Former pro triathlete and firefighter Rip Esselstyn, is first on my list of contemporary vegan athletes. While he is no longer a professional athlete, he lived this diet and lifestyle throughout a ten year career in triathlon. Still in great shape, he has been known to train with a certain Lance Armstrong while he continues his triathlon comeback. He even inspired Armstrong to go more plant strong, though not completely vegan. After hanging up his wheels, Rip still couldn’t join cubicle nation, so he became a fire fighter, another physically demanding job.
Son of doctor Caldwell Esselstyn who reversed heart disease with a low fat plant based diet, the whole family walks the talk. 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 creates 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 better cholesterol, blood pressure, 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, to be replaced by nutrient dense ingredients like kale.
So why is Rip a Vegan Training Table hero? Because there are not many who have combined true low fat vegan plant based living with outstanding athletic performance. He puts to bed the misguided notion that athletes need a richer diet, more protein, more whatever. 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.
Browsing through his book for a recipe to try for Mofo, I found a couple. The sweet potato bowl looks good, but since it’s 9 million degrees outside, I’m going for cold soba. I adapted his recipe a bit by adding broccoli, and using just a little baby bok choy. Because I wanted to eat this as cold soba, I didn’t cook in broth, or add corn starch to thicken the sauce, as the recipe calls for. It’s just too darn hot.
Gingered Mushrooms, Bok Choy, and Carrots with Soba Engine 2 Diet p. 205
1/4 C mirin
2 t shoyu
1 T brown rice vinegar
handful of shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 T heaping, of minced fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic minced
2-3 C broccoli florets
2 bunches baby bok choy, leaves only, chopped
cooked soba noodles
black sesame seeds and chopped scallions for garnish
In a large skillet or wok, cook the mushrooms over medium high heat. Toss ’em around a bit to keep them from sticking. No oil or liquid is really needed since the mushrooms will release their juices. Add carrots and broccoli and continue cooking. Add garlic and ginger, keep tossing. When the vegetables are as tender as you like, add the bok choy and sauce. Stir and toss, toss and stir.
Hot or Warm:
Toss the cooked soba noodles with veggies, or serve veggies atop noodles. Garnish with sesame seeds and scallions.
Chill cooked soba noodles and veggies. Combine as above for a great hot weather dish.
Accompany with either chilled Sapporo, chilled junmai ginjo sake, or green tea.