Vegan athletes are increasingly becoming the superstars in today’s sports. Competing at the top level in one sport is quite the feat for any athlete, but for Lisa Gawthorne, she raises the bar to a higher level as a vegan duathlete on Team GB as both a runner and a biker.
If you think being an athlete keeps her busy, think again. Lisa finds time to advocate and educate people in veganism, inspire her followers through her social media platforms, all while co-owning a successful snack company, Bravura Foods.
With determination and energy like this, we had to chat!
What is your experience in being a vegan athlete? What are the pros and cons you experience?
My experience has been one that is very positive. I have been smashing all my PBs and becoming a more efficient and effective athlete with increased performances across disciples of running, cycling and weight training. The pros for me are very easy to explain.
Firstly, I went vegan (from being vegetarian) because I love animals and so the biggest benefit to me is knowing I follow a cruelty free diet and lifestyle. Moving on to health benefits that are linked closely to sporting performance, I would say my sleep has never been as good, my energy levels have never been so high, my immune system is super strong, my digestive system is healthy and happy, and my skin is also in a much better condition.
My recovery time is also really good after workouts and races and I put this and all the other health benefits down to the fact that a vegan diet is super rich in phytonutrients that nourish the body, keeping it in a healthy condition.
I have not come across any cons linked to my personal experience, as I would find it impossible to find a negative in being a vegan athlete and following a vegan diet. The only cons I would probably mention are related to doubters and people who think they know best and maybe want to put you down or criticize you for following a vegan diet trying to mention outdated and unproven things that are normally only spurted out to try and reduce their guilt or make them feel better! But on a positive note, like I say there really are no cons with being a vegan athlete its positives all the way.
How do you think veganism has helped your performance as an endurance athlete?
I have never been as fit and as fast, and I have been vegan now for just over sixteen years. Last year I ran PBs in my 5 mile (31.34) and 5k (18.39). Just two weeks ago, I ran a new PB for my 10K (38.53).
In addition to becoming a faster runner, I have also become a better and stronger cyclist and duathlete (run-bike-run) and some of this has to be put down to the training programs I follow, but a lot has to do with my diet that provides me with adequate energy to both train and race to the best of my ability.
In the gym, I am also much stronger as I lift weights at least three days a week and I have seen notable gains in my strength and power which has been scientifically backed up with an increase in lean muscle mass on Dexa scans which I firmly put down to my protein rich vegan diet.
What would you say are your greatest achievements and why?
I would say the first time I qualified for my age group on Team GB in the European and the World Duathlon Championships that were then held respectively in Spain and Canada has to be up there as one of my greatest achievements.
Alongside that, I would say getting my England vest this year for my age group in running has top trumped everything. Running has always been my first love so it was nice to get the England qualification for a single disciple as the GB achievements are on a multi-sport level combining the disciplines of both running and cycling.
I really do feel like my hard work and training has paid off and I am reaping the rewards of many miles on the road both on the bike and as a runner.
How do you maintain your vegan lifestyle while traveling around the world? What’s your advice to others who may need some guidance in best practices while traveling?
Nowadays this is a lot easier than when I first went vegan sixteen years ago. There are a lot more vegan options available in stores and in restaurants, so eating out or eating on the go has definitely gotten so much easier.
I have found that when travelling, it’s always useful just to have a few back up items in case you are not able to get out of a hotel or in case you are somewhere a little isolated. I always make sure I have a little bit of almond milk with me on the go, if and when possible, and maybe a few protein bars or powders to make into a shake. To be honest, I am finding less of a need to use them, as nine times out of ten, I can get fixed up with vegan options now wherever I am.
Another good tip is to phone ahead, call the hotel and ask them if they cater on their menu for vegans and if they know of any good places to eat out nearby.
Lastly, I would suggest downloading the app called Happy Cow, which I use a lot to locate decent vegan cafes and restaurants no matter where I am in the world.
What is your go-to vegan junk food?
It’s a close tie between vegan salted caramel cake or vegan cookies. I have a super sweet tooth and it’s hard to resist when all the latest products out there taste so good and have really upped their game with regards to overall quality.
Tell us about Bravura Foods. How did it begin?
Myself and my business partner, Karl Morris, started the business back in 2011. I was head of Marketing in a previous distribution company and Karl was head of Sales. We ended up working very closely on the Panda Liquorice brand at that particular business.
We then set up Bravura Foods taking on the Panda Liquorice brand and extended the portfolio to include some other fabulous vegan brands; such as Freedom Mallows, Vegan Bakery, Free From Fellows, Peanut Hottie, Little Miracles and Captain Kombucha. The vision has always been about creating a unique company that markets and represents the best of vegan food and drink products.
Since setting up the business, we have won countless awards both for the individual brands we either own or represent. As a business, we have also won awards for the way in which we do business in our field. We are looking forward to a very positive future with Bravura Foods that’s for sure.
What’s coming up for you? Any particular goal or challenges you’d like to pursue next?
Business wise, I have just got back from a super busy show at the Natural and Organic Products Exhibition in London where we had two stands to operate. I was also fortunate to have been selected as key speaker discussing the topic of veganism and the rise of the plant-based consumer.
I have done quite a few talks like that already this year, as it really is the hot topic that everyone seems to want to know more about. I expect that to continue as we move through the year and I would like to speak more to bigger audiences perhaps even across different industries. I really thrive on challenging people’s perceptions on everything veganism and love spreading the positivity surrounding a vegan lifestyle.
We are also focused on growing our business further by innovating in some interesting pockets of the market to bring some more new and exciting lines to the vegan consumers.
Fitness and sports wise, I have a really busy three months coming up with the World Sprint Duathlon Championships taking place in Spain, which I am competing in as part of Team GB for my age group. Four weeks after that, I am running for England in my age group in the Birmingham simply health 10K which I only qualified for recently. Four weeks after that, I have the European Sprint Duathlon Championships, which I am really looking forward to competing in out in Romania.
For those considering veganism, what advice would you give them?
Don’t hold back! Don’t fear it on any level as it’s the best thing you will do for the animals, the planet, the environment, your health, world hunger and for reducing water usage.
That’s the beauty about being vegan, it has so many amazing benefits, the question is no longer why are you vegan, it’s why not! There has never been an easier time to go vegan so do it now and I promise you will never look back.
You will notice almost immediately how more energy you have and how much healthier you will feel and on a wider scale, it’s also really good to know you are not contributing to animal cruelty and environmental impacts that are damaging the climate and leading to a loss of nature.
There are so many useful groups, forums, online support systems, vegan supermarkets, vegan cafes and restaurants and you will meet the most genuine and helpful people the planet has to offer. Everyone is so kind and helpful willing to give and share advice to help you on any stage of your transition journey. You only have to take a look at some of the super helpful resources on the likes of Veganuary, The Vegan Society and PETA to see some amazing resources to help you on the way.
We wish you all the best, Lisa!