Those that know me know I am most definitely not a vegetarian, much less a vegan. I am an avid hunter and take a lot of pride in harvesting, cleaning, and processing my own meat- it’s organic, grass-fed, antibiotic free, and all the other “clean” buzzwords out there!
However, we are all different, and in the world of endurance sports, diet is just as much of a training factor as the miles you put in. While I prefer to get protein from venison, turkey, and fish, many have experienced incredible gains by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. Although that is not a choice everyone will want to make, I was curious to learn more from someone who has, so I contacted my friend Lauren.
Lauren is an amazing triathlete who races with T3 in my hometown of Austin, TX. She and I met in 2015 while we were both training for Ironman Texas, a first full distance Ironman for both of us. She completed her race almost 2 full hours faster than me, and has been steadily kicking my butt ever since, so I thought it wise to seek out a few of her secrets through an interview!
1. When and why did you decide to become vegan?
You could say this has been about a 10 year journey for me, I started cutting out meat when I was about 15 and I decided to try going vegan around 4 years ago! I decided to do this after reading a book called Fast Food Nation, it horrified me especially since my family raises cattle.
2. Have you been a vegan the entire time you’ve been an athlete? If not, how has the change in your diet affected your training and racing?
My only experience as an athlete eating meat was in Junior High and early High School, in high school I played volleyball anywhere from 10-20 hours a week about 9 months out of the year. When I cut out meat I actually got faster and better! I guess I have always been a veggie powered triathlete 🙂
3. What are the difficulties associated with being a vegan triathlete?
During Ironman training I would get SO HUNGRY and it was really hard not to stuff my face with foods that have dairy in them, I would crave Nutella horribly and sometimes I gave in! But, living in South Austin it’s pretty easy to eat vegan; almost every restaurant has options and some restaurants cater specifically to vegetarian and vegan food which is amazing. We live less than half a mile away from Mr. Natural, which is an all vegetarian (and mostly vegan) Mexican restaurant & bakery. Their food cures everything. Other than cravings I have never had problems, I don’t take any supplements and I have never had iron deficiencies or other vitamin/mineral problems that many people seem to associate with the no meat lifestyle. Sometimes it really isn’t fun having to read all the ingredients on an item before stuffing my face, but a little restraint never hurt anyone.
4. In turn, what are the rewards? (There have to be rewards, or no one would do it!)
I seriously never get sick, I get a small cold about once a year and that is all. Except for food poisoning, I can’t remember the last time I had a fever or anything serious (probably high school?). I think not eating meat has also changed my taste buds, I enjoy eating healthy foods like veggies and fruits.
5. What resources do you use to find help with being a vegan athlete? Good websites, blogs, forums?
Honestly I don’t subscribe to any vegan triathlete specific resources, I do love Pinterest for healthy vegan recipes and my favorite blog is “Oh She Glows”. In my opinion as an athlete the most important eating rule is moderation in everything: don’t cut out carbs, but don’t think you need to devour all the bread at dinner either. I don’t think there is one right way to do things so instead of following anyone else’s plan after all of these years I tend to just eat what I crave.
6. What’s your favorite vegan race fuel?
Infinit is my tried and trued race nutrition, I use it for everything! I also love Nuun for my day to day life. I typically have 2-3 tabs a day of the different types of Nuun. I also devour the Amrita bars- they are deliciously chewy without sticking in your teeth! And if I am feeling a little decadent I’ll take out a Complete Cookie (Author’s side note: Complete Cookies are so good!)
7. What’s your favorite dish to recover with after a long workout?
Ohhhh vegan mac and cheez – the cheez part is made mostly using butternut squash or sweet potato! It is so delicious and depending on what we have in the fridge I add in peas or broccoli or beets (pretty much anything and everything lol). Oh She Glows has an awesome Vegan Mac and Cheez recipe! I usually double the butternut squash amount and then update the rest of the cheese recipe based on taste and thickness of the sauce.
8. What piece of advice do you have for athletes considering adopting a vegan diet?
I follow the 50/30/20 rule, 50% of my plate is healthy carbs (whether that is a starchy veggie or pasta depends on what I am craving), 30% is some kind of vegan protein like tofu, tempeh, beans etc, and the other 20% is avocado. Lol just kidding, 20% is usually a
fat or some nut or olive oil based sauce. But lets be honest I put avocado on pretty much everything. (Author’s side note: We live in the Great State of Texas where Avocados are cheap and plentiful year round. Yes, be jealous, for they are delicious.)
9. Anything else you want to share?
Be open to new ideas and be nice to everyone 🙂 Many vegans get a bad rep for being high and mighty. Lets try to change that!
Also, buy a high powered blender. We have a Vitamix S-Series and it gets used basically every day for smoothies, protein pancake mix or sauces.
Looking for further inspiration from a vegan perspective! Follow Lauren on Instagram or Twitter!Inspired? Ready to give it a try? I know I’m definitely going to be trying that Mac and Cheez! As endurance athletes, we all need to focus on a clean, healthy, balanced diet that fuels us for the work ahead. Even if going completely vegan is not your plan, there is no denying that the whole foods, plentiful fruits and veggies, and fresh ingredient involved in vegan recipes are pivotal to fueling and refueling efficiently (and deliciously!)
Much like the blog she mentioned above, there are tons of resources out there! A quick Buzzfeed search showed me how to make 5 vegan meals for $20 (debunking the myth that eating healthy is automatically a budget killer!) and, perhaps more importantly, 21 three-ingredient vegan desserts, all of which I want to eat right now!
Remember, eating something that is “vegan” does not automatically mean it is good for you! Vegan is a diet that involves not eating any animal product, such as meat, or product produced through animals, such as milk or other dairy. There are varying degrees of veganism as well, including those who will not consume or use anything that involves animal labor, such as honey or silk. No degree of diet adherence is more right or wrong than the other- it is all about finding what works best for your body, your conscience, and your life.
I hope you found this interview and the resources interesting an informative. If going vegan is right for you, good luck on the journey! Any change in lifestyle has challenges, and like Lauren said, we should lift each other up and be supportive, rather than spending our time trying to prove whose diet is the best. If it’s good for us and good for our bodies, well, then, let’s eat!
Jenny is a Moxie Cycling Ambassador and blog contributor. Check out her bio here!