As the 2016 Rio Olympics gets underway, what better time to celebrate those athletes who have chosen a vegan diet to help propel them to the top of their game?
You probably remember the news stories in 2013 following New Zealand vegan couple Alan Murray (68) and Janette Murray-Wakelin (64) as they ran a marathon every single day for a year around the continent of Australia powered by an entirely a raw vegan diet. While that was an extraordinary feat regardless of what they ate, more and more elite athletes are opting to exclude animal products from their diet.
Among this year’s vegan Olympians are Morgan Mitchell, competing for Australia in the 400 metre sprint, Kendrick Yahcob Farris, the only male weightlifter competing for the United States, and Marquise Goodwin, who is representing the US in the long jump, but also plays in the US National Football League.
With the number of vegans in the UK now around the 500,000 mark we can also boast our own elite vegan sports men and women. Scotsman David Smith MBE won a gold in rowing during the 2012 Olympics; world-class free runner Tim Shieff is both a practising and campaigning vegan, as is marathon runner Fiona Oakes. Fiona holds three world records and in 2013 won both the Antarctic Ice and North Pole Marathons.
Other athletes, while not 100% committed to a vegan diet, nevertheless follow one during their competing season recognising the benefits it brings to their performance. This approach is adopted by Venus and Serena Williams – by any reckoning, superlative athletes at the top of their game.
So much then for those doubters who always ask “But how can you get enough protein?” The answer is, of course, it’s easy – you just have to put in a bit more thought and planning. Don’t start from an omnivorous diet and take stuff out – start from a completely different place and build meals from scratch. It not only brings noticeable benefits in your general well being, it’s creative and the results can be delicious.
So here’s to athletes of all nations as they compete in Rio, but here’s especially to the vegans among them.
To get into the mood for a little Games watching we’ve found a couple of Brazilian recipes – a delicious, healthy take on creamed spinach and, for those who want to let their hair down a little, a recipe for the perfect Caipirinha.
Baby spinach with tomatoes and coconut milk
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 large tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and diced
Big pinch of cumin
salt and pepper
1/3 can coconut milk
300g baby spinach, washed and spun or patted dry
Fry the onion and garlic in oil in a biggish saucepan until golden brown. Add the tomatoes and the cumin, season with salt and pepper and cook over a medium heat for three to four minutes. Add the coconut milk and heat through. When it is close to boiling add the spinach and press down until it has wilted sufficiently to put the lid on the pan. Cook for five minutes or so until the spinach has fully wilted. Check seasoning. Serve.
The perfect caipirinha
Half a lime, cut into 4 segments and cored
Teaspoon of caster sugar
2 ½ fl oz cachaça
lots of crushed ice
Place the lime and the sugar in an old-fashioned glass and crush thoroughly with a wooden pestle or spoon. Add the cachaça and muddle together till the sugar has dissolved. Add plenty of ice, garnish with a slice of lime. Sit back, relax and enjoy.