Melissa Sundermann, has been competing in cycling, running
and multisport events – completing epic distances at elite times.
She was the first Amateur woman at the REV3 Ironman triathlon where she finished with a personal best of 10:57:20, crossing the line with her husband and children.
Melissa qualified for and ran the Boston marathon nine times, including a personal best of 3:04. She set her personal best at the 70.3 ironman distance with 4:57:59.
- Ironman time under 11 hours
- Half ironman time under 5 hours
- Competitor at the Duathlon World Championships
- 100 mile cycle competitor
On two wheels she’s competed in the Lumberjack 100 mile singletrack Mountain Bike race. This was Melissa’s first 100 mile bike race and she finished in the top 10. She’s also competed at the Duathlon World Championships.
Melissa turned vegan in late 2018.
“I became interested in going plant-based while I was preparing to take my Lifestyle Medicine Board Certification exam” Melissa explains. “Lifestyle Medicine is largely based upon following a wholefood/plant-based diet. Once I started doing the research about all of the benefits of a WFPB diet, there was no turning back. I was mostly eating a pescatarian diet prior to going completely plant-based, so the transition was not very difficult.”
A clean and nutritious diet is a crucial part of Melissa’s plan, and it enables her to take on a demanding lifestyle. Training fits in around work and family, and she makes an early start several times each week. “I am up by 4:30am most mornings and run at least 7 miles prior to work. I live in Michigan and run outside all year. The saying ‘there’s no bad weather, just bad equipment’ holds true for our winters. After work, I may go for a dirt road bike ride on my gravel bike or head to the gym to do plyometric exercises.
“Once I started doing the research about all of the benefits of a Whole Food Plant Based diet, there was no turning back.“
“When I am training for triathlons, I try to swim two to three times per week in addition to running and biking. On weekends I meet my tribe for longer runs and/or bike rides. I practice yoga and pilates and find these activities improve my strength and flexibility.”
Like many vegan athletes, Melissa has faced a few questions, although this has turned to interest.
“My training pals had a lot of questions. They were concerned about how I would get enough protein. Since I was also preparing for my Lifestyle Medicine Board exam, I was able to educate my teammates about the benefits of going WFPB not only for general health, but also for maximum performance. Needless to say, my tribe has now converted to eating a mostly plant-based diet.”
Melissa has found that in preparing food she needs to be organized and plan ahead with her grocery shopping.
“I work full-time, so I need to be efficient in my planning and preparing of meals. I eat a lot of nuts and seeds. Since I work out every day, the extra calories from nuts and seeds help to keep my calorie intake in check.
“My daily lunch basically consists of roasted sweet potato, squash, kale, beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli, snap peas and a selection of fresh fruit” she explains. “I also consume a lot of tofu and my favourite way to prepare it is to scramble the tofu along with turmeric, cumin, spinach and peppers. I add the tofu to grains, pizza, potatoes, salads, etc. I love quinoa as this a great source of protein. I add ground flax and nutritional yeast to almost every meal I eat throughout the day.”
Travelling and competing away from home present a change to the routine, but nothing too disruptive.
“I always bring my own trail mix (unsalted almonds, cashews and dried cranberries) and raw veggies. This way, I am not tempted to snack on unhealthy items given out on airplanes or sold at convenience stores. Once I arrive at my destination, I head to a local grocery store and stock up on fresh fruit, veggies, hummus and wholegrain pita bread. I also do research on local restaurants that are vegan friendly so I know I will have good options at meal time.”
Melissa is looking ahead to more extreme events, including two 50k ultra runs in the winter before she hits age 50 in March 2020 – and the Boston and New York marathons of that year.
“My goal is to work up to doing longer ultraruns in the future and would love to race Western States or Leadville [both 100 miles] someday. I hope to spend more time on my gravel bike and enjoy doing ‘dirt road’ races. I will likely do another Ironman in the future. I have done three Ironmans thus far and like most triathletes, dream about doing Kona [World Championships] one day.”
She also plans to continue bringing plant-based health to her patients.
“I recently became Board Certified in Lifestyle Medicine and am thrilled to have found this area of medicine. I have been practicing medicine for about 20 years and I am convinced Lifestyle Medicine is the best approach for achieving optimal health and wellness. Lifestyle Medicine advocates for a 100% Wholefood Plant Based (WFPB) diet in addition to daily exercise, good sleep, avoidance of risky behaviors (alcohol, tobacco, drugs) and stress reduction. I feel I practice what I preach and have integrated these principles into my daily routine.
“I hope to be a role model to my patients and community.”