LIZZIE WELBORN // my transition to becoming a vegan athlete 🌱💪
This blog post was written by Lizzie Welborn.
For the past year I have followed a mostly vegan diet. I am not very public about my diet because I know it can be a very controversial topic. I am not writing this blog to convince other people to go vegan and I am not a dietician so have no qualification to recommend this diet to anyone. This blog is simply to show my experience of being a vegan athlete, and to show that it is not impossible to be vegan and be an athlete.
I am extremely passionate about preserving our precious natural environments and the wildlife within them. Throughout my life I have always tried to be as environmentally conscious as I can, doing all the right things to help protect it. Yet, for most of my life I was turning a blind eye on the food I was eating. I had watched a few documentaries on the way animals are treated on factory farms and the impact this process has on the environment. However, every time I saw or heard these things, I did not want to believe it was true because I didn’t want to change my diet. To me, vegan always seemed so hard and extreme, it was not appealing at all.
Then one afternoon I watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary ‘Before the Flood’ followed by the documentary ‘Cowspiracy’. These documentaries really got to me, and both advocated that having a vegan diet is the most effective way to protect our environment from a range of bad things such as; rising CO2 levels, deforestation, ocean acidification, soil degradation, the list goes on. After watching them I couldn’t look at my diet the same way, and I knew what I had learnt would haunt me until I changed it. This moment happened to me about a month before the Australian Championships in 2019, which marks the end of our surf sports season. I told myself I would use this month to research everything about the vegan diet and then when the season ended I would give it a go.
The season ended and I started my vegan adventure. Luckily for me, even before I went vegan, I absolutely loved eating fruit and veggies so the initial change wasn’t that hard. I just cut out the animal products I would have with a meal and added more veggies. At the start I was very skeptical and was sure that it wouldn’t work for me. I told myself that I would keep on adding things in if it didn’t work, like eggs and cheese. However, the more I stuck to it, the more I loved it. I thought I would crave meat or cheese so much, but I did not crave it at all.
I got really into cooking new vegan meals and buying more fresh produce. I also realised that by eating less animal products, I was buying less plastic (another environmental issue I am very passionate about). I decided that I would stay vegan whilst training for the Molokai 2 Oahu 2019 and see how I went in the race on this diet. When I started training, I really noticed the difference this diet had on me. I felt amazing. I was recovering so much faster after hard sessions and could do harder sessions closer together without exhausting myself. My knees used to get insanely sore when I was training for Molokai, but this year my knees hardly got sore at all. I could eat closer to training because the foods I was eating weren’t sitting in my stomach and I wasn’t as tired after eating. The most interesting thing was that I also started to get my period regularly (sorry boys). Throughout my time as an athlete I never got my period because my body was always under so much stress from training. Yet, I was training just as hard as I normally would and was getting it every month.
I got to Molokai 2 Oahu and raced better than I ever had. I am not attributing this all to my diet, as I trained harder this year and the conditions were amazing during the race, but I do think my diet helped me. This gave me the confidence to continue my vegan diet into the 2019/20 surf sports season. My training got more intense once I started training for ironwoman racing, so my recovery wasn’t as amazing as it was during Molokai. But I still felt way less tired than I normally would during this part of the season. During this season I had the best results I had ever had. Again, my diet was definitely not the only reason for this as I also had a change in surf club, training program and training was way harder. The thing I am most proud of is that I managed to be an athlete and do what is best for the environment at the same time. This is something I used to think was impossible.
This journey hasn’t come without its challenges. I saw lots of dieticians and got lots of blood tests while I was experimenting this new diet. There were times where my iron and protein were really low, so I had to focus on eating more protein and iron rich plant-based foods. This was tricky for me as it meant I had to learn a lot of new recipes that included foods like chickpeas, tofu, tempeh and other canned beans. I found this a bit scary because I didn’t really know how to cook with these ingredients and knew it would take some time to learn. However, I stayed committed and after many failed cooking experiments in the kitchen, I taught myself ways to make these foods taste delicious. Now I love and look forward to eating them every day.
At the beginning, I was also quite nervous to eat out. Even though lots of cafes and restaurants usually have vegan options now, I was embarrassed to ask waiters about it or ask them to alter their meals if they weren’t fully vegan. I didn’t want to be seen as an annoying fussy eater. Yet, deep down I knew how badly I wanted to stay committed to this diet, so I learnt to live with the fact that being vegan automatically made me a bit of an annoying fussy eater. I’ve also come to learn that most people don’t care if you ask for your food to be changed when eating out, and whenever I have eaten out with my friends, they are always super interested in what vegan foods I order.
Despite being vegan for a year my diet is still not perfect. I am still figuring out the best way to get all the macro and micronutrients I need into my body. There are also times where I have slipped and eaten animal products, but I have never thought about giving up. I absolutely love this diet and am still loving learning new things about it and ways I can improve it.
For anyone reading this who is interested in a plant based diet, here are some of my favourite resources for information; The Rich Roll Podcast, Plant Proof, Game Changers and Deliciously Ella.
This blog post was written by Lizzie Welborn for JOLYN Australia. This article is based on Lizzie's personal experience, and is not to be taken as medical advice - you are responsible for your own health and dietary choices. Please consult with your physician, doctor, or dietician before making dietary and exercise changes, and consider your own body and needs before experimenting. Lizzie's journey is not intended to be and does not constitute health care or medical advice.