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Swim, bike, run… beer.


Jon Smith from New Orleans calls himself the “plant powered triathlete,” but that’s only partially true. He’s also powered by beer.

Smith is a vegan who drastically changed his diet and lifestyle to drop nearly 100 pounds while training for and competing in triathlons. But as a former wine shop owner for 16 years, he didn’t give up his favorite alcoholic beverages.

Recently we we drank a few beers and chatted about beer runner philosophy for his Garden Variety podcast. We hit it off right away, and I had a great time. You can download that episode here.

Read on for how his story of  weight loss, vegan-friendly beer, and what special beverage he plans to reach for when he finishes Ironman Florida.

How did you manage to lose almost 100 pounds while continuing to drink beer?

Drinking less but better. Maybe enjoying 2 really good beers rather than 6 marginal beers. I also tried to have beer with food more and would use it as a carbohydrate. That way the protein and fat would minimize the impact of the carbo calories from the beer and I would be more full and less inclined/able to drink more. It’s about pace and balance.

How and why did you start your podcast?

Garden Variety Tri

Click photo for podcast link

Originally it was going to be a blog on healthy eating and exercise in New Orleans, and after a month or two of doing it I realized I wanted to do more. I’m a big podcast guy and saw it as a void in the pod-osphere. You see more people getting into a plant based diet and there’s little information about how to get started and how to fit it into an active lifestyle. Basically I saw a need and filled it. In many ways I’m a communicator at heart, so maybe this is filling some deep seeded need to broadcast!

As someone from a wine background, how does the craft beer world compare?

It takes a lot of great beer to make good wine, as the saying goes, and I think fine wine and craft beer share a very similar approach to the world. They’re both hand crafted, artisanal beverages. A great craft beer and a great wine are both living things and have soul and character, they tell you a lot about the person that made them and actually transcend just a beverage with a means to an end. It is true that a brewer and a winemaker can both approach their craft with the same zeal as an artist and when the outcome is good there’s no other experience like it.

What’s the last great beer you had?

Has to be Brew Dog’s Bashah. Its a collaborative effort they do with Stone. Its a strong ale and the beer is the definition of intense. Layers and layers of flavor. I’m lousy at the structure of describing beer (head, etc) but this is a dark beast of a beer with aromas of roasted coffee, dark chocolate and burnt biscuit bottoms (you know the smell of the biscuit bottom that gets stuck to the bottom of the baking sheet). Nice hoppiness and a finish that lasts forever. Truly a rare and indelible beer.

I think the best beer I ever had was at a beer dinner a buddy of mine who’s a big wig in the local big Macro brew wholesaler (no, not that one, the one in St, Louis) held at his house. This was in 2007 and we had a 1993 and 1994 Thomas Hardy’s Ale. They were so evolved and intense and were my first truly great experience with aged beer.

How about the last epic workout?

Graden Variety Triathlete

Has to be my Ironman 70.3 last October. I’ve had lots of good workouts since then, but in that race I took off an HOUR off of my time at the same distance a mere 6 months prior. I have a full race calendar this year with an Ironman, so I’m sure there’ll be plenty of epic workouts this year.

As a vegan, is there any type of beer that you favor or stay away from?

I try to drink as hand-crafted and as local as possible. Good for me that in New Orleans our craft/local beer situation has gotten a LOT better. The thing about being vegan, though, is that I’m doing it for athletic training. I’m not religious about it, I’m just trying to do something good for my body. If I can drink beer made from good ingredients that’s good enough for me. If I don’t drink local/craft I like good, minimalist German beers (e.g. Weihenstephaner) or another minimally (f**ed) with beer. I also turn to trappists for the same reason. I figure monks aren’t using GMO grains in their process.

Do you have a beer picked out for after the Ironman Triathlon you’re training for?

I think that honor is going to go to Champagne, BUT I do have a 3 year vertical of Gouden Carolus and a 3 year vertical of Delerium Tremens Christmas that I’m itching to pull out for a big tasting this winter. Actually, thinking about it, since my race is in a state that sells Dogfish Head, perhaps after the Champagne I think its a fair bet there’l be a 90 minute IPA or 4 after that. Cliche’ I know, but you love what you love, right?


Tim Cigelske is DRAFT's Beer Runner. (Beer Run•ner [noun]: Someone equally devoted to fine beer appreciation and an active, healthy lifestyle. Ex. "John downed four microbrews at the triathlon finish line. He's a total beer runner.”) Follow Tim on Twitter @TheBeerRunner, and email him at beerrunner [at]

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One Comment

  • katierunsthis says:

    Great article! That’s so awesome that he lost 100 POUNDS without having to give up everything. And yes, I think he’ll be full deserving of Champagne post-IronMan NOLA!

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