Christine Vardaros – Vegan Pro Cyclist

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This week’s Man-Kind features an inspiring interview with the amazing Christine Vardaros. Christine is a vegan professional cyclist based in Leuven, Belgium. We hope you enjoy it! Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christine_Vardaros

Photo courtesy of Bram van Lent

 How long have you been vegan and what motivated you to make this transition?

I’ve been vegan almost 18 years now. When I earned my professional racing license I was already vegetarian for ten years. What made me turn vegan was actually selfishness. I wanted to be the best at my sport. After my first pro race where I got my ass kicked, I did an extensive amount of research to see what I could do to improve my results. All evidence pointed to a plant-based diet. Within about three weeks of a plant-based diet, I went from the back of the peloton to winning races! It was only after I switched to a plant-based diet that I learnt about the moral ramifications of my decision. This is what keeps me strict vegan in my life and lifestyle.

Can you tell us about your transition to a whole foods plant based diet?

What I immediately noticed was that I was no longer sick every few weeks – which is common when you compete at the top level. I was recovering from hard trainings and races literally overnight which is really unheard of in professional sports. I had more energy, I could dig deeper to get more out of my body than before. I also recovered miraculously from injuries and even bone breaks. I once broke my leg and the leg-break specialist who only treats pro athletes said it would be a minimum of six weeks. Well, three weeks later I was completely healed. He called it a miracle. I called it a low-protein plant-based diet. He now recommends this diet to all his athletes.

Who have been your biggest inspirations in adopting a vegan diet and lifestyle and how did they inspire you?

I actually went vegan with my coach Elmo who coaches many other pro athletes. I didn’t have any inspirations back then as I didn’t really know of any other vegan athletes aside from one or two in the tennis world. But in my mind that was a completely different kind of sport so I really couldn’t relate to them. You have to remember that this was over 17 years ago. I did hear about a guy named Brendan Brazier but, after giving a talk with him where he made veganism so incredibly complicated, I realized we are different types of vegans. My diet is simple and consists of everyday foods you can find in any supermarket around the world. No need for me to roast my own pumpkin seeds in the over at 5:30 in the morning every day.

Photo courtesy of Marc Deceuninck

You are currently riding for Stevens Pro Cycling – could you outline your earlier career to our readers?

I started off as a pro mountain bike racer for Team Breezer, a team which promoted bikes as transportation. Eventually, after I made the move to California from Manhattan, I switched to racing on the road. I started with a team called Velo Bella. After a couple of years with this team, racing road in the summers, cyclocross in the winters, I made the transition to my first UCI international road team called Lotto-Belisol based in Belgium. Naturally I had to move there, and it was in Belgium where I became a fulltime cyclocross specialist.

Having appeared on the podium at many UCI events what would you say was your favourite victory and why?

I’ve been on the podium and also won UCI events over the years, ranked as high as 6th in the world at one point, and steady top 20 for some years. My favorite victory is maybe Highland Park UCI in USA, where I won in a three-up sprint against MTB pro Georgia Gould and a pure sprinter gal.

What would be a typical daily meal plan for you?

That’s a tough question because I switched over to vegan keto a few months ago, as well as intermittent fasting. So basically, I skip breakfast. Instead I have a coffee with a spoonful of coconut oil. Then lunch is usually oatmeal. On the bike I will have a vegan bar from Hammer Nutrition with their Perpetuem drink which never kicks me out of ketosis. Then it’s maybe a no-carb plain yogurt with some nuts and coconut flakes or dark chocolate. At least once a day I have a family-sized bowl with raw greens, cucumber, tomato, avocado, tahini, endive, spinach, mixed lettuces, and some tofu sautéed in coconut oil.

Photo courtesy of Glenn Coessens

How do you consider your initial personal fitness improved when you went vegan?

Within three weeks I noticed an increase in endurance, I could breathe better, push harder and recover faster.

What have been the longer-term benefits to your health and fitness?

Well, people are shocked when they hear I am 48 years old – based on how I look…AND still competing at the pro level. I think that says a lot.

When you are not training what hobbies do you enjoy?

 Eating, reading, walking around town, watching water.

Overall what would you say is the biggest benefit of being vegan?

 It is the easiest way to get the most out of your body.

How did you get the nick name ‘Peanut’?

During an excruciatingly painful interval hill training in Northern California, I once said to coach Elmo, “But I’m just a little peanut.” He replied, “That’s right, you are just a little f***ing peanut, and don’t you ever f***ing forget it!” The next week, back in Belgium racing a World Cup, I was cheered on by the Belgian National Team Coach. Guess what he said? “Allez Peanut!” pfff…the nickname stuck.

Photo courtesy of Christopher Jobb

One final question – Do you have a favourite recipe or dish?

Veganaise – so simple to make

200ml sunflower oil

100ml soymilk

1tbs apple cider vinegar

1tsp mustard

lemon juice, pepper, salt, garlic(optional)

Mixer starting on low speed and moving up to high.

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