CrossFit Athlete Lisa Eble Reveals how Vegan Nutrition has Improved her Performance
Vegan nutrition is on trend right now. Supermarkets carry a large range of vegan products and the Veganuary challenge—which involves eating an exclusively vegan diet in January—is becoming ever more popular. And things are the same in the sporting world; more and more professional athletes are eating a purely plant-based diet, dispelling the myth that you have to consume animal products to perform well. Lisa Eble, CrossFit athlete and German champion, is living proof of that. The professional has already won numerous medals and in 2019 became the first German ever to qualify for the CrossFit Games. I asked Lisa about her diet as a vegan athlete, and what her plans are for the upcoming CrossFit Games season.
How long have you been vegan and what motivated you to switch to a plant-based diet back then?
I can’t say exactly when I switched completely to a vegan diet; probably around 3 to 5 years ago. There wasn’t a specific date when I said that I’d be vegan from then on. It was a process. Even as a child, I didn’t enjoy eating meat that much. When I started cooking for myself, I stopped preparing meat. In 2016, I also stopped eating dairy products, because I didn’t tolerate them very well. The only animal food left in my diet were eggs. But I consciously stopped eating them as well, as they don’t benefit me in terms of my athletic performance, and for animal welfare reasons. If I can choose a different way to live that doesn’t involve eating animal products, I see no reason why animals have to suffer on my behalf.
Many people challenge themselves to eat a vegan diet in January and take part in the Veganuary Challenge (including me). Speaking from experience, you have to plan a lot, especially at the beginning. Do you have any advice for new vegans?
Especially for new vegans, 80% is better than nothing. Start eating vegan 5 days a week first. The same principle applies here as in sports: it’s better to do something and stay active than to do nothing at all. Not everything has to be perfect; it’s a process. You can just try it out and use what works for you.
You also get used to the new way of eating over time. Fortunately, there are many alternatives and other foods that enrich your diet. I simply recommend finding new things that you like.
Of course, protein is also an important issue. I currently feel like I rely mostly on tofu if I want to eat the most complete proteins that contain all the essential amino acids. Which plant-based protein sources do you prefer? And how do you meet your protein needs?
To cover all the nutrients, I try to focus on making my diet varied and colourful. I make sure I get enough fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Once a year I also have full blood tests done by the doctor to make sure I’m not lacking in anything. This is important for my health as well as for my athletic performance. I’d recommend it to anyone, because you can also have deficiencies with a non-vegan diet.
And tofu can actually be very versatile. As well as natural tofu, you can also get a smoked version, and silken tofu. You can try tofu with herbs, peppers or even with fruits. Alternatively, I like to eat chickpeas, lentils, and beans to meet my protein needs.
Do you also take dietary supplements? If so, which ones?
I take supplements for B12, vitamin D, and zinc/magnesium complex. Vitamin B12 is especially important for vegans as it’s only found in animal-based foods.
What do you typically eat before and after working out?
I focus in particular on carbohydrates before I train, and protein afterward. The composition of my meals changes all the time: for example, vegetables with rice beforehand and a chickpea/bean salad afterward. I like to cook with seasonal vegetables. With CrossFit in particular, you have to eat enough before training to be able to go full throttle; a handful of nuts just isn’t enough.
One of my favorite everyday dishes is a vegetable stir-fry, maybe with pumpkin (when it’s in season), bell peppers, and onions. I also add lentils and some coconut milk, with a bowl of rice as an accompaniment. People who aren’t competitive athletes and don’t need so many carbohydrates can also reduce the rice portion or choose a different protein source that also provides carbohydrates, such as chickpeas or lentils.
You’re an impressive CrossFit athlete and you’ve already won several titles. Have you noticed a change since going vegan? How did it affect your athletic performance?
I noticed the biggest change after cutting out dairy products. They gave me “heavy legs”, so I struggled to climb the stairs. It felt like really sore muscles. I used to think this was normal after a workout, but now I’ve cut out dairy my condition has improved a lot. That really motivated me; if you feel better, you can also perform better.
Nutrition plays a major role in sport in general. When you eat a balanced diet, your body is much fitter and more alert. You notice it during training as well as in everyday life, and you have a much better sense of well-being. And that, in turn, motivates you to keep cooking your meals in advance, planning ahead, and shopping for healthy foods. Once you change your dietary habits and stick to them for a while, you’ll notice positive changes like better performance. As a vegan athlete, I don’t have to put any more effort into cooking in advance than someone who also eats animal foods; it’s just different because you’re choosing different foods.
Speaking of performance, the CrossFit Games season is about to get underway and the CrossFit Open will take place from mid-February. Anyone can take part and qualify for the CrossFit Games. Do you have any advice for someone competing for the first time?
My tip is to just do it, you have nothing to lose! This is the biggest community event in the whole world and the focus is on having fun. Everyone has been in the position of doing it for the first time. You can only gain from experience. The great thing is that it takes place all over the world; everyone does the same workout and everyone talks about it.
CrossFit HQ will announce the workout on Thursday-Friday overnight. You then have until the following Monday evening to complete the workout. Which Workout of the Day would you have been most excited about if you had to qualify at the CrossFit Open, and which one would you not have wanted to do at all?
I got injured in a competition and had knee surgery four months ago. So a workout that puts a lot of stress on the knees and involves a lot of lunges or squats wouldn’t be a favorite of mine. I would be more excited about the handstand walk and other exercises on hands.
But the good thing about CrossFit is that you can always adjust the load, whatever your limitations. That was also the case for me, so I could still work out despite my knee surgery, even if it was doing seated shoulder presses. It’s extremely important, especially for motivation, to be able to continue working out. But my recovery’s going well and everything is coming back. My plan is to be at the CrossFit Games in February!
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