How One Olympian Got Hooked On Plants

How One Olympian Got Hooked On Plants

It’s not often an Olympic athlete goes on to become a holistic nutritionist, certified plant-based chef, business owner and blogger. But then again, not all athletes are as driven or as passionate as Julia Murray.
Canadian born and raised, she’s the daughter of legendary downhill ski racer Dave Murray and grew up on the slopes of Whistler, British Columbia—home of a ski resort that’s consistently rated one of the best in North America. Learning to ski at just two years old, by her early teens she was on her way to a fast and furious racing career.
Eventually making the Canadian National Ski Cross team, she spent five years on the World Cup tour. She competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics on her home turf, and despite a blown knee from a previous accident, she finished 12th. The next year, she came second at the World Championships—this time with a different blown knee.
Following these injuries, she decided to step away from the slopes and into the kitchen.

Photo credit: Jenna Jones

Not always so green

You’d think an Olympian’s diet would be clean, green and lean. Not so, says Murray: “On the road, there was so much meat, cheese and white bread available. It was harder to stay healthy. We didn’t have much guidance on nutrition, which I now realize should be the top priority.”

Fortunately, she’d been raised to choose wisely.

“Even though I’d eat whatever food was available, I always got in my greens and fruit, something that my mom ingrained in me.”

But not until she started to remove most dairy and animal-sourced proteins and replace them with colorful fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, grains and nuts did she notice a real change in her health.

Completely vegan now for over two years, she says, “Since going plant based, I’ve lost 10 to 15 pounds and feel more energized and clear-headed. Physically, I have smoother digestion and clearer skin. Mentally, I have a better relationship with food. The best part is because plant foods are naturally more nutrient dense, I get to eat more and I don’t count calories. This is amazing for my mental health—not worrying about portions, but just making sure I’m eating nutrient-rich foods, like nature intended.”

Greener and wiser

Fueled by her passion and curiosity to learn more, she became a registered holistic nutritionist. She even traveled to Costa Rica, where she trained under well-known raw food chef Joanne Gerrard Young (aka chef to superstar couple Gisele Bündchen and Tom Brady).

From there, she launched her business career, packaging the high-performing cereal she created, Jules Fuel. She has a blog she updates regularly, Hooked On Plants, that’s full of recipes, photos and advice on going vegan. Between all that, she finds time to organize private ski tours with other Olympians.

For those of us with New Year’s goals on our agenda—particularly improving our health and reaching higher fitness gains—what advice does she have?

She says focus on adding more to your diet versus deprivation.

“Plant foods are naturally higher in nutrients, water and fiber—the perfect mix for weight loss with no calorie counting,” she says.

Julia\’s top 4 supplements

To help fill voids in your plant-based diet, as well as ensure you’re getting adequate vitamins and minerals, Murray recommends the following supplements.

B12 in the form of methylcobalamin: Vegans need a reliable source of this B vitamin, which speeds up certain bodily reactions. Take it under the tongue or in spray form.

Microalgae oil: This is a vegan source of omega-3 essential fatty acids for cognitive function, mood, skin, heart health and more. It’s also rich in chlorophyll and iodine.

Vitamin D3: Look for a vegan vitamin D3 supplement. Take it daily for bone health, immunity and overall longevity.

Iron: To avoid becoming anemic, include iron-rich foods like legumes, spinach and collard greens, along with sources of vitamin C (like citrus fruits) to maximize absorption. If you’re iron deficient, look for vegan iron supplements now available at most health food stores.

But what about … ?

For naysayers, including those who argue meat should be included for proper amino acid building compounds, iron and vitamin B12, Murray is quick to remind us that a plant-based diet can indeed be rich in protein, too. Supplements (see “Julia’s Top 4 Supplements” above) can help with any dietary gaps. If you feel foggy, light-headed, weak or any negative effects, it’s not because your body misses the animal sources. It’s more likely you’re not consuming enough calories or a sufficient variety of plant foods.

Tips for going plant based

Eat the rainbow and load up on colorful options like sweet potatoes, kale, dates and berries. Not only are these foods delicious, but they’re also primarily alkaline-forming, contain antioxidants and help reduce inflammation in the body, notes Murray.

She also recommends including lean proteins like organic tempeh, smoked tofu skewers and chickpea burgers, along with high quality ancient grains, quinoa and buckwheat.

“The more plant-based foods you add, the better you will feel! You will have better digestion, feel satisfied and help your microbiome flourish,” she says.

An Olympian\’s healthy hacks

  • Murray adds nutritional yeast to hummus, sauces, dressings—anything, really. Bonus: fortified nutritional yeast is a great source of vitamin B12.
  • Instead of using oils to saute her food, she’ll add chopped onions to a pan with a bit of water or balsamic vinegar. Full of flavor and super low fat.
  • Sweet tooth? Her favorite fix is dates, aka Nature’s whole food candy.
  • For on-the-go snacks, she packs energy balls made with dates and nuts.
  • She’ll toss frozen bananas in her smoothies or make an “ice cream” with them using a blender.
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