Today we’re talking with Nicole about how she made the switch to a vegetarian diet and how she fuels her passion for cycling with plant based foods.
26-year-old Nicole works in research and development at Bulk Nutrients and is our clean treat guru. Plus she’s a vegetarian!
Here we chat with Nicole about her move to a plant-based diet and the roll on effects it has on her sporting success and overall health.
Nicole’s sporting background
In the past Nicole competed in fitness competitions at both state and national levels, she started out with INBA (now ICN) and later competed in the WBFF Bikini Division. Although Nicole had some success, she loved pushing herself and wanted a new challenge.
Luckily, she found her a new passion through a work opportunity. Nicole entered Sole Motive’s Active Tri Series and this led to her pursuing triathlons for six months after she achieved some great results.
Nicole had a new found appreciation for pushing her body to its physical limits, rather than focusing on aesthetics. Unfortunately, a series of stress fractures in both her foot and hip meant a break from training for several months.
After some time, off Nicole decided to pursue cycling independently, it was her preferred discipline from triathlon, as it didn’t aggravate her injury. Nicole now competes against increasing competition, both locally and nationally and has progressed through several grades, now competing in A Grade, which is Elite Women’s, and recently transitioned into competing in the NRS (National Road Series).
Q&A with Nicole
How long have you had a plant-based diet?
I have had a plant-based diet for about 18 months now. Before this I did eat a mainly vegetarian diet, however I didn’t put a label on it and didn’t restrict myself from meat at events if it was the only option. Today I seafood occasionally but a mainly consume plant based proteins.
Did you “transition” or go meat free, cold turkey?
I kind of transitioned without even knowing I had! As someone close to me was unable to eat red meats (for health reasons) this inadvertently meant I didn’t consume red meat (steak and lamb mainly) either.
I didn’t miss red meat at all during this time, in fact I noticed I was feeling much better and I was opting for mostly plant-based proteins like tofu and chickpeas as well as seafood more than I was the few meat options I could consume. From here I decided to cut out meat-based options completely.
What motivated you to go plant based? Ie health, ethical reasons.
It became something I ventured into because of those I was around. I was by no means pressured to make this choice, but when you share meals a lot, you just end up eating like the other person!
Once I started making this change, I realised how much better I felt in myself. I didn’t feel as ‘heavy’ and ‘full’ like I did when I consumed a lot of meat. I also found that the meats I did have (white meat like pork, turkey and chicken) were quite rich and I was eating a lot more of them which I didn’t enjoy.
While I do have an opinion on animal rights, it was not the sole motivator for me. I found that I felt better for the change, have more energy, and find it very easy to manage.
What are some of the positives you discovered of going meat free/low meat?
I feel better consuming plant foods and I more often choose healthier foods too.
While it’s still possible to consume a highly processed plant-based diet, it does tend to sway me to make healthier ‘real food’ choices opposed to processed foods. This is a real benefit and makes me feel more energised and healthier.
I also don’t come down with sickness as often either, and again this may be to do with my less processed foods diet and a higher consumption of vegetables. I enjoy a huge assortment of veggies and do literally ‘eat the rainbow,’ this is excellent for my immune system and recovery.
Another benefit I’ve found is that I can over-eat on a plant-based diet, yet notice little change in my weight, I don’t maintain bloating or fluid retention as much etc. Plus, if you like cutting down your grocery bill, my meat free shops are much cheaper!
Eating out is still easy for me too as many restaurants offer vegetarian options as well as seafood dishes which I also eat. There are also more and more vegetarian based restaurants and cafes popping up as plant diets gain popularity.
How about the negatives?
I haven’t found too many negatives with my vegetarian diet. People will always question and give their opinion on a diet which is frustrating, but it shouldn’t stop you doing what you want.
Generally, people seem to be under the impression it is harder to manage than a meat-based diet. But really, when you become familiar with something it isn’t difficult to manage. In the beginning, you just need to train your mind to think of options.
However, this isn’t as easy when someone else is cooking for you! Friends and family tend to get a little stumped about what to cook for me. To counter this I bring my own meal, offer to cook, or we have seafood.
I think this confusion stems from education and childhood upbringings. We are forever told ‘meat and three veg’ and images of meats are used to indicate our protein sources so it’s easy for people to be confused with plant based diets.
Is it harder to maintain muscle mass?
I haven’t found energy levels or muscle mass to be affected, but I have never been an overly muscular person either. As I compete in more endurance-based sports muscle mass and growth is a different concern.
I do make sure all my meals have a protein source, and that this varies meal to meal. This might be tofu, tempeh, chickpeas, beans, a meat substitute or fish. This ensures I am still getting a broad range of protein, nutrients and enough to maintain muscle, aid growth and recovery.
Do you ever think you will go back to a diet including more meat and animal products?
No, I generally don’t miss meat and I think society is only becoming more accepting and accommodating of such lifestyles that it will be easier and easier to manage.
I have on occasion found I miss meat like lamb, but I can enjoy all the veggie sides that go with a roast!
In your mind, what is the best “compromise” for your lifestyle?
I think I have a good compromise of what ‘most’ of the population do vs what I am trying to do. I don’t ask people to cook certain food for me and will eat the plant-based foods around me if people aren’t aware.
I don’t get too concerned about a plate that has meat on it touching my vegetables and will eat around them. I consume some dairy products like cheeses, cream and ice-cream, but I aim to leave them for special occasions and tend to opt for non-dairy milks for my day to day lifestyle.
I’m not forever trying to convince others to follow my choice, I have found what works for me, and that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone! I think if you are looking to move into plant-based diets, you must be prepared for change and some questions from others. Foods won’t be the same, and sometimes it takes a little more effort, but making small changes can make the process easier.
Nicole’s top three supplements
- Nicole takes Earth Protein after her training sessions and adds it to her morning smoothies. This helps to increase her protein intake and aid in recovery after training sessions.
- Nicole drinks BCAA Recovery on the daily! It helps her maintain hydration levels as well as reducing her risk of cramping while she is involved in sport. Nicole finds BCAAs improve her recovery and is more enjoyable to drink than just plain water.
- Nicole takes ZMA Capsules every night to help recovery and ensure a good night’s sleep.
Nicole’s advice for making the switch
If you are looking to move into plant-based diets, you must be prepared for change and some questions from others. Foods won’t be the same, and sometimes it takes a little more effort, but making small changes can make the process easier. Good luck!