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OPN Connect Newsletter 331 · August 3, 2023

OPS Ed Session: Athletes Powered by Plants


One of the more compelling sessions at the July Organic Produce Summit in Monterey, California, was a panel of non-produce industry folks advocating for major changes in the way their fellow Americans eat. The panel included four world-class athletes who used plant-based diets to fuel their achievements in sports, as well as a chef who specializes in vegan cuisines and a formerly out-of-shape doctor whose change of diet helped him compete in an Ironman at age 60 and changed his career focus.

Dr. Jim Loomis, medical director at Barnard Medical Center in Washington, D.C., summed up the tone of the discussion noting that he enjoyed the standard American diet (SAD) for most of his life—which turned him into the standard American patient (SAP).

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Moderator Dotsie Bausch, and panelists Dr. Jim Loomis, Ella Magers, and Jason Wrobel

In his early 50s, Loomis watched the 2011 documentary Forks Over Knives, which examines the profound claim that most, if not all, of the chronic diseases that afflict us can be controlled or even reversed by rejecting animal-based and processed foods. “I was blown away by how much evidence there was,” he said.

He started to think of food as medicine and switched his diet. Four months later, he had lost 50 pounds and began his journey to change his life and advocate the same for others. At 60 years old, he participated in and finished the IRONMAN Lake Placid triathlon, a grueling race for a person of any age.

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Dotsie Bausch, American cyclist and Olympic medalist

Each of the panelists told their personal stories featuring a seminal moment where the change in diet changed their lives. Dotsie Bausch, who moderated the session, is an American cyclist and 2012 Olympic medalist. At age 35, she shifted to a plant-based diet as a strategy to compete with athletes 10 years her junior. “I didn’t know what would happen,” she admits. “But what happened was mind-blowing.”

Dr. Jim Loomis started to think of food as medicine and switched his diet. Four months later, he had lost 50 pounds and began his journey to change his life and advocate the same for others.

She said her recovery time between workouts became much quicker, allowing her to train more often and achieve better results in her specialty. Eating plants was the only thing she changed, she said.

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Bausch became the oldest person in history to win an Olympic medal in her discipline.

Panelists Jason Wrobel, Robert Cheeke, and Derrick Morgan

Robert Cheeke, a champion bodybuilder, grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, on a farm, also eating the typical diet. He says he was a small guy who started to look at food differently when he was in eighth grade. His older sister suggested a vegan diet, which Cheeke adopted. He gradually changed his eating habits and used the power of plants to change his body. He is the author of a best-selling book titled Plant-Based Athletes.

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Derrick Morgan, who had a nine-year career in the National Football League with the Tennessee Titans, revealed that his diet change came about in an effort to compete for his job. “It’s very hard to get to the NFL,” he said, “but it’s even harder to stay there.”

At age 35, she shifted to a plant-based diet as a strategy to compete with athletes 10 years her junior. “I didn’t know what would happen,” Bausch admits. “But what happened was mind-blowing.”

During one offseason, he had gained too much weight, which he noted he would have been fined for, so he switched his diet to lose some weight. He discovered that eating a plant-based diet actually increased his strength and endurance, and his blood work looked great. His wife, Charity Morgan, who is a chef, joined him on the journey and became a vegan chef and author. At one point, Chef Morgan was cooking and supervising plant-based diets for her husband and 15 of his teammates.

Ella Magers, a renowned coach and fitness expert, started her vegetarian journey at age 7 when she connected the concept that what was on her plate came from an animal. She has been totally plant-based since age 15 and has made a career helping others along the path. She shared that eating a plant-based diet “enhances my life every day at every level.” Later, she opined that being vegan “is a joyful place to live.”

Panelists Dr. Jim Loomis, Ella Magers, and Jason Wrobel

Chef Jason Wrobel started looking at food and farming differently when he was about 18, and he noted that the heavy animal-based diet his extended family was eating led to a lot of disease and early death. He took a deep dive into plant-based diets and began reducing his reliance on animals for calories and started feeling better. “I became vegan at 21 and started to take the family recipes and make them plant based,” he said, adding that taste is the main factor in his vegan cuisines.

Morgan discovered that eating a plant-based diet actually increased his strength and endurance, and his blood work looked great.

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Today, Wrobel is a professional raw food chef, instructor, and cookbook author.

Bausch relayed that being powered by plants is “not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.”

Moderator Dotsie Bausch, and panelists Dr. Jim Loomis and Ella Magers

The panelists discussed the specifics of their diets during the two-hour session, including the most-asked question vegetarians have to answer: “Where do you get your protein?” Dr. Loomis said it’s no secret. Food marketing in the United States has convinced the average consumer that protein comes from animals. It’s not true, he said. “Animals get their protein by eating plants,” he said. “Animals are the middlemen for the nutrients. We can skip the middleman.”

Bausch relayed that being powered by plants is “not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.”

In fact, Loomis said the average American over-consumes protein. If you eat enough calories from plant-based sources, he said you will get enough protein. He reiterated that diets rich in animal protein are the root cause of many diseases, including diabetes.

Further touting plant-based diets, Bausch said all plants enhance good blood flow, which is an essential ingredient of good health. She added that some research has indicated that a plant-based diet can reverse early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

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