Olympic gold medalist Stephanie Rice bursts with vitality and energy when she speaks to you. However, six years ago after retiring from swimming, Stephanie fell into a slump and struggled to get out of bed.
“I felt a bit lost after I retired because I had been so used to training for seven hours a day and suddenly that all stopped,” says the 30-year-old. “My body just fell into a heap. I also didn’t know what I was going to do for the rest of my life.”
Stephanie started researching different ways of living and became interested in veganism. “It just really resonated with me, as I’d never been a fan of meat or dairy,” she says. “I started slowly transitioning to the lifestyle with small steps here and there and have never felt healthier or happier. I’m also much more content knowing that I’m doing my bit to help make the planet a more sustainable place, and am putting the welfare of animals at the forefront.”
Stephanie has now released her second free eCookbook – Go Vegie Today for a Better Tomorrow – which she helped create with plant-food company Vegie Delights. Free to download from the Vegie Delights website, it’s packed full of delicious recipes.
Here Stephanie tells us more about her vegan journey.
How long have you been vegan?
What made you follow a plant-based lifestyle?
Back in 2013 after retiring from swimming I was going through a slump. My body was suddenly forced to transition to a regular lifestyle and had to adjust to not training hard all the time. As a result I was so tired and down in general. I felt like I needed some kind of answer to get motivated again. That’s when I started getting inspired by other people who’d adopted a vegan lifestyle. I’d never felt great after eating meat and eating dairy and eggs made me feel sick. I started cutting out things here and there and eating a wider variety of plant-food and suddenly it just all made sense – and made my mind and body feel so much better.
How has being vegan changed your life in general?
I’ve noticed how much calmer I now feel mentally. I feel because I’m eating foods that are much cleaner and healthier, my body is not under stress anymore and using up lots of energy to digest meat. Not putting as much stress and toxicity into my body has definitely given me more energy, clarity and focus. I’m also now so much more aware of world issues and things that affect the planet.
Do you feel healthier? In what ways?
Before I went vegan I often experienced bloating, skin outbreaks and stomach aches. However, since cutting out meat I’ve never felt better. But I went slowly. First, I cut out red meat, then dairy milk, cheese and chicken. Now six years on my immune system is the strongest it’s ever been, and I rarely get sick.
Loads of people think that being vegan is a hindrance to achieving your fitness goals? What would you say to dispel this myth?
Well, firstly the assumption that vegans must be lacking in energy somehow is such a load of rubbish! All you need to do is look at some of the vegans who are thriving such as Aussie runner Morgan Mitchell, and tennis stars Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Novak Djokovic. If they’re not bursting with energy I don’t know who is! As long as you follow a sensible vegan diet and get a good selection of protein you’ll have all the energy you need. I would have loved to have competed in professional swimming as a vegan as I think it would have been so beneficial.
What is your favourite vegan meal?
I just love Mexican food and all the different textures, so my go-to dish is a Mexican-inspired sweet potato dish with guacamole, salsa, tomatoes and vegan cheese.
Do you have a vegan recipe from the new eCookbook you can share with our readers?
Sometimes I crave something really comforting for dinner at night and the Vegan herb and garlic sausage risotto that I helped develop is just the best! The Arborio rice makes it really creamy, and yet it’s so healthy especially when you add the chopped Vegie Delights Herb & Garlic Sausages.
What are some top tips for a full-on meat eater to ease into a vegan life?
Being organised will really help. Always make sure you have the right vegan foods available to you in your pantry and fridge. I go to the organic markets near me every Sunday morning and buy all the following week’s groceries, so I know I always have things to cook up. If I don’t do that I’m more likely to just order in from Uber Eats which I know isn’t going to be as healthy! Also I’ll cook in batches. If I cook up some baked sweet potatoes for dinner I’ll make three lots worth which I can freeze so I know I’ve got something healthy to eat for those days I can’t be bothered to cook. Other than that read up on veganism, drink lots of water to curb cravings, and aim to have at least one meat-free dinner a week when starting out.
What advice would you give someone who wants to swap to a kinder lifestyle and is trying but slips up and feels guilty?
I think when people try to set really high expectations they’re often setting themselves up for failure.
When transitioning to vegan meals, you need to start slowly and build up. I’m actually 98 per cent vegan, as I don’t want to put undue pressure on myself. If I’m at a restaurant with limited vegan options then I will occasionally have a piece of fish. Or else I may have a piece of birthday cake made with eggs and cream at a birthday party. You just do what you can for most of the time. If you slip up and eat a chocolate bar once in a blue moon, you know what – it’s no big deal! Wanting to embrace a kinder lifestyle also means being kind to yourself as well!
How easy or hard is it for you eat a vegan lifestyle when travelling as much as you do?
I actually don’t find it a problem at all. I often travel to India for work and I take all my supplement powders and protein bars with me so I have snack options. I even brought my own blender along on my most recent trip so I could continue to make my smoothies. It’s also great that many restaurants now have vegan options or don’t have any trouble modifying dishes for you. Even airlines can supply vegan meals.
By Shonagh Walker and Fleur Michell.