Vegan Olympians are a rare breed. They have managed to achieve significant feats of agility and strength within their intense workout regimens, dietary restrictions and requirements, and performance during the heat of Olympic competition. Overcoming the intense stress on both the body and mind starts in the kitchen, as the food we eat functions to not only make us feel full and satisfied, but nourished and ready to go along with the rest of our day.
For your average person, a whole foods, plant-based diet can provide essential nutrients to get through the daily grind of work and leisure. Some may have more challenging, fast-paced, and physical jobs that require even more nourishment. Others may have a more mentally stimulating work environment, but less physical movement, such as those working a corporate desk job. Whatever the specific need may be, we all need appropriate nutrient intake throughout our days to function at our best. For vegan Olympians, this requirement is escalated and, in the most rare of cases, achieved to perfection as an Olympic runner passes through the finish line to win the 1st place Gold, or an Olympic extreme snowboarder sticks all of her landings in a half pipe to get the highest score from the judges.
All feats ranging from the simple and mundane of the day-to-day to the most extreme that athletes perform require excellent nutrition to be successful. Of course, other factors certainly play a role in the quality of performance such as practice, how often they workout, the quality of the workout regimen, genetics, and more; but it is hard to ignore that the food we eat plays an important part in this puzzle.
Foods the Vegan Olympians Eat
(and that you should eat if you aren’t!):
Quinoa is one of the most balanced, nutrient-dense foods on the planet. It is considered a “perfect source of protein” and contains all the required amino acids you need in your diet. It is truly a superfood, and unlike some that don’t taste all that great, quinoa is great on its own or when made as a part of a larger vegan meal. You can easily add a little salt or pepper for flavor, or mix with veggies like spinach and tomato. The only limit is your imagination. In many ways, I use quinoa like pasta in that it serves as a great base that you can build upon with ease.
For more quinoa talk, check out our Mexican Quinoa Casserole Recipe!
Broccoli is a unique vegetable in that it is very much like a triptych painting. That is, it is one vegetable comprised of three distinct, but equally valuable, parts. Broccoli is made up of the head (or florets), which is probably the part you are most familiar with. Next, the stalk which you may or may not have tried. Lastly, the broccoli leaves which are often disregarded (as used as feed for cattle or composted into fertilizer) and never make it to the grocery store shelf. The truth is, all are valuable to a whole foods, plant-based diet and should be explored. There is a lot of variety in taste here, as well as nutritional content (which is similar across the 3 broccoli sections in general, but with some exceptions). As many know with preparing recipes, the 3 different types of broccoli also allow this veggie to be used in a larger number of cooking contexts. I would suggest you add broccoli into your diet if you aren’t already eating it because of all the added value it brings to your health. These “little trees” will thank you for it.
Related: The Top 10 Reasons You Should Eat Broccoli Leaves
3). Green Peas
When faced with the question of whether or not you can get enough protein from a plant-based diet, I love to turn to peas as an example. Next time you are at the supermarket, pick up a bag of green peas and take note of the nutritional facts on the back of the package. The protein content, around 8 grams per serving, is very high and easy to consume. Not to mention, peas go well in a number of contexts such as in whole wheat pasta dishes and when served with quinoa. A simple favorite of mine is a combo of rice and peas.
Green peas serve vegan Olympians quite well, and when they need an extra kick, adding pea protein powder to their diet is a simple thing to do. It is a great alternative to the whey protein powders that are known to cause bloating and “other” undesirable side effects.
4). Black Beans
Black beans (or really, any kind of bean) is an excellent source of vegan protein, and provides a number of healthy carbs and calories an athletes body needs to perform. As a vegan diet can sometimes be too low on caloric value for certain, specific needs (such as that of world class athletes), introducing more calorie dense foods in larger portions can be an easy way to meet these needs. Of course, calories are really just a measurement of “energy in, energy out.”
As athletes can train 3 - 5 hours a day (if not more), their bodies can become starved of energy and nutrients, which is why a food like black beans becomes so valuable. Like other entries on this list, black beans can be used in a lot of different cooking situations. They can be eaten on their own and prepared in a pressure cooker. They can be combined into larger recipes, most commonly vegan tacos and burritos. They pair well with Spanish rice and other dishes.
One cup of cooked lentils contains 230 calories, 18 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbohydrates including 16 grams of fiber. In short, this relatively small quantity of food packs a powerful punch in what it provides the body. While lentils may not be the first vegetable that jumps into everyone’s mind, as it is sadly often neglected in most diets, it is an essential vegan food that pairs wonderfully with a variety of lunch and dinner combinations.
Like many of the veggies on this list, kale is one I really have come to appreciate as I grow it in my backyard garden. It is a bountiful crop that is easy to care for, and provides my family and I with a large quantity that I continue to harvest again and again throughout the season. As with many green leafy vegetables, kale can be excellent unprocessed, used as a salad base, and can also be cooked and steamed as a garnish.
For kale cooking tips, check out How To Cook Kale in an Instant Pot Pressure Cooker.
A diet initially recommended by Dr. McDougall in his book The Starch Solution consists of eating 70% starches, of which potatoes are a core part. Potatoes are really valuable to your health, and have served as a staple in my own diet as I transitioned into a WFPB diet 3 years ago. They are valuable to athletes because they provide higher calorie contents when compared with most other vegetables, they taste great, and are nutritionally dense as well. They are a root vegetables that, for many, can be an excellent way to “root” your diet to something intrinsically healthy.
Related: The Potato Strong Recipe Guide Review
I eat oatmeal almost every day because it is a well-rounded, tasty breakfast food. It starts my day off strong, and like many of the greatest vegan friendly foods around, is easy to make adjustments too. Most days I just add an assortment of fruits, like strawberries and blueberries fresh from my garden, to make the flavor pop. On occasion, I’ll add some organic maple syrup or brown sugar if I want a sweeter flavor. For vegan Olympians, oatmeal is bound to be a staple of breakfast given its caloric value, nutritional content, and high protein and fiber content. Not to mention, it is simple to prepare and can be consumed on the go if needed.
A whole food, plant-based diet could be your solution to performing like a vegan Olympian. Even if you are not aspiring to be a star athlete, a plant-based diet can help you reclaim your health. This translates into easily recognizable qualities like being less tired and groggy throughout the day, and feeling less aches and pains that you might feel just while doing simple, low energy tasks like tending your garden or cooking. Let these Olympian vegans be an inspiration to you, and motivate you to pick yourself up and conquer disease and feeling lousy just by making this switch to a better, healthier diet and lifestyle.
Do you enjoy articles about vegan Olympians? With the Summer Games in Rio just around the corner, Plant-Smart Living has put together a couple of informative pieces that you might enjoy including: The Top 12 Olympic Athletes Who Are Vegan & 4 Plant-Based Olympian Books to Help You Perform at Your Best!