We were lucky enough to talk to Christine Vardaros, who’s a professional cyclist and who has been vegan since 2000.
Christine races cyclocross and has represented the USA at 3 World Cyclo-Cross Championships as well as over 25 Cyclo-Cross World Cups.
Christine gives us an interesting insight to life as a vegan pro cyclist as well as her take on some aspects of nutrition.
Q) In cycling at the moment, there’s very few well-known vegans, but it seems a lot more people are becoming ‘closet vegans’. Is there anyone you know personally that you’ve introduced to veganism?
A) Well, I’m not really at liberty to say who’s vegan or not! I can tell you that Lizzie Armistead is vegetarian, and there have been other ones that I’ve converted to veganism. There are other ones where I’ve introduced them to the direction of veganism, like getting rid of milk. Tom Meeusen was one of them, and a few others, now you see at the table lots more oat milk, rice milk, it’s great to see.
Q) Before you were talking about protein for recovery, I’m under the same mindset as you that too much protein is a bad thing, is that a common idea in cycling? I know you can find a lot of content that promotes protein smoothies and high protein diets, but are you seeing more cyclists moving towards a low protein diet?
A) Well with cycling in particular, it’s a sport passed on from generation to generation. So if it worked for dad and it worked for Granddad, it’s supposed to work for you too, so you don’t actually question it. Then the struggle is to change the mentality. The younger generation, however, is actually starting to pick up on it. My energy sponsor, Hammer Nutrition, they’re one of the biggest companies in the world, they’re making efforts to make things more vegan, and make things more healthy, but these things are only starting to happen now.
Another example of not wanting to change habits in cycling is Sven Nys, multiple time world champion, top of his game for years, his nutritionist recommended switching from pasta to rice, and it’s built into his mindset for so many years that pasta has helped, yet even if he’s told rice is healthier, he’s not going to switch because it’s built into what he is and what he’s known.
Q) Do you feel as though you recover more quickly on a low protein vegan diet?
A) Definitely. I broke my ankle a few years ago and I went to a specialist Doctor, he told me it was a really difficult break and would take 6 weeks to heal, and that I wouldn’t be able to exercise at all. After 3 weeks I went back with my vegan coach, and he took an x-ray. They took my coach aside and said to him, “we’ve experienced a miracle, she is completely healed after 3 weeks, it’s not possible!”. And now, that Doctor recommends a low protein vegan diet to all of the athletes that he treats for recovery.
Q) In stage races, athletes often struggle with their health, but do you find being vegan helps in that respect?
A) I’m almost never sick, it’s very rare. If I am sick, I feel it a bit and then know to pace myself. I can also breathe better, my skin is better, and I don’t take asthma medication anymore. It should be illegal, when you think about the benefits you get from it, it should be illegal. My endurance is better, so in fact I can end up doing too much in the day because I have so much energy and rarely feel sick. I can also do back to back racing and training, which other athletes can’t always do.
We’d like to say a big thank you to Christine for taking time out of her busy Vegfest schedule to talk to us.