Endurance athletes are known to be gluttonous, especially during their training peaks (think of Michael Phelps and his 12000-calorie-per-day diet leading up to the London Olympics). It may surprise you that Kate Ziegler, a two-time Olympian and four-time world champion, excels on fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes.
Ziegler, 25, says her vegan diet gives her more energy to recover between workouts. STACK interviews Ziegler to find out why she went vegan and how much quinoa she needs to get enough energy for all the laps she swims in the pool.
STACK: You are a vegetarian. Tell us how you came to this?
Ziegler: I ate meat for a very long time and did not pay much attention to my diet. When I was in my 20s, I started focusing more on my diet. I didn’t cut snacks from my diet, I just added more fruits and vegetables. I began to pay more attention to fruits, vegetables, plant-based nutrition, and I felt better. After that, I started reading about the nutritional aspects, the environmental aspects, and I guess that convinced me. So about a year and a half ago I became a vegetarian.
STACK: How did your diet affect your results?
Ziegler: She hastened her recovery time. From workout to workout, I feel better. Before, I had little energy, I constantly felt tired. I had anemia. I found when I began to cook, read and learn more about how to cook the right food for recuperation that my results improved.
STACK: As an Olympic athlete, do you find it difficult to consume enough calories for all your activities?
Ziegler: I didn’t have much of a problem with this because many foods are rich in both nutrients and calories. I take a big cup of quinoa, add lentils, beans, salsa, sometimes bell peppers, it’s something Mexican style. I add some nutritional yeast to give it a “cheesy” flavor. Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite foods. There are many ways to get the right amount of calories.
STACK: Do you eat anything special after your workout?
Ziegler: There is a line that I adhere to – eat what seems tasty to me on this day. (Laughs). Seriously, after a workout, I usually eat carbohydrates to protein in a ratio of 3 to 1. It’s not written in stone, but usually it’s carbohydrates that would help me replenish the glycogen that I lost in a three-hour workout. I make smoothies with fresh fruit and add some spinach, ice seeds and avocado for fat. Or a smoothie with pea protein and fresh fruit. I carry this with me to eat within 30 minutes of my workout.
STACK: What are your favorite vegetarian sources of protein?
Ziegler: Among my favorite sources of protein are lentils and beans. I eat a lot of nuts, which are rich not only in fats, but also in proteins. I really love eggs, this is one of my favorite products, you can do anything with them.
STACK: You recently took part in the Teaming Up 4 Health campaign. What is her goal?
Ziegler: Spread the word about healthy living and healthy eating, about how food can give you energy, whether you’re an Olympian or just running 5K in the morning. Nutrition is very important to all of us. I’m here to report on the benefits of healthy eating: fruits, vegetables, whole grains that we can’t always buy in the store.
STACK: If you meet an athlete who is thinking about becoming a vegetarian, what would be your advice?
Ziegler: I would recommend giving it a try if you’re interested. Maybe you won’t go all the way, maybe you’ll give up meat on Mondays and listen to your feelings. Then, little by little, you can expand it and make it your lifestyle. I’m not going to convert anyone. I say don’t look at it as vegetarianism, look at it as adding fruits and vegetables to your diet and go from there.