There are many ways of taking your game seriously. And one of them is getting on top of your nutritional game.
Ask any number of people across our sport about what that takes, and you’ll get a whole array of answers about what is the best possible combination of macros, proteins, carbs, lean options, supplements and caloric needs.
What they rarely think of recommending is going vegan.
And there are some stellar athletes in our roller derby community who would do the same.
You’ve probably seen them skate across your screens, playing as they do at the highest levels of WFTDA play. The likes of Olivia Shootin’ John (Texas), Castro (Philly), The Smacktivist (Ohio), and Bone Shaker (Victoria) chatted to me about how their athleticism is plant-fueled, for World Vegan Day.
So let’s start at the first question that everyone who isn’t used to eating this way seems to gravitate to right away: “Where does your protein come from?”
It’s a particularly amusing and frustrating go-to query for those of us who’ve been vegan for quite a while (23 years here), because as any good nutritionist will be able to tell you, no food is a single source nutrient. What that means in practice is that pretty much anything you put in your mouth contains some kind of trace amount of protein.
But obviously, as one of the building blocks for good muscle repair, it’s top of the brain for those of us with sporting aspirations and goals to kick.
So we went for it, and while the replies seem to reveal that your favorite athletes are completely obsessed with sausage replacements, they’re also into a wide range of options, including plant-based protein powders, nuts, legumes, and soy as a distant mention.
From Olivia Shootin’ John: “I did make one major change to my protein intake this season, cutting out convenient processed protein foods. Instead, I am making two giant pots of pinto beans a week. It’s one part fighting back against colonization and industrialized food, one part saving money, and just plain delicious”.
They all, it turns out, have been vegan longer than their derby careers, no matter how long those may be. And none have experienced any difficulty maintaining their athletic excellence, including making muscle gains, with their diets.
OJ told us “being vegan…. is part of my core. It is part of the value system I build my life around”.
When it comes to tournaments and play away from home, these skaters tend to be planners. But – as they pointed out – all good athletes look after their nutritional needs carefully in times that are physically demanding. These ones tend to bring power bars and staples like oatmeal with them, but also consider teammates needs – like bringing a juicer the whole crew can use.
Bones told us “I think overall tournaments are difficult food wise for most. I am more prepared snack wise than most. I often take a small cooler bag to the venue”. She has a lot of options that she tends to reach for at those times, too – including smoothies and protein shakes.
Planning and food prep doesn’t have to feel onerous, though.
As Castro tells it, “The best part about being vegan, for me, is cooking beautiful food and how it makes me physically feel. I try to incorporate all colours of the rainbow in my meals, and love how energetic I feel when I’m eating a balanced, whole diet. A plant-based menu also allows me to enjoy seasonal local produce and reap the benefits of their nutrition. Honestly, I love to eat and being vegan helps me enjoy food because I know what I’m eating is good for my body as well as soul”.
If you’re contemplating joining them on their journey, they all have a few sage words of support and advice. The top of which is looking to elite level athletes who’re climbing the top ranks of their sport, and being wildly successful, all while vegan.
From The Smacktivist: “Talk with a nutritionist just to get you a baseline for what types of macros you want to hit, so you can be mindful of it. Any good athlete should do that, anyhow, though, vegan or not”.
And if your nutritionist is skeptical?
OJ says “I’d just suggest that if it is important to the athlete they should find a more supportive nutritionist/trainer”, but adds “Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to know what is best for anyone else and I know my veganism comes from a place of privilege (no major allergies, no metabolic conditions, access, etc), but veganism feels great for me and works for me. I’ve got plenty of energy, don’t get sick often, have been lucky with injury and healing, and can put on the muscle when it is time to put on the muscle.
“Eat what makes you feel good”.
For these athletes, it’s vegan.