Ever heard of a no meat athlete? A few weeks ago we met up with Sabina Lääveri. Sabina is a professional karate fighter and competes at the highest level in the world. Also, her diet is almost exclusively plant-based. And considering a) all the questions we receive about exercise and protein, and b) that we recently started a new series about plant-based protein here on the blog, we simply had to talk to Sabina about diet and exercise.
If all goes well, Sabina will make her World Cup debut in November, in Madrid. The long-term goal is the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020 and Sabina is training hard with the other members of the Swedish Karate Federation. She talks so passionately about her training and the opportunity to go to the Olympics that you would never have guessed that, just two years ago, she was thinking about quitting.
Yes, I was seriously thinking about quitting. I had just lost an important game and was completely worn out. I had no idea what to do. But then I got a call from the Swedish Olympics group and that’s when I decided: I’m going to do whatever it takes to get to the top. And after just two months, I won my first Premier League medal in Dubai. I just repeated my new mantra: this is fun, this is fun, this is fun. And the weekend after, I won the Nordic championships for the first time.
– Wow, what a story. What is your exercise routine?
I workout twice a day, usually at 3 pm and 6 pm. Really hard workouts, no goofing around.
– And what about food?
When I started training for the olympics, I also started thinking about food. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get there, and I wanted to learn more about the impact of diet on fitness and wellbeing. I wanted to try something new, and then my old coach told me about the Food Pharmacy book. I was a sceptic at first, I did not have time to read. But then I listened to the audiobook, and loved it. The cookbook too! Nowadays, I eat almost exclusively vegetarian and vegan food. But I’m a good guest – I always eat what the host is serving.
– And what about the other athletes in the group, are you all interested in the plant-based lifestyle?
Well, many of them treat themselves with junk food after a hard workout. You know, because they’ve “earned it”. But now that I have learned so much about the connection between diet and health, eating pizza after workout would be more of a punishment than a prize. The response from friends and colleagues has been a bit mixed. Most of them still live in the “meat world”, they don’t really care what they eat.
– And now, the million dollar question: can athletes perform well on a vegan diet?
Yes, of course, you can definitely perform well on a 100% vegan diet. But, you need to educate yourself and track your protein intake.
– Does the plant-based diet affect your athletic performance?
Not while I’m working out, but I recover much faster afterwards. I’m not as tired and heavy as I was before. Actually, thinking about it now, I’m able to workout even harder.
– What do you eat on a regular day?
I do intermittent fasting and usually eat my first meal around lunch. I track my protein intake to make sure I am hitting my protein goals, and avoid sugar, white flour and meat.
– Has it been difficult?
Sometimes, but not really. Finding healthy snacks can be tricky. I eat a lot of roasted chickpeas and almonds, but once in a while I still crave potato chips. I make homemade cassava chips, but it’s not the same.
– Thank you Sabina! Wow. Fitness and veganism truly can go hand-in-hand. It’s quite obvious, but nice to hear it from someone who really knows. And what if it’s the secret to unlocking your full potential? Anyhow, good luck on your Olympic journey!