One of the most well-known vegan athletes in the country, Lisa Gawthorne is also a successful author, entrepreneur and passionate advocate for veganism. She has represented Great Britain in the duathlon and is currently ranked at 9th in the world for her age group at Sprint Duathlon.
Alongside being a full-time athlete, Lisa launched the vegan snack company Bravura Foods in 2011 which produces a wide range of well-known plant-based brands. She is also the author of the bite-sized vegan health and fitness book Gone in 60 Minutes and has been featured in a number of journals, magazines and papers, as well as appearing on TV.
We asked Lisa how a plant-based diet supports her training, what her favourite meals and snacks are, plus any advice she has for new vegan athletes…
When did you decide to go vegan and why?
I turned vegan in 2003 after being vegetarian since the age of six. I have always had a strong affinity with animals and never truly felt comfortable relying on them for any source of food or material so in 2003, I decided to switch from being vegetarian to vegan.
What does your typical daily diet look like when training for a big event?
Breakfast – Homemade muesli with oats, barley, spelt, berries, flaxseed and almond milk.
Lunch – Layered salad bowl with tofu – lettuce, spinach, tomato, beetroot, quinoa, marinated tofu.
Snacks – Cashew nuts, vegan vanilla protein powder, vegan protein bars, apple and peanut butter, peanut butter on rice cakes, vegan yogurt.
Make this chilli tempeh stir-fry for a nutritious post-training dinner.
Do you find that a plant-based diet boosts your performance?
I really believe it does as plant-based foots are rich in phytonutrients which are full of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Plant based foods are also rich in vitamins that help boost our energy levels. I also find that because you are not asking your body to do the hard work of digesting animal based protein in the stomach overnight, you wake up feeling more refreshed, so it helps with recovery in between those training sessions. This in turn also offers great benefits to performance.
Read more about the health benefits of a vegan diet.
What inspired you to set up Bravura Foods?
In 2011 when Bravura Foods was founded, there simply wasn’t enough of the ‘impulse’ vegan snacking products on the market. We wanted to close that gap and offer a nice range of unique and quirky brands particularly in the confectionery arena.
What are your main sources of vegan protein for muscle recovery and maintenance?
Tofu, seitan, tempeh and jackfruit are my go-to mock meats along with mixed beans and legumes. Cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds and peanut butter also feature largely in my diet. It’s really important to try and mix your protein sources up so if you are planning a vegan curry for example, you don’t just have to put tofu in there, think about other mixed beans and nuts you can add. It makes it tastier and more nutritious and a vegan curry like this is a big favourite of mine after tough sessions.
Are there any nutrients that a vegan diet may lack for duathletes, and if so, how do you compensate for them?
Everyone gets very fixated on B12, but I have never had a B12 deficiency in my 18 years of being vegan and my 34 years of being meat-free, and I am quite a fussy eater to be honest. I think the more important thing to remember here is to listen to your body. If you feel fatigued – and this applies to anyone not just vegans – then look at taking a vitamin B complex as the other B vitamins are really important for their energy-producing properties.
I have always taken vegan multi vitamins as I think its important, particularly as an athlete, to try and safeguard the immune system. The beauty about a lot of vegan foods now is that they are fortified with vitamins – particularly vegan milks and cereals so that’s super helpful too.
How do you stay hydrated when cycling and running over long distances?
I am caffeine-free, so I use electrolytes instead. I just make sure that they are vegan and they also happen to be sugar free too which is good for the teeth! I always make sure I have them handy in training and race sessions.
What are your favourite vegan snacks for boosting energy?
Peanut butter and banana on toast is a good one and I also love quinoa porridge with strawberry jam.
What do you typically eat after a big race?
I make sure I have a good balance of carbs and proteins so I will have some kind of grain – either rice, quinoa, millet or farro, with some green vegetables and grilled tofu strips.
What would your all time favourite meal be inside/outside training?
Inside training – Layered veg bowls – lots of mixed vegetables mixed in with tofu, tempeh and some farro.
Outside training – Vegan pizza and birthday-style cake.
This easy vegan pizza Margherita makes a delicious meat-free treat.
What would be your top diet and exercise tip for people considering starting duathlons? And especially those who are following vegan diets?
- The first thing would be to ensure you are enjoying it. Make sure you pick a sport you love – it just so happened I loved running and cycling and duathlons combined the two.
- Exercise-wise, I would say its important to plan out your week in advance as its important to give a good amount of time to each discipline to try and improve them both at a similar rate, that’s where the big gains are! Once you have trained and you are feeling comfortable with where you are at, look to enter a local race to put your work to good use and every time you race, you will learn new things that you could do better next time, so every race – no matter how well or bad it goes – take the learnings on board.
- Diet-wise, I would say its important you are taking in enough fuel to get the most from your sessions, and try and look at how functional your food is – ask yourself what is this food doing for me – Is it boosting my energy? Is it helping me recover? Make a note of how foods make you feel so you can select the best foods to keep you energised and well recovered.
- Avoid any foods that make you fatigued, bloated or sleepy unless it’s on a non-training period. Generally eat foods that are kind to you and will help you on your journey.
- Don’t be too restrictive – I tend to eat very clean in the week but I do relax that at weekends as its all about balance.
Do you have a favourite recipe from bbcgoodfood.com?
Yes I love the vegan choc chip cookies recipe – its simple but it works so well and the cookies make the house smell amazing.