Indigo Herbs Ambassadors and British Triathletes Sam Taylor and Dan Geisler share with us their experiences of turning vegan and how they have not only survived, but thrived as sportspeople. Both have reported more strength, stamina, better recovery times and an overall feeling of wellbeing since powering their training and competitions with plants and superfoods.
With an impressive roll call of top athletes including; Serena Williams, Brendan Brazier and David Haye all attributing continued success to their vegan lifestyle, we interviewed Sam and Dan to find out how a plant based diet is helping them to achieve their goals.
After turning vegan in 2014 under the guidance of her nutritionist Sylvia Sobota at “Nurture Your Body”, Sam’s career in Taekwon-Do went from strength to strength. So much so that she attributes her success as a Taekwon-Do World Championship medallist to her becoming plant based, and her ability to quickly adapt to the new demands of training and racing triathlons.
As a keen footballer and someone who enjoyed cycling for fun, Dan began his triathlete career almost by accident just over 5 years ago, when he took part in his first triathlon. It was “back to basics” in his words, and his first attempt at a swim/bike/run. Finding that he was somewhat a natural at this sport, Dan began competing and qualifying regionally and realised he could take this a lot further. Dan turned vegan after being challenged to take part in Veganuary in 2017, and stayed vegan because of the benefits it offered to his life.
Eight months after turning plant-based he picked up the silver medal at the World Triathlete Championships. Now a team GB athlete, Dan describes his change to a plant-based as a “very, very good decision”. In an interview with Veganuary he says, “I’ve never been faster, never been able to recover quicker, never looked better, I’ve never raced better”.
IH to Sam: After your huge success competing in Taekwon-Do championships, what inspired you to move away from martial arts to competing in triathlons?
Sam: After 10 years in Taekwon-Do and having achieved the international medals I had been working so hard for – Bronze at the World Championships and Silver at the European Championships in sparring I felt like I needed a new challenge. Moving jobs from Microsoft to Amer Sports meant I was now speaking to a lot of runners and cyclists, a few swimmers and several triathletes, so it seemed like a fun challenge to have a go at triathlon. I had always run for fitness throughout my martial arts career and it’s true you never forget how to ride a bike – though I am still learning how to ride one efficiently. It was swimming that posed the main challenge, as my lessons as a child were based on how not to drown, not at all about how to swim fast, which is what I’m now working on.
IH to Sam: You studied the personality traits of elite athletes for your dissertation for your university degree in psychology and business. You wanted to know “What makes them go that extra mile to become champions?” How have you applied this to yourself? Do you feel that turning to a completely plant based diet in 2014 has given you that edge?
Sam: Yes indeed, my psychology degree never actually involved a course on sports psychology. However, I was so fascinated with it that when I told my lecturer I wanted it to be the focus on my dissertation I think he thought I was a bit mad, but gave me the go ahead to do it anyway. While the debate about personality coming from nature or nurture goes on, I think my findings of the traits that can predict athletes reaching elite levels in sport has indeed made me notice the traits I have and can apply to my training.
IH: You mention that since becoming plant based you have more stamina, strength, speed, and that your recovery time has skyrocketed. Are you still both feeling these benefits?
Sam: Yes indeed! After 25 years of fuelling my body with far from the ideal nutrients and working it pretty hard, as it’s not really been given a rest since I learnt to start walking, it takes a long time to try and get everything working as efficiently as possible. As our old cells die and new ones replace them, I’ve gone through phases of detoxing from my old lifestyle and benefiting from my new one. So it’s been a continuous cycle and the more plant-based cells I’ve got the more benefits I’ve been feeling.
Dan: I am, if anything this was almost a downfall because I was pushing myself to new found limits, training and racing harder than ever, I then ended having a large bout of fatigue at the end of last year due to doing too much. This was the price I paid for the dramatic improvement I felt on a vegan diet.
IH: Can you tell us which products specifically aid in your performance and recovery time?
Sam: Alongside eating a large variety of and a lot of plant-based food to get all the vitamins and minerals I need along with the carbs, fat and protein etc. A few key products that I use are:
- Cacao – this is a fantastic source of magnesium, helping to regulate heart rhythm, co-ordinate the activity of the heart muscle and the nerves that initiate your heartbeat. It’s also a powerful antioxidant, preventing damage from free radicals. So with all the stress I put my body and heart under in training it’s an essential. I’m also addicted to chocolate as Indigo Herbs raw cacao powder tastes so good, I really do try and put it in everything!
- Green superfoods e.g. spirulina, moringa, chlorella and barley grass– these pack a bit more than the average amount of protein so are perfect for my really active lifestyle, ensuring I get all the essential amino acids I need. This is why Sylvia Sobota at Nurture Your Body added them to the smoothies on my nutritional plan. Working with Indigo Herbs and Veganuary we then created the “Kick Ass Vegan Protein Mix” so everyone else could enjoy my delicious power boosting smoothies.
- Turmeric – this packs a powerful anti-inflammatory effect as well as also being a strong antioxidant so it’s perfect to help my muscles cope with the training demands.
Dan: I have to say that recently I have been using turmeric powder and that seems to really aid with inflammation caused through training stress.
IH: Are there any other benefits, besides the physical ones, you have felt since becoming vegan?
Sam: Yes, when I first went plant based it was all focused on improving my sporting performance, but as with any change there are ripple effects and feeling better physically led me to feeling better mentally.
Dan: I feel that I am now running my body on clean energy. I found my hair has actually become thicker…..randomly. Also the vegan community is something I never even thought about, everyone is very friendly and I have become good friends with people as a result of going plant based.
IH: What do you personally think are the most important things to keep in mind regarding nutrition as a plant based athlete?
Sam: As I mentioned before, eating a large range of plant based foods and ensuring you eat enough is key. It does take time to meal prep, read recipes to get new ideas and keep switching things up to ensure you are getting enough variety and in particular eating what’s in season, but it’s 100% worth it. I’ve found I now start to crave different foods and when I look into them, they are often the ones that provide the nutrients I’ve been lacking. Our bodies know what they need, it’s just when we feed them highly processed chemical food we confuse them and become out of touch with our natural instincts.
Dan: Vitamins and minerals are number one! Not all calories are equal and it is so important to get your nutritional intake correct. No one ever became ill after eating too much broccoli and spinach.
IH: One of the most difficult nutrients to obtain as a vegan is Omega 3 – specifically EPA/DHA, what is your primary source of essential fatty acids?
Sam: I get most of my fatty acids from nuts, avocadoes and olive oil. All three are often included in my salads.
Dan: I take a vegan DHA and EPA supplement, I think the whole country could benefit from taking such a supplement. I also eat lots of nuts and seeds.
IH: Many plants are brimming with easily assimilated proteins – what are your favourite plant based proteins?
Sam: Yes they are indeed and a few of my favourites are:
- Quinoa – as it’s so easy to mix into everything and contains all the essential amino acids you need
- Spinach – I just love the taste and again it goes with pretty much everything.
Dan: Pea Protein Powder is my favourite; I also love Chocolate Pea Protein Powder.
IH: What does a day of eating look like for you? Can you share with us what you eat on a normal day?
Sam: A typical day goes a bit like this:
- 06:00: pre training snack: handful of fruit
- 06:30: morning training session
- 08:30: breakfast: smoothie/porridge
- 11:00: mid morning snack: food bar, fruit
- 13:00: lunch: fully loaded veg & grain salad
- 16:00: pre training snack: bagel/rice cakes
- 17:30: evening training session
- 20:00: dinner: sweet pot/veg/couscous mix
- Along with plenty of water, herbal teas and sleep
Dan: A typical day would be:
- Overnight oats + almond milk, raisins.
- Swim 3k
- Pea protein chocolate shake, slice of toast and walnut butter
- Bike 60k
- Spinach, broccoli, quinoa, almonds.
- Run 10k
- Sweet potato and avocado mash, chickpeas, cashews.
- Protein bar and dark chocolate
IH: What do you eat during a triathlon? Could you give us an example of what you’d eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner on a triathlon day? Are there any must have snacks you keep handy for an instant energy boost?
Sam: I try to eat the same thing for dinner and breakfast before every triathlon. I’ve tested it and it’s one less thing to worry about when you know your nutrition plan works. Dinner the night before the race is a big plate full of sweet potato and greens to give me a good stockpile of carbs for energy. Breakfast is porridge to top up a few more carbs. Depending on what time I’m racing, if I need another snack it will often be fruit such as a banana or apple. As fruit is so easy to digest, it doesn’t interrupt my body from focusing on swimming, cycling or running. During the race I’ll have a HIGH5 energy gel taped to my bike to give me an energy boost. Then after the race, it’s often more fruit and a treat of some raw chocolate. Dinner is then usually a bit of a treat too and something that’s really easy to cook – so quite often a vegan pizza get shoved in the oven and if I’m lucky enough to have any chocolate left that gets finished off too.
Dan: Protein bars!
IH: Do you have any favourite pre or post training snacks/meals?
Sam: I love energy balls as they are very easy to make, give you an immediate energy source thanks to the medjool dates, and taste delicious! It’s also fun to experiment changing a few ingredients such as using different nuts to give them a whole new flavour.
Dan: Loving walnut butter on toast at the moment, but I am a sucker for dark chocolate.
IH: What are your favourite Indigo Herbs products and how do you incorporate them into your diet? Do you have a serving suggestion for your favourite product?
Sam: This will likely come as no surprise that it’s the raw cacao powder. It is incorporated into my diet as much as I can, from my porridge to my smoothies and a healthy cacao mousse. For a serving suggestion here is my power porridge recipe: Sam's Power Porridge
Dan: Quite a few Indigo Herbs products are firm favourites of mine:
- I use Raw Cacao Nibs as a daily staple, I add them to shakes so they are blended. They do require some soaking before to optimise digestion, they add a great chocolaty taste to anything and have some fantastic benefits.
- A favourite at the moment, I add Cacao Powder to everything I can; shakes, homemade bars, overnight oats, porridge (with a pinch of salt….yum). The product benefits speak for themselves, there are so many of the required daily essential vitamins and minerals and it also helps with inflammation.
- Ashwagandha is a superfood endorsed by many different biohackers. This fantastic product helps to decrease inflammation and fights free radicals in your body, aiding the recovery process. I add this to shakes and overnight oats, also homemade bread.
- SuperGreens Powder is a great cheat way to get all the body's needs in one hit - vitamins and minerals a plenty in this magic little green powder. Use with shakes to make sure that your body is not missing out on all the natural essential daily dosages of everything good.
- SuperProtein is a new product I have recently had the pleasure to try and the profile suggests that it will struggle to be matched - highly recommended to any vegan and non-vegan athlete. For vegan athletes in particular, it will help with recovery and the adaptation of building strength and power.
- Cordyceps CS-4 Powder - Testing this product has been something of a new challenge, when to take it and how to take it, I have found it is best as a recovery aid before bed. To help aid the body's natural recovery process through sleep, rest and recovery is important, delivering huge benefits to recovering from the stress of exercise on your body.
- Turmeric is a product that is becoming ever more so popular and such a buzz word at the moment in terms of aiding health and performance. It will aid performance because it will help to decrease the effect that training and exercising takes on your body. Turmeric can have amazing anti-inflammatory benefit which is a major side effect of hard exercise. This product is a daily staple of mine, taken in the evenings before bed, not too soon after training because it will dampen the body’s natural ability to recover.
IH: What do you feel is the best part about being vegan?
Sam: I think the holistic effect it has on improving your lifestyle and wellbeing is the best part!
Dan: I feel very clean, wake up really fresh and have energy all the time.
IH: What are your strengths as a plant based athlete?
Sam: The training load I can take on and then recover from thanks to my plant based diet is a huge strength as it means I can train hard to keep improving without overdoing it.
Dan: I don’t fail during training due to lack of sugars and energy….I now run on clean efficient fuel!
IH: Who are your inspirations? Are there any famous vegan athletes you follow? If so have you picked up any important tips regarding vegan sports nutrition from them?
Sam: More and more athletes are changing to a plant based diet now, from Lewis Hamilton and Venus Williams to Jermain Defoe and David Haye. A few I followed from the start of my journey are Brendan Brazier, who set the Bigfoot Half Ironman course record twice, Scott Jurek, who won the Western States 100 mile race a record 7 consecutive years and Fiona Oakes, the fastest women ever to complete a marathon on all continents. I love using Instagram as there are some many people on there that share photos of delicious looking plant based foods that inspire me to try new recipes.
Dan: Brandon Brazier – his Thrive book was brilliant.
IH: What would be your best advice to athletes who want to embark on a vegetarian or vegan diet but are worried it might affect sports performance?
Sam: If like me you are changing your diet for sporting performance then I would highly recommend going to a nutritionist who is very experienced in all varieties of nutrition. This would of course include plant based nutrition, whereby your current diet would be analysed along with your training regime and goals. This information could then be used to put together a personal programme for you.
Dan: I promise anyone it won’t affect them! Preparation is key - sit down at the start of the week and just have a little think about what training you are doing and what you will need to support this. 10 minutes is all it will take. Ask yourself; “what are my hard training days and what foods will I need to support this?” There is no magic formula, just good nutritious whole plant based foods!
IH to Sam: Congratulations in getting the bronze medal in your first triathlon this year. What’s next for you?
Thank you very much and yes it was a good start to the year. Soon the open water warms up and the real season starts with the first international triathlon qualifiers for the World and European Championships which I’ll be competing in to secure my spot at the big races. Last year I just did sprint distance races (750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run), this year I’ll also be adding standard distance races into the mix (1,500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run) to see how my endurance capabilities perform.
IH to Dan: You mentioned in a BBC interview in December 2017 that since turning vegan your performance has progressively improved. You seem to be going from strength to strength! What’s next for you?
70.3 triathlons are my main aim, but I need time to really improve my swim. I am having a slow start to the year to focus on this and race during the later part of the summer/autumn.
Many thanks to Sam and Dan for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their plant-based wisdom!
You can find out more about Sam on her blog here:
And follow her on Instagram here:
You can find out more about Dan on his blog here:
And follow him on Instagram here: