You are a vegan, a yogini, and a triathlon and OCR athlete – the combo sounds as unconventional (or crazy?) as it gets. Can you tell us how you began your plant-powered journey?
Suddenly I was sleeping better, running longer, recovering faster
It is indeed, and makes me question my intentions as triathlon and OCR are two very different beasts. But the vegan side of things is easy. I was in my final year of college and decided to take some environmental studies classes. I learned that the easiest way to reduce my carbon footprint was to stop eating animals. So one day I woke up, and that was it. I was done.
The feedback was miserable. My gym friends told me I would fail and become weak. My classmates just rolled their eyes. But what I gained was far greater than just smaller carbon footprint. Suddenly I was sleeping better, running longer, recovering faster. It made it easy to keep up the bunny food!
What about OCR – how did you get into that?
OCR was an accident. When I was a little girl, my mom could never get me inside. All I wanted was to climb trees and play in mud. When I saw an OCR in my neighbourhood ( “Dirt Girl Mud Run” ) I harassed a few friends and signed up. It was awesome, but I needed more. I needed a challenge… enter Spartan Race.
What do you consider the best advantage of being a vegan athlete?
In my opinion, the best advantage has been my recovery time. My body feels like a well-oiled machine. Plants are more easily processed than meat, so those nutrients are more readily utilised by the body. Most vegan athletes will tell you that recovery time is virtually non-existent for this reason. It’s easy to go all out in a workout, wake up the next morning and do it again.
What about drawbacks? Did you experience any, aside from your friends being skeptical?
The drawback at first was just figuring out proper nutrition. We are so stuck in our ways. “Where do you get protein” is the biggest question asked because we think protein can only come from animals. So finding that filler was scary at first, until I learned about things like tempeh, quinoa, etc.
We are stuck indeed. Recently, in the fitness industry especially, there’s been a lot of hype over products with insane amounts of hardly bio-unavailable protein. What is your view on the optimal protein intake for an intense lifestyle like yours: do you aim for specific measurements like macros, calorie count or something else?
I definitely aim for a specific balance, but that changes depending on the day. I think it’s trial and error. Macronutrient balance is such a finicky thing. Since I’m mostly an endurance athlete, I keep my carbohydrates up around 50% of my daily intake of calories. Protein and fat sit around 25% and 25% respectively. The fact is, your body needs carbs to help break down protein. So you can take in all the protein you want; but if you’re not taking in carbs, it’s doing you little good. Women and men are very different in their macro balances, but focusing solely on protein can be damaging to the body. “Carbs” are not just bread. They are veggies and fruits. Things your body needs and wants for quick energy. Eat carbs, people!
Out of interest, what does your grocery basket look like? Are there any essential items which always land in it?
Yes! Always. I am an avocado fanatic. I aim to eat one a day. (For women out there, Yes! That’s close to 30 grams of delicious and wonderful fat. Enough with the low-carb, low-fat stuff!). Bananas, spinach, coconut milk yogurt will always find their way into my basket. Oh, and kale. Eat kale, guys. That stuff is awesome.
I always walk along the walls of the store. Rarely do I go down aisles. All the good stuff is in the produce section, anyway.
That sounds like a good lifehack!
What about your pre workout? do you combine these products, or mix up something unique?
I am a big believer in pre workout, and I know that’s a touchy subject for many. I try to try different kinds, because I like to be knowledgeable regarding supplements. But I always find myself using Vega Sport. It’s super hippie-dippie and I know that, but it does the job. It has things like ginseng and coconut that are natural energy enhancers. It always peps me up without leaving me jittery.
Do you fuel up with anything during longer races, like triathlons, spartan beasts etc?
If I didn’t, I would have to take a nap mid-race! Haha! The trick for refueling is keeping it simple. Carbs that are easily and quickly processed by the body is best, so I stick to stuff like Huma energy gels, Vegan-friendly gummies, or a hydrator in my water bottle.
Hydrator as in electrolytes?
Yes. I use Skratch or Nuun as my electrolyte replenisher, and can make all the difference. For fellow OCRers that finish a race and have a horrible headache, you need more electrolytes! Water isn’t enough on a sweaty day.
Nice, let’s talk about the technical bits. We know you practice yoga, you also run and swim. So, how does your training plan looks like?
I think HIIT (high intensity interval training) is so important for the OCR world
As a fitness instructor, my main classes are more HIIT related. I think HIIT (high intensity interval training) is so important for the OCR world. Plyometrics (think box jumps and burpees) help you snap back after a tough obstacle, so I really focus there. Other than that, my triathlon training keeps me running, biking, and swimming. Try 100 burpees after a swim workout. It’s fun and draining.
I do my best to find one day a week for active recovery and rest. Our muscles break down during workouts and rebuild during rest. Rest is crucial. My rest days are filled with yoga.
Sounds nice. Given that not all athletes out there are able to follow a plant-based diet, what would be the one takeaway from your own lifestyle that you think everyone could and/or should incorporate into theirs?
Add more veggies. Just do it. It’s not that hard to add a side salad to your dinner every night. Or green beans to your lunch; but so many of us forget the veggie (And no. French fries don’t count!). The more color on the plate, the better, herbivore or not. And burpees, of course.
Yes, most of us know how essential they are, but just forget to add more.
What about athletes who are just starting out with a plant-based diet? Any tips or tricks you could share with them that you learned through trial and error?
It’s easy to gain weight being vegan. Chips and oreos are vegan. Just because you’re not eating meat, doesn’t mean you’re suddenly the pinnacle of health. But for those just starting out. Find me. Find others. Because non-vegans in the fitness world can be harsh and judgmental at first. They don’t mean to be. We just fear what we don’t know. And learn to love kale.
What about your goals for the 2015-2016 race seasons? How many OCR or other races have you got planned?
I’ve planned about 18 OCRs this year. It’s my excuse to travel and see the US. I’m looking forward to trying a couple races up in Canada this summer! I have a couple half Ironman races coming up as well, which keeps me on my running game. Goals for this year are to not get injured! haha kidding.. kinda… I want to Podium in an OCR. I know it’s possible. It’s just getting my mind in the game.
That is quite a set of races!
It’s an addiction. A wonderfully muddy addiction
What can I say… It’s an addiction. A wonderfully muddy addiction. I think that’s the fun of OCR. You never hear someone say, “Oh yeah.. That was fun, but I’m good. No more for me.” NEVER have I heard that. We just all want more and more.
If you could go back in time with all those years of experience in mind, what would you tell your past self to do differently?
If I could go back, I would tell myself to respect my body more. In the Austin Super last year I rolled my ankle 4 times. I made the mistake of not giving it a rest and jumped right back into training. I suffered later and destroyed my race season. You’re not weak for resting. You’re not a wuss for babying an injury. If you don’t listen to your body, it will come back to haunt you as it did me.
Just to wrap things up, have you ever considered going back to omnivorous/carnivorous way of living?
I thought I would at first, but never. The thought of meat now just is weird… It’s better for the environment, for my health, and the health of others (namely, those animals I’m not eating). My body is no graveyard. There are way too many amazing meat alternatives to turn back now. And it’s only getting better!
How can people find more about you or reach out for help with their training or a plant-based diet?
I’m quick to respond, and love training and nutrition questions. Strangers are always welcome to contact me at any of those places, and find me at races! Say hi! I love meeting new people in the sport. OCR is such a great and supportive community.