calcium and omega 3s. Citrus fruits, spices, green teas, whole grains and broccoli. Also, eat at least 6 smaller meals throughout the day and have an exercise plan that includes weights. Muscle will increase metabolism.
Toning up - Eat foods that are not processed and in their whole form in small meals throughout the day, while maintaining an exercise program that includes cardio, circuit training and light weights with more repetitions to tone the muscles.
Timing is also important when it comes to eating foods. Eat healthy carbohydrates - such as fruits and not refined white processed carbohydrates - before a work out and earlier in the day to give your body energy. Eat protein-rich foods after a workout - smoothies are best because it gets absorbed quicker replacing nutrients lost during workouts. Protein meals should be eaten more at night.
How do you promote veganism in your daily life?
I always answer anyone’s questions if they’re interested in the vegan lifestyle. I offer recipe samples, books to read or movies ideas to watch. If I make a dish, I will offer some of it to others to try or give them the recipe. If they want to learn how to work out, I put a suggested plan together for them that meets their needs and lifestyle. I am proud of living this life style and try to promote it when I can.
How would you suggest people get involved with what you do?
I first give them websites (starting withmy own) to look at, give them very simple and easy recipes that tastes great. Suggest books or documentaries to watch, join vegan groups in their area. I have even taken friends and family on field trips to Whole Foods to teach them how to shop and what to look for. I invite them to the gym with me to give them some ideas and tips for working out either there or at home.
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