Lessons from 1 year as a vegan athlete

The beginning of 2018 marks my first calendar year as a vegan athlete; with a degree in exercise science I was more educated than the average athlete going into veganism. It's been fun and surprisingly easy but there are several takeaways that I can impart to others making the plunge.

Pack Meals

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This point may be obvious to some and a lot of omnivorous athletes do pack meals as well; but this becomes almost an absolute must for the plant based athlete. I live in Toronto; a city bristling with progress and a vibrant vegan scene, but even here if I am in a meeting and get out of the facility late or get stuck in traffic longer than expected there is no guarantee that any of the fast food stops in the area will have nutritious vegan options. If you absolutely don't have the time to pack meals a certain day look ahead at the menus of the restaurants in the area: I heard rave reviews about Harvey's veggie burger only to pull up to the drive thru and be told that it wasn't vegan.

TIP: The Indian diet is mainly vegetarian and most dishes can be tweaked to be vegan. If you need to eat out and are unsure any Indian restaurant is a good place to start. 

Be prepared for some weight fluctuation

Pre-veganism my normal weight hovered at about 205lbs, and after about 2 months I had a not-huge-but-noticeable drop down to 196lbs. Now I am a fairly utilitarian eater; I mainly fuel for performance and outside of a competitive peaking phase (where I might be stuffing myself a bit more) I eat about 4 meals a day with snacks in between. In the transition to a vegan or plant based diet be aware that while the foods you are eating are likely more nutrient dense they are not as calorie dense as animal products. This means you will have to eat more food to get the same amount of protein and fat as you would from animal products. Around the 6 month mark I found my groove and my weight has since inched back up to my normal 205lbs. When you are making the transition make sure you give yourself time away from the most intensive parts of the season where the last thing your body needs is another rapid change in stimulus; this is ESPECIALLY important for athletes in sports that involve weight classes.

TIP: Find a snack you enjoy that can help add quick calories that may get lost during the transition. For me pumpkin seeds have been a great option. For more check out our video on vegan protein sources (https://youtu.be/B6aQgGykMvs)

Be ready to make minds explode

As a strength and conditioning coach who still competes at a high level I am the antithesis of all the physical qualities commonly associated with veganism; and I love it. When the average person thinks of veganism they picture pale, thin, weak and unathletic. This is a strong display of the mass media campaign by the animal products industry to paint themselves as the only foods capable of building a strong human body; as a vegan athlete you are living proof this isn't the case. Don't get annoyed by it, embrace it. For every person who asks me "Whoa wait a minute, you're vegan?" I clearly inform them how easy it is to get all your nutrients from plant sources and why the environmental and animal rights impacts of animal products do not outweigh the convenience of sticking with old traditions. Obviously not everyone is going to turn vegan from that short interaction, but you just hit a light bulb in that persons brain and probably showed them something they thought impossible.

TIP: Have a short 20 second spiel ready for anyone who asks why or how you are vegan while being able to excel in your sport. This way you can be informative without being labeled preachy.

So far it's been a great journey in veganism for me and I am looking forward to pushing the envelope of what we can accomplish in performance and in helping preserve the planet for generations to come.

Jordan Guilford holds a degree in Exercise Science & Health Promotion and is a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He spent 4 years as a Fitness Instructor for the Canadian Armed Forces and is the Fitness Director for the Canadian Ice Academy.