August 10 2020 – Neil Wood-Mitchell
It's a topic that has received its fair share of debate, publicity and speculation - and believe in it, or not - it's a lifestyle choice that many athletes are keen to explore. Even the true definition (rules) often seem unclear and whilst the often audacious health claims are easy to dispel, they are also undeniably enticing.
It's popularity has no doubt benefitted through 'evidence' in recent documentaries - but the debate as to whether the findings are 100% accurate, still rages on.
An athlete who is in no doubt as to the benefits, is Team Huckson's Holly - and so we asked her, why she made the change - and how has it affected her physically and mentally?
I switched to a plant based diet in my second year at university. Before going plant based I was weak, slow and despite training (mostly gym and sprinting 100/200m at the time) I wasn’t getting any stronger. I did a lot of reading into the benefits and potential limitations of a plant based diet so I went in fully prepared!
I decided to go completely cold turkey (ironic!) and felt stronger within a couple of weeks, even my skin and hair was so much better. It completely changed my mindset towards food and I was mentally feeling so positive and ‘clear’. I had gained a lot of muscle mass and my energy levels just kept going up.
At the time I was doing a lot of weight lifting, and kept getting PBs!
It made me realised that my body clearly thrives off a whole food diet including lots of pulses, legumes, beans, fruit and vegetables. It’s funny looking back to my pre-triathlon days; I was a gym bunny and hated cardio.
In terms of what and how much I usually eat - I don’t track macros or calories, but I do make sure I have a varied and balance diet full of loads of fruit and veggies, but also making sure I’m (re)fuelling correctly with carbs, fats and protein. Having studied exercise and sport science at University, I’d like to say I’ve got a very good base of knowledge for correctly fuelling myself.
Breakfast is usually a frothy oatly coffee, some sort of fruit (melon/peaches/mango) and peanut butter & banana on toast (homemade sourdough if possible). If I’m going out on a longer ride I’ll have electrolytes, energy gels, fruit and nut bars, and a protein bar towards the end of the ride to speed up recovery. To refuel, for lunch I’ll often have something quick and easy like pesto pasta or scrambled tofu on toast –I’ll always add in loads of vegetables to what I’m having like spinach, broccoli, peas, edamame beans and mushrooms. Most days I do 2 sessions, sometimes 3, so after an afternoon session I’ll have a protein shake and a snack like popcorn or soy yoghurt with frozen fruit and peanut butter (I eat A LOT of peanut butter).
I really enjoy home cooking, so I’m always experimenting in the kitchen but if I was to having anything for dinner it would be red lentil and coconut dhal with black rice.
Last but not least, dessert. I am a sucker for ice cream, carrot cake or banana bread. I have a real sweet tooth! I won’t say I eat like this all the time- but I do love a pizza and cider after a busy week of training too!
I’ve found a plant based diet makes me feel stronger and more energetic. In terms of how to get started... Try switching to a few plant based meals during the week and you'll be surprised by how easy it can be. Even the normal classics can become plant based, for example with spaghetti bolognese; switch out the mince for some lentils, mushrooms and grated courgette – the texture and taste is great. I know that dairy can be the hardest to switch, but oat milk is a great milk replacement for tea and coffee. If you’re eating a mostly plant based diet, I do recommend taking B12 supplements because the only source of it in food is meat. I don’t take any other supplements other than protein shakes and occasionally Essential Amino Acids.
There are becoming more and more plant based athletes, and hopefully they can continue to inspire others (like me) to be a bit more plant based. Reducing meat and dairy intake is also a really easy way to reduce your carbon footprint which we need to do to save our planet too!
Hollys plant based adventures are documented on her Instagram page here @plantbasedhmj
Be great to know what you think and if you'll be making the change any time soon?