The Game Changers Talk Going Plant-Based
In 2019, people from around the world tuned in The Game Changers, a documentary that follows an array of elite athletes that have transitioned to a plant-based lifestyle. Throughout the film, competitors like bodybuilding champion Arnold Schwarzenegger, cyclist Dotsie Bausch, boxer Bryant Jennings, and linebacker Lou Smith and more discuss how making the switch to a plant-based diet has changed their lives, enhanced their athletic performance, and improved their recovery times.
These athletes are not alone. In recent years, plant-based diets have been on the rise as more people are exploring the benefits of incorporating more plants into their meals. Studies show that benefits have included everything from weight loss, to lower blood pressure, an 82% reduction in heart disease. And, as the movement has caught on, everyone from Bill Clinton to Oprah, Beyonce, and Natalie Portman have pledged to go more plant-based.
What is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is a food plan that involves eating foods that are not derived from animals. While some people that label themselves as “plant-based” omit animal products from their diets entirely, eating plant-based doesn’t necessarily mean that you are vegan or a vegetarian, it just means that you place the largest emphasis of your diet on consuming non-animal products.
The basis of a plant-based diet is comprised of eating a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, oils, nuts, and seeds. This means avoiding or limiting the consumption of animal products like meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Followers of a whole-food plant-based lifestyle avoid heavily processed or refined items, such as oils and pre-packaged snacks.
So how do today’s top athletes make a plant-based diet work for them? Parade.com caught up with some of The Game Changers stars to hear about what eating plant-based looks like for them.
Related: 13 Plant-Based Dinners Your Whole Family Will Love on Earth Day
Known for: Being a seven-time USA Cycling National Champion and Olympic silver medalist
Plant-based for: 10 years
Benefits noticed: I experienced an almost immediate and drastic improvement in my athletic recovery. I could get through a grueling workout and be ready to go with the same intensity the next day. Prior to going plant-based, it took much more time off my feet to be able to train again at such a high level. I also gained more energy and stamina during training. My repeatability of quality efforts improved. I felt more efficient and ready to take on whatever stressors I put on my body.
Typical plant-based meals: I’m a savory breakfast person, so morning meals look like a tofu-veggie scramble or these slightly addictive vegan breakfast burritos I’ve really gotten into lately. Lunches and dinners often look the same—it’s bowl food. Greens, grains, something with a good amount of protein and carbs, and a killer sauce make me happy. I call these “trough bowls”—a sample one might look like mixed greens layered with a scoop of quinoa, some steamed sweet potato, pan-seared tofu, and a tahini drizzle.
Preferred planet-based protein sources: Lentils, quinoa/grains, edamame, Field Roast Italian Sausages, tofu, any kind of bean, and broccoli (yes, broccoli actually has a very high calorie-to-protein ratio).
Advice on how to start a plant-based diet: It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Start by swapping out the milk you use for your cereal. The next week, try a plant-based coffee creamer. The next week, perhaps order the vegetarian fajitas instead of chicken. If your diet is varied, you’ll get more than enough protein without having to think about it.
Plant-based supplements I take: B12. I’m a fan of the mykind Organics Vitamin B12 spray because it tastes like raspberry, but there are plenty of quality brands on the market for this.
Favorite plant-based products: I’m partial to Amy’s Breakfast Burritos, Field Roast Italian Sausages, Silk Vanilla coffee creamer, and anything from Miyoko’s Kitchen (her cheeses … just wow).
Related: 20 Healthy Plant-Based Recipes
Known for: Her success as a Canadian soccer player at the FIFA World Cups, the Olympic Games, and Vancouver Whitecaps Women.
Plant-based for: 17 years
Benefits noticed: I noticed a huge difference in my ability to recover, specifically how quickly I was able to flush out lactic acid after intense workouts or games. What would normally take me a few days to recover from, I was instead recovering from within 24 hours.
Typical plant-based meals: For breakfast I’ll have a smoothie bowl made with kale, spinach, mango, banana, vanilla protein powder and almond milk blended up and topped with granola, hemp seeds, chia seeds, berries, and cashew butter. Other options include a tofu scramble breakfast burrito and overnight oats.
For lunch I’ll have a salad with greens, lentils, a mix of raw and cooked veggies, quinoa, tempeh and avocado, topped with hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and a creamy tahini dressing. Dinner is typically a Pesto Buddha Bowl: brown rice, arugula, roasted carrots and sweet potatoes, seasoned chickpeas, and pesto, topped with pumpkin seeds, and parsley. I’ll sometimes swap that out for enchiladas made with beans, sweet potatoes, spinach, cashew cheese, jalapenos, spicy enchilada sauce and corn tortillas (baked), topped with guacamole with a salad on the side.
Snacks are typically hummus and veggies, apples and almond butter, smoothies, homemade protein balls (cacao, black beans, dates, chocolate protein powder, chocolate chips).
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Preferred plant-based protein sources: Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, organic tofu, and tempeh.
Advice on how to start a plant-based diet: Start by focusing on including more veggies on your plate at every meal. Learn how to cook vegetables properly. Many people think they don’t like vegetables because they’ve only ever eaten over-cooked or improperly cooked veggies. Focus on whole foods. If you’re including some legumes, tofu or tempeh plus some nuts and seeds at every meal, you will get enough protein throughout your day. A clean, vegan protein powder doesn’t hurt, especially at the beginning if you’re worried you aren’t getting enough, but eventually, you will learn you can absolutely get more than enough protein eating whole-foods, alone.
Plant-based supplements I take: I swear by a B12 supplement, as it’s the only nutrient we can’t get from plants and all vegans should be taking it. An algae omega is also a great idea, as most people are deficient in omegas. Algae is the best source, as it’s much less contaminated than fish oil.
Favorite plant-based products: I really like Nuzest Vegan protein powder because of their transparency and clean ingredients. Parmela Creamery cheese and Miyokos Kitchen cheese and butter because they are both made from cultured nuts, they’re less processed than other options and my children eat them often. I’m a big fan of garbanzo bean flower for pancakes, waffles, and baked goods because it provides some added iron and protein.
Known for: her success as an Australia Sprinter at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and 2016 Summer Olympics
Plant-based for: 5+ years
Benefits noticed: Definitely my recovery. I found it so easy to bounce back from brutal sessions compared to my training partners, and I haven’t been sick since going vegan. I used to get tonsillitis 2-3 times a year, and I had Glandular Fever. Once I went vegan, I haven’t suffered from tonsillitis or any sickness for that matter. Not even a scratchy throat. My times in training and on the track also dropped significantly, which was another bonus.
Typical plant-based meals: Breakfast is usually two pieces of rye toast with peanut butter, banana, blueberries and maple syrup, and sometimes I’ll go for a smoothie with banana, dates, spinach, mixed berries, and oat milk. Lunch is a Beyond Beef Burger with spinach, vegan cheese, pickles, ketchup and home made air fries, or brown rice, pan fried tofu, lemon and herb asparagus and crushed cashews.
Dinner is pasta with vegan mince and homemade vegan cashew parmesan cheese, or veggie dumplings with a side of veggie stir fry. I generally use whatever left over vegetables I have in the fridge. Dessert is dates stuffed with peanut butter and coated in dark chocolate.
Preferred planet-based protein sources: Tofu, seitan and mixed beans. I’m pretty easygoing when it comes to protein, and I try not to over complicate it.
Advice on how to start a plant-based diet: I try to remind people how important it is to seek expert help. For example, when you’re sick you see a doctor. When you need a checkup on your teeth you go to the dentist. So why should changing your diet be any different? Rather than going to Google or looking at Instagram influencers, I always direct people towards qualified nutritionists/dietitians I have worked with in the past to get them going.
Plant-based supplements I take: I don’t really take supplements, only iron and B12 to ensure I am getting enough to survive the long track season. One thing I have done for years is take a shot of apple cider vinegar every morning because my mum drilled into me that it’ss good for your overall health.
Favorite plant-based products: Anything from the Beyond Meat and anything from Soulara, a plant-based food delivery service soon coming to the US. The only food (other than the obvious meat and dairy) that I won’t eat are tomatoes of any sort.
Related: 101 Amazing Vegan Diet Tips—Beginners, This Is for You!
Known for: Being a mixed martial artist
Plant-based for: 8+ years
Benefits noticed: First my strength went up. For example, my bench press went up from 105-pound dumbbells for five reps to 115-pound dumbbells for six reps. My stamina also improved. I used to last for eight painful minutes on the battling ropes, but six weeks after going completely plant-based, I went a whole hour and could’ve kept going.
Typical plant-based meals: My go-to breakfast is oatmeal made with soy milk, a banana, berries, peanut butter, and nuts or seeds. I cook it up in five minutes or make it the night before and eat it cold. Sometimes I switch it up and have whole grain toast with avocado or almond butter, and all week I look forward to Sunday when my wife Alicia makes whole grain pancakes with syrup made from blended dates and berries.
Lunch is usually leftovers from last night’s dinner, which changes day to day. This week, I’ve had plant-based lasagna, shepherd’s pie with lentils, mushroom stroganoff, and veggie fajitas with guac. Snacks are quick and easy, like fruit and nuts, a smoothie, or a homemade protein bar.
Preferred planet-based protein sources: All plants have protein, so I get it with everything I eat. The highest protein foods in my rotation though are beans, split peas, chickpeas, and lentils as well as nuts and seeds. The easiest switch I made was replacing whey protein with pea or rice protein powder, which research shows are just as effective at building strength and muscle.
Advice on how to start a plant-based diet: For a lot of people who watch The Game Changers, their immediate impulse is to overhaul their entire diet overnight. Many people are capable of doing this and sticking with it but just as many run into trouble once they get home and realize that their kitchens are still full of their regular food, that they don’t know where to buy (or how to cook) the “new” food, and so on. In order to avoid these common experiences, I recommend that people check our free resources including our Recipes, Tips, FAQs, and Benefits section, and connect with our social media pages. While most people think eating better is simply a matter of willpower, the reality is that being prepared and supported are much more important.
Plant-based supplements I take: A regular, reliable source of vitamin B12 is essential for anyone eating a plant-based diet. I also take vitamin D since a number of factors, many beyond our control, affect whether we can make the amount we need from exposure to sunlight. Omega-3s are also critical, and while I get plenty by eating foods like walnuts and ground flaxseeds, taking an algae-based EPA/DHA supplement might be worthwhile. These nutrients aren’t only important for people eating entirely plant-based. People who eat meat are often low in these nutrients and could benefit from supplementing.
I’ve found that building meals and snacks on a foundation of whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds gives me the nutrients I need to thrive.
Next up: 50 vegan snacks to try right now!