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Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) is currently the top-ranked female cyclist in the world – and she’s achieved her results on a vegetarian diet. The 26-year-old made the choice to give up meat at age ten – and likely would have done so sooner if her parents had allowed it.
“I never like the taste or texture of meat,” Armitstead explained. “Most people in my family are big meat-eaters, and my parents encouraged me to finish my place, which also included meat. I suppose they realised it wasn’t fussiness or a phase by the age of ten, which is when they allowed me to make my own choices.”
The term ‘vegetarian’ can mean different things to different people. Armitstead’s diet excludes all red meat and poultry.
“I eat fish, eggs and all diary,” she said. “I can get my head around fish. I suppose it has quite a different taste to meat, and I think it’s important to my diet that I try to include it.”
Armitstead believes because she opted not to include meat at such a young age, her body has adapted well to her diet. She admits that she struggles to keep her iron levels up but is quick to point out that low iron is a common issue amongst all female athletes – not only those that eat a vegetarian diet.
“I think it would have been different if I had made the choice mid-career, but from the start, I have always been a vegetarian,” Armitstead noted. “I take protein supplements and have to think about my diet very carefully to make sure I’m not falling short.”
“My biggest challenge is maintaining my iron level as I miss iron from red meat,” Armitstead continued. “All professional athletes have to take great care of their diets. It’s not just protein that needs special attention. Fuelling my body is as important as the training I do. It takes a lot of organisation and expense to eat well. I would guess a lot of meat-eaters wouldn’t have the variation that I have in my diet.”
Armitstead spends much of the year on the road, which can complicate her ability to meet her dietary and nutritional needs. She invests time and energy into managing the challenges posed by travel.
“Travelling can be difficult as a vegetarian even when you’re not an athlete,” said Armitstead. “More and more riders in the team have their own dietary requirements such as gluten and diary free, and this means that the team has become more self-sufficient.”
“We have a breakfast box and dinner box filled with a variety of nutritionally rich food,” Armitstead explained. “My selection of the breakfast box would include oats, chia seeds, Greek yoghurt and protein powder. The dinner box would include cans of beans and Parmesan. It doesn’t sound very exciting, but it can liven up a dull meal if you’re stuck.”
“I always make a pack up before I travel,” Armitstead added. “This way I’m never stuck with a muffin and a coffee at the airport.”
When Armitstead is in need of a sweet treat, she keeps things healthy with a vegan chocolate mousse that relies on avocado and natural sweeteners as opposed to more traditional ingredients.
“This is my favourite dessert,” said Armitstead. “I make this once a week if I’m home for a good block of training.”
“You cannot taste the avocado but it satisfies you like a real dessert would,” Armitstead added. “I have tried it on some family, and they disagreed, but I suppose my pallet has had to change. I’ve learned to appreciate healthier options.”
Armitstead’s Best Vegan Chocolate Mousse was originally posted on mindbodygreen.