An outdoor enthusiast and competitive athlete, Sylvia Jorger is a passionate vegan runner and triathlete.
Since adopting a plant-based lifestyle, she has seen considerable improvements in her health and athletic performance.
As a 49 year old vegan athlete, Sylvia shows us how it’s done, sharing with us a bit about what led her to the vegan lifestyle, how she trains and eats, and a number of the resources she recommends.
What are your favourite outdoor activities?
I enjoy all outdoor activities, hiking, skiing (prefer cross country), mountain biking etc.; I mostly swim, ride my triathlon or road bike and run though since I am training for triathlons most of the year. My favourite activity of those is running. It’s the purest form of exercise and it’s where I feel most at peace.
How long have you been competing in, and what led you to, triathlons? Do you have a preferred distance?
Since 2009. In 2008 I completed an ultra marathon 100 mile (160km) trail race, the Squamish 100 (does not exist anymore) and from that I got infected blisters. I couldn’t run for weeks and I was so worried that I would lose my fitness that as soon as my blisters healed I took up swimming. Since I have been riding a bike all my life, one thing led to another and I decided to compete and participate in triathlons.
I prefer longer distances – I do enjoy the half ironman distance (1.9 km swim; 90km bike and 21.2km run) but the Ironman distance (3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run) keeps challenging me and I keep going back for more. I also really like the Long Distance World Championship distance, which is regulated by the International Triathlon Union, and has its own distance of 4km swim, 120km and 30km run.
What led you to the vegan lifestyle?
In 2007 I watched “Into the Wild” which prompted me to become vegetarian. After watching the movie it occurred to me that I would never eat meat if I had to kill the animal myself. So I set out to go meatless for a “whole” week; after just a couple of days I felt fantastic; I had more energy and felt less lethargic. I never looked back and the week turned into years. Then about 3 years ago my friends Anne and Lee encouraged me to watch Gary Yourofsky’s Speech. I became vegan overnight.
It has changed my life and I only wish I would have adopted a plant based lifestyle sooner.
Have you noticed any changes in your health or athletic performance since going plant-based?
YES!!! Absolutely! I have an underactive thyroid (Hashimotos) and am also gluten intolerant, so I also eat gluten free in addition to a plant based nutrition. My thyroid levels have improved, my immune system has recovered, my blood work is excellent and I feel fantastic. In regards to my athletic performance I feel stronger and my recovery time after workouts is much quicker. I also find my muscles are much less tight after workouts.
How much do you typically train each day/week? Does your training vary from season to season (quantity, where you train, etc)?
Yes, my training varies.
It takes approx. 6-8 months to train for Ironman. The rest of the year is maintenance and in the off-season I focus more on weight training and my weakness – swimming.
In the off-season I train six to seven days a week; mostly an hour a day; sometimes two hours if I double up (morning/evening). On weekends I train approx. 2-3 hours a day. It is less structured than during intense training months.
Training for Ironman in peak season it’s 2-3 hours a day, four days a week and on weekends it’s 5-8 hours on one day and 3-4 the next. Then there are training cycles; most people train “hard” for three and cut the volume approx. 40-50% in week four. I have found a new method which I will try out for my next season; where it’s more consistent but with more “recovery/active rest.”
In the winter most of the training takes place inside; I have a bike trainer at home. Swimming is in the pool. I still enjoy running outside but a session on the treadmill is also essential.
In late spring early summer I do most of my bike training outside and start swimming in open water. I still do at least one bike session on the trainer as it is easier to push your heart rate to the maximum.
What do you enjoy most about training?
Mmh – at the beginning of the season I enjoy the structured training (at the end of the season not so much :)) – I really like the fitness that develops over steady training; my body and mind enjoy the benefits of training; I feel like I have a purpose. I visualize the upcoming race and my whole lifestyle just makes me happy.
Is there anything in particular that helps keep you going on those longer training runs and rides?
When the going gets tough I think how lucky I am to be able to do this sport! I am thankful for my health and fitness and where I live makes it easy to train. Lately people pay more attention as well, because of my plant based lifestyle; so it’s fun to show that not only can it be done but it makes you stronger. In the bigger picture, there is more of a purpose to my training now; a bigger purpose – my plant based lifestyle combined with endurance sports helps those who can’t speak for themselves – the animals.
And I always visualize my races; I often travel to different races so I combine holidays with races and that too keeps me motivated.
Do you have a favourite snack to have during activity? How do you keep fueled on race days?
During training I have to fuel my body with specific nutrition. If I veer off that plan, my body will not like it. In triathlon it is said nutrition/fueling is the fourth discipline.
I eat mostly whole organic foods, lots of vegetables, fruits and nuts. During high volume training I increase my intake of starchy vegetables such as potatoes, squash and yams.
During training and racing I eat Vega gels and bars on the bike and sometimes I make my own bars or bring some trail mix; during the run I fuel with Vega gels. I make my own electrolyte drink with fresh organic lemon and ginger, salt and water.
Sylvia is pictured here on the bottom right, in the front row
Is there an event or race you have enjoyed taking part in most so far? Is there anything about races in general that you really like?
YES! I have done everything from 10km runs to adventure races, ultra marathons, marathons, numerous triathlons and two Ironman races. My absolute favourite was this year in June, the Long Distance World Triathlon Championships in Motala, Sweden. For these races you have to qualify and then register with Team Canada.
You cannot go as an individual. It’s like the Olympics and there are opening and closing ceremonies. Being part of Team Canada in the Parade the day before the race and going through the village with all other teams was simply magic! I felt so proud and privileged at the same time!
Are there any upcoming events that you’re training for or would like to do?
For 2016 I have a few triathlons planned and a marathon.
Do you have a favourite post race/training vegan meal?
I always have a “power” smoothie with spinach, 2-3 fruits, hemp seeds and/or pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and water and/or almond milk after training.
After a race: FRIES!!!
Is there anything you like to do after a long race, to unwind and relax?
Hug the couch; eat, sleep and repeat 🙂 Cuddle with my two cats, Marley and Simba 🙂
Do you have any advice for fellow outdoor adventurers and athletes new to veganism? And are there any other resources (films, books, websites) you would recommend to others, regarding the vegan, athletic or outdoor lifestyle?
My best advice is to stay away from processed foods. As an athlete it is even more important to have a balanced and complete nutrition plan. However, it is not rocket science! Eat as many veggies and fresh fruit as you like – I recommend organic to minimize toxins in the body – get a handful or two of nuts a day, and eat a variety of legumes (best to get dry ones and soak them rather than from the can as they contain various toxins and preservatives). If you like, add tofu or tempeh. I also stay away from grains as they do not agree with me. But as long as you eat organic whole foods and limited or no processed foods all is well.
Further, I eat no sugar whatsoever and for my training and racing fuel I make sure that what I fuel with is plant based as well e.g. mostly dates (most of the Vega products). This way the blood sugar is stabilized which makes fueling easier.
There are very few good resources for vegan endurance athletes; mostly I think because it’s such a new topic and no research has been done (yet). The readings that I have found were either incomplete, I found them not to be true for myself and/or they contained false and unsupported information (such as the protein myth).
My absolute favourite book is Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s “Eat to Live.” He also has a cook book. The recipes are easy and simple. In terms of “general” vegan resources and books there are many. Two of my favourites are “The China Study” by Drs. T. Colin & Thomas M. Campbell and Kathy Freston’s “Veganist.”
Thank you Sylvia! What an inspirational way to show people what can be done on a vegan lifestyle.
Read More From the Active Outdoor Vegans Series!
Learn About a Healthy, Vegan Lifestyle:
Join TheVeganJunction Newsletter to get more vegan athlete inspiration and healthy vegan recipes!