The Super-Charged Athlete: Finding My Vegan Feet

 

by Kate Strong

 

Let Your Food Be Your Medicine And Your Medicine Be Your Food — Hippocrates

 

Vegan Fuel For Athletic Excellence

Vegan Fuel For Athletic Excellence

 

My journey to becoming a vegan was not through conscious decision-making. Throughout my life, I was led to believe that all ‘serious’ endurance athletes needed animal protein to develop muscle mass and milk to keep bones strong. Not once did I think to question these theories.I am a triathlete and enjoy participating in longer-distance events, such as Ironman. It was never questioned that I needed to eat meat and eggs and drink milk to sustain a healthy athletic body, it was a given.

That was until one day, whilst working at my guesthouse, two groups of people overheard my woes of an aborted morning run due to an asthma attack. I’ve had asthma since early childhood and even though I stopped using the medically prescribed pump for my asthma in my adult years, I have always suffered from it and sound like a steam train during any physical exercise!

Both clients suggested that if I eliminate dairy and reduced animal products from my diet, I would breath easier. Normally, I would have brushed aside these ‘absurd’ opinions, yet they were being shared by sane, intelligent people who’s opinions I valued.

 

Sunset Near My Home

Sunset Near My Home

One person had been diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer and given only two years to live. Twelve years later, he was sharing this knowledge whilst on a mini-break with his seven year-old daughter. The second person is a dear friend who had recently flown back from Colorado after having completed a naturopathy course. Maybe these people knew what they were talking about!

However much giving up cheese, milk and all the creamy dairy goodies that populated my diet broke my heart, I decided to trial 30 days of no dairy and monitor if there was any change to my breathing. For the test, I chose a stretch of road I regularly run and time myself to verify if my speed altered throughout the 30 days.

 

Road For Test Run

Road For Test Run

 

Running2

Within just four days of eliminating all dairy products, I had improved my speed by 5%: a huge improvement in such a short time! In addition, I wasn’t wheezing and my lungs were clear of mucus. I was breathing deeper with less pain and generally feeling much better. My friends also commented that they couldn’t hear me approaching, as before my wheezing was quite audible to them.

I was sold.

 

Vegan Coffee - I can have my coffee and drink it too!

Vegan Coffee – I can have my coffee and drink it too!

 

It was at this point I became aware of the fact that the fuel (food and drink) we ingest and digest directly impacts the quality of our mental and physical output (our energy levels). Seeing that I am a qualified mechanical engineer, I should have realized this earlier, as when working with machines we have different grade fuels for more optimal outputs. Why not our body too?

Living alone and also being geographically separate from my family (they live in the UK and I in Australia) meant I could experiment with nutrition without too many restraints and already programmed dogmas. I started questioning my other long-held beliefs surrounding diet and endurance athletes and I became my very own dietary guinea pig!

 

Breakfast Muesli

Breakfast Muesli

 

Over a period of months, I slowly cut out all meat and animal products focusing predominantly on wholefoods with the minimal amount of processing (e.g. quinoa over pasta). Thanks to trial and error: what made me feel better, I ate more of — and what made me feel worse, I stopped eating.

 

Home-Cooked Vegan Dinner

Home-Cooked Vegan Dinner

 

Once I proved that I felt better in myself thanks to the food, I did some light reading to verify that this wasn’t partly due to other variables in my life, such as having a ‘good day’.

I found a report linking the consumption of eggs to an increased risk of respiratory ailments and asthma. The same report showed a reduction of the same ailments through consuming fruit and soy products as an alternative.

Another report stated that eating red meat and drinking cow’s milk played a role in the onset of asthma and allergic diseases among schoolchildren in Ankara over a 10-year period. The more I read, the more I realized that my old-school diet of high animal protein and dairy sources was not only holding me back in my sporting goals, but negatively impacting my overall health and wellbeing.

 

I have a few mantras I live by, of which one is to live a conscious life.

 

Kate Strong, Not Just An Athlete

Kate Strong, Not Just An Athlete

 

Fueled with all the data about the health-risks of eating animal products, I could no longer consciously eat these things. Every time I went to a restaurant and ordered my ‘usual’ of chicken or fish, the quiet voice in the back of my mind reminded me about the health-risks. What little joy I had left for the meal was diminishing with every mouthful. I still had deep-rooted beliefs that I needed meat as a protein-source and by becoming vegan my sport, which was flourishing, would suffer.

 

2014-08-10-09.57.13-HDR-1-624x832 2

 

Again, some more research put my mind at ease, stating: “The available evidence supports neither a beneficial nor a detrimental effect of a vegetarian diet on physical performance capacity.”  Also, my overall wellbeing would improve as vegetable proteins provide all the essential amino acids and this diet choice would likely result in reducing the intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.

One bold day, I decided to ‘come out’ as a vegan. I felt nervous, scared of being judged and criticized by my family, friends and society. Yet, it was something that I had to do. Two years’ ago, I made a decision to walk away from an ordinary life; to stop living in the shadow of what other people thought I should be doing, living, thinking and eating.

 

Vegan Food With Friends

Vegan Food With Friends

 

I chose to stop existing and start living.

I choose today to live a conscious life and I choose to be a vegan.

Two months after a 100% vegan lifestyle, I had the biggest sporting event in my life to date: ITU World Championships long-distance triathlon. The 2.5 mile swim, 74 mile cycle and 13 mile run was held in China. I was both nervous and excited. Was my decision to become vegan correct, or were the skeptics about my newfound love of whole foods correct?

 

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I saw the event as a celebration of all the challenges and obstacles which could have prevented me from getting to the start line, and the whole event was an uplifting experience. As icing on the cake, I finished first in my age-group a full 15 minutes ahead of silver place! Any concerns regarding being a vegan and excelling in endurance sports were laid to rest. Vegan diets produce World Champions!

 

ITU World Champion

ITU World Champion

 

On top of Mt Blackheath near my (current) home2

 

The titles of vegan and world-champion triathlete are both new to me and I’m discovering new areas for improvement and food for thought on an almost daily basis.

I look forward to sharing with you each month my stories and insights. Until then…

Kate Strong

Kate Strong, aka Strong Kate, is a Welsh-born international traveller. Kate has spread her wings far and wide not only geographically but in every aspect of her life. Having graduated with a double Masters in Mechanical Engineering from French and English universities, Kate has had a diverse career path from working with fashion companies such as Gucci, Diesel and Benetton in Italy, at an environmental protection agency in Russia, to working as a Dive-Master in Mexico! Kate is a 2014 World Champion, Women’s Long-distance Triathlete.

Kate is currently based in Sydney, Australia with the intention to move to the shores of Lake Geneva mid 2015 to develop a conscious-living business promoting health and fitness products and services. Contact Kate with your thoughts and suggestions and follow Kate as she trains for upcoming events.

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