I first heard about her focus on diet many moons ago when reading Robert Haas’ book on sports nutrition Eat to Win, which I think may be one of the first books of its kind for a general audience, coming as it did after the fitness boom of the 70s. What made it unique was it focus on quality carbohydrate, rather than protein, and emphasizing low fat eating. It’s out of print now, but I found an old copy and was surprised at accurate it still remains. It is quite close to McDougall and Pritikin it its practice. In the book he mentioned some of the athletes he worked with such as Navratilova. She is quoted as having benefitted greatly from the plan, but until recently I did not know that she is truly plant based, and credits it for her success. While not being a tennis fan, I have been impressed with very long career, still winning championships into her 50s! So I was quite interested in this little video that credits outstanding longevity in a highly competitive sport to her love of plant power!
First in an occasional series of plant based warriors who put the walk to the talk, so to speak, is former pro triathlete and current firefighter Rip Esselstyn. Son of doctor Caldwell Esselstyn who has pioneered heart disease reversal through low fat plant based diet, the whole family walks the walk. In Rip’s case, he also talks a lot. In his new book The Engine 2 Diet, he skillfully creates a plan for regular people to change from an unhealthy SAD (standard American diet) to what he calls plant strong eating. What he does is take the phenomenal research that his dad has done into heart disease reversal and create a very accessible plan. Just to make sure, he tested it a couple of times on fellow firefighters and community members in Austin, Texas. The result? Maybe to their surprise, but certainly not to Rip, everybody improved their health with improved cholesterol, blood pressure, increased energy and well being.
Rip clearly has been living this lifestyle for awhile. In fact, the whole family transitioned rather late based on father Caldwell’s research. There are a lot of family stories surrounding the recipes that show how this has been a collaborative effort for some time. It also makes the recipes more accessible, as many are based on familiar foods. In most cases, these old favorites are simply reworked to eliminate the meat, dairy, and oil and add in some nutrient dense ingredients like kale.
So why is Rip a feed the beast! hero? Because there are not many who have combined true low fat vegan plant based living with outstanding athletic performance. Rip ate plant strong while competing professionally as a triathlete for ten years. Plus, his current job as a firefighter requires some athleticism as well! He puts to bed the misguided notion that athletes need a richer diet, or are even able to tolerate richer food. My only wish is that he would write and speak a little more about the athletic experience he has had eating this way, since there is so much misinformation surrounding sports nutrition.
For more Esselstyn info check out dad’s book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease (I think mom Ann’s recipes are even better!)