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Elite Athletes, Vegan And High Performance, PERFECT Sports Article

Elite Athletes, Veganism and High Performance

“Mindfulness and advanced preparation support plant-based athletes in sport success”

In this second plant-based installment on PERFECT Sports, more athletes share their “why” and how their plant-based choices support high-level performances in their sports. We also provide a sneak peak of our new DIESEL Vegan protein profile!

Phil Parrot-Migas, Distance Runner

Phil runs every distance from 3,000m on the track to half-marathons on the roads. He trains in London, Ont. and has been vegan for three years.

Why did you choose veganism?

There are three main reasons: ethical, environmental and health performance. I believe an animal’s life is worth more than seconds of satisfaction, that there is a massive positive impact on the environment if you eat a plant-based/vegan diet (climate change), and I personally believe that it’s the healthiest diet a human can follow.

Have you noticed any changes in performance or energy levels since going vegan?

I was vegetarian for about three years prior to going vegan. Within weeks of cutting out meat, I saw improvements in performance and energy. Over the last six years I’ve improved as a runner, mentally and physically. The main factors from my diet that I’ve seen improvements in are energy levels and recovery. I can have stronger workouts and recover quicker so that I am ready for the next session.

What challenges, if any, do you face when fueling and how do you overcome them?

I take B12. But I believe every human should take B12 as we all lack it. I also take vitamin C and vitamin D periodically. I do not take any other supplement as I found that I can find all the right nutrients in plant-based foods but if anything was lacking, I’d suggest adding a well-balanced vegan protein into your diet. 

What are your go-to meals, snacks or recipes for post-workout recovery?

My go-to meals/dinners are vegan enchiladas, lasagna, mac and cheese, lentil burgers, chickpea smash and cauliflower crumble wraps. I also eat variations of salads with couscous or quinoa as the base with veggies and tofu fried in a pan. I also really enjoy Indian food. There are great plant-based ‘meats’ that I tend to eat once a week. Beyond Meat makes great burgers and sausages, but I try to limit my consumption as it’s still fast food. Snack-wise, I really enjoy crackers and hummus. I add nutritional yeast to almost anything, especially to hummus. Cashews and peanuts are also really great snacks.

Do you have any tips or advice for athletes who are looking to make the transition to veganism?

If it interests you, don’t be scared to try it. About six years ago it crossed my mind to try going vegetarian for two weeks and see how I liked it. A year later I cut out fish and then the following year I cut out dairy to go fully vegan. There are so many awesome plant-based foods out there that your taste buds will thank you for going vegan or vegetarian. I do recommend that you try it out in phases. So, try cutting out meat, then fish, then dairy products. To some people, going right into a vegan diet might be a shock if not well versed in plant-based cooking. Give it a shot and stay positive. Follow vegan food accounts on IG. There are so many awesome recipes out there. Going vegan is the best decision I have ever made. I wish I did it sooner. There are so many options now, and I really do believe it will be the future of the human diet (for many obvious reasons).

Anything else you’d like to add about veganism and sport?

If you are looking to have a positive impact on the environment and your health, then going vegan is a very good idea to pursue. There are a few good documentaries on Netflix that really shed light on the benefits of a vegan (animal-free) diet. I highly recommend watching them. ‘Forks Over Knives’ was the catalyst that made me try the veggie diet about six years ago. I then did my own research on the meat industry and how humans can actually perform better under a plant-based diet. I look forward to how the market is actively changing to suit a plant-based diet. I continue to look forward to using my plant-based diet as an instrumental benefit to my performance and growth as a Canadian distance runner.

Kyle Boorsma, Road Cyclist

Kyle became vegetarian about two years ago. After years as an elite runner, he switched to road cycling where he amassed a current record of 13 CIS Gold Medals while competing with Guelph University. He now coaches developmental athletes in Guelph, Ont.

Why did you choose vegetarianism?

I was making very poor dietary choices and feeling like crap! It wasn’t that I thought meat was the ‘problem’ but by choosing not to eat it, I immediately eliminated a lot of poor choices I was making and was left with better options. 

Have you noticed any changes in performance or energy levels since becoming a vegetarian?

Yes, making better dietary choices does make me feel better. 

What challenges, if any, do you face when fueling and how do you overcome them?

I haven’t encountered any challenges. I don’t take any supplements, but I do use nutrition products like protein powder. 

What are your go-to meals, snacks or recipes for post-workout recovery?

Post training, my go-to snack would be a smoothie. Sometimes with dairy but not always. Usually berries or banana, peanut butter and coffee.

Do you have any tips or advice for athletes who are looking to make the transition to a plant-based diet?

For me, it’s not ‘all or nothing.’ It’s more about making better choices more often. Being vegetarian is an easy way to be more disciplined and consistent with making those better choices. 

Anything else you’d like to add about vegetarianism and sport?

I don’t miss eating meat. I thought I would, but I don’t! 

Dr. Katrina Allison, Distance Runner

Katrina is a naturopathic doctor and distance runner in Vancouver, BC. She is an advocate for women’s health and loves to explore West Coast trails with friends whenever her busy schedule allows. She tried a vegan diet for six months while in school.

Why did you choose veganism?

When I was in naturopathic school, we learned a lot about nutrition and one of our nutrition profs was a big advocate of a medical doctor who wrote the book ‘How Not to Die’. It’s basically all about nutrition strategies that support optimal health and longevity. I read the book and a lot of it was based on evidence about plant-based diets.

I wanted to see what I felt like on a plant-based diet. I’ve always liked meat but felt like I could live without it. I eat a lot of plant-based foods. So, I gave it a shot for about six months. I was a week-day vegan, though. I’d eat totally plant-based until the weekend and went out for food.

I was still training competitively, and I noticed more and more high-level athletes were eating vegan diets and that was another reason why I wanted to give it a try.

What were your go-to meals, snacks or recipes for post-workout recovery?

I was more reliant on vegan protein powder to make sure I was getting enough protein. I used it post workouts. For breakfast, I had a lot of muesli or granola with plant-based milks. I made burrito bowls for meals during the day. I ate a lot of tofu, tempeh and lentils.

Do you have any tips or advice for athletes who are looking to make the transition to veganism?

I think you can do it well and in a way that supports your sport, but it definitely takes more mindfulness. You don’t just consume protein naturally, you have to seek it out. You need to seek out the high protein-containing plant foods. You need to education yourself about where you can find protein. Monitor iron and B12 levels, too, because you’re removing the highest iron- and B12-containing foods. Supplement if you need to.

Did you notice any changes in performance or energy levels when you were vegan?

I felt good running on (a plant-based diet), but the biggest thing that made me stop eventually was that I could not maintain my weight. I lost weight. It was a couple years after my stress fracture, and I didn’t want to get another injury. I felt like I was eating so much but I lost weight without even trying.

But I felt like I had good energy, maybe a bit better. Definitely not worse. My performance didn’t decline.

What challenges, if any, do you face when fueling and how do you overcome them?

I felt like I was getting tired of eating a lot of the same foods. Every meal I had was comprised of the same things – some beans, some rice. It got a bit tiresome. I found there was limited choice at that time when I was on the go and felt like I lacked variety.

Kate Ayers Team Canada Runner, PERFECT Sports sponsored athlete and writer

Kate Ayers – author

Kate grew up on a beef and cash crop farm in Simcoe County, Ont. She completed a degree in agricultural science at the University of Guelph while competing in athletics internationally. Kate combined her passions for agriculture, sport and storytelling by becoming a freelance writer. Now in Victoria, she’s an Athletics Canada 1500m runner training for the Olympics.