It was January 2011, and Mýa’s life was in need of a refresh. So the R&B singer, famous for her self-titled album that went double-platinum, made two drastic resolutions: She vowed to stay vegetarian for 365 days and finish a marathon before the year’s end.
Mýa, then 31, had never been a runner. Plus she was recovering from ankle surgery to repair torn tendons from her appearance on season nine of “Dancing With the Stars.” Still, she saw the race as “the ultimate challenge” and set her sights on the New York City Marathon in November.
“It was a test of my own strength and will,” says Mýa, now 34. “I wanted to prove to myself that I was still physically healthy and that I could do something to challenge myself.”
The singer says her first runs were brutal. “I would run 10 minutes on the treadmill and be exhausted.”
Mýa started working with a trainer as she continued to work through her ankle rehabilitation and to ramp up her mileage before toeing the line on Nov. 6, 2011.
“The first half was easy,” Mýa recalls. “After the 14th or 15th mile, things started getting tough. It was mind over matter. Every mile and a half, I would stop and stretch. My whole body was in excruciating pain.”
Mýa finished the marathon in just under seven hours, helping to raise $200,000 for the North Shore Animal League in the process.
While training, she learned to fuel her body on a meat-free diet. “There’s a stigma attached to vegetarian food. My friends would say, ‘Oh, gosh, that’s no fun,” Mýa explains. “But I discovered so many great dishes that I eat habitually now, because they’re delicious.”
In addition to non-meat-based protein sources, such as soy and beans, Mýa experimented with almond milk, coconut milk and vegan “cheese.” She also challenged her palate with new fruits and vegetables, including passion fruit, squash and eggplant.
Mýa kept her meat-free resolution through 2011 but added fish and chicken later. However, this past January, the singer renewed her resolution: She pledged to eat vegetarian until July, then to eat vegan for the rest of the year.
She’s not sure whether she’ll continue with the vegan regimen forever. Running, however, is a habit she says she’ll have for life.
Mýa is currently planning to run the New York City Marathon again this year. But regardless of her race plans, she runs at least 2 miles outdoors almost every single day. “Getting outside and getting in touch with nature is such a spiritual cleanse for me,” Mýa says. “I am so happy and proud to call myself a runner.”
What I Really Eat
Breakfast: “I own a NutriBullet, and I like to make a smoothie with almond coconut milk, a green vegetable like kale or spinach, fresh ginger root, pineapple, apple, banana and strawberry. I like to add cacao nibs too—it gives you an antioxidant and gives the smoothie a grainy texture that’s more filling for breakfast. If I have it post-work-out, I’ll add some protein powder.”
Lunch: “My next meal is heavier. Usually I’ll make a salad with boiled eggs or substitute chicken strips. If I’m not traveling, I like to prepare five or six salads for the week. I get dried cranberries or trail mix to put on top and add celery, carrots, onions, tomatoes and even cut-up strawberries. I like oil and vinegar for a dressing, and I’ll add oregano and basil for flavor.”
Snacks: “If I get hungry throughout the day, protein shakes and fiber bars are my go-tos.”
Dinner: “I try to stay away from carbs at dinner, but I love rice and pasta. If I have to be disciplined, I’ll have curry vegetables. If I don’t, I’ll have pasta like manicotti—Italian food is my favorite!”