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Eating like a champion

Published in The Vegetarian magazine - Summer/Autumn 2018

 

edwin moses

 

What’s more impressive about former Olympian Edwin Moses: that he broke the 400m hurdle World Record three separate times, and won two gold medals in the process? Or that in the meat-reliant world of 1970s top-level athletics, he managed to blow away all competition on a plant-based diet?

For most athletes, success comes with a long period of struggle as they hone their skills and physical capabilities, incrementally reaching new heights in their chosen discipline with every attempt. For Edwin Moses, however, the reality was a little different – a gold medal in his first Olympic Games at Montreal in 1976, and a new World Record of 47.63 seconds in the 400m hurdles.

This remarkable achievement is rendered even more incredible by the fact Moses had only turned his attentions to competing in that particular event in March of the same year. His languid Midwestern drawl oozes total self-assurance, a quality that helped Moses go on to consistently break new ground on and off the track during his career.

“Diet was one of the legacies I left behind,” the 62-year-old explains. “I was doing things that I know nobody else was.”

Considering some of the Ohio-native’s accomplishments on the track – three World Records and a win-streak that ran for nine years, nine months, and nine days, or 122 consecutive races – his redefining of what a modern athlete’s diet looked like clearly paid dividends. Yet unlike most hulking physical phenoms of the time, Moses eschewed the stereotypical protein choices, keeping his 6’ 2”, 220lb running frame fully fuelled on vegetarian sources.

“I really wasn't into taking vitamins or supplements or minerals, or anything like that,” he nods. “If I wanted to take on a lot of potassium or iron or magnesium and those types of elements, I would go for beets and kale, or turnips, spinach and leeks. The ones most people see in store but don't usually touch because you maybe don't know how to eat them properly.

“I also did heavy juicing with herbs like turmeric, garlic and ginger. I come up with my own combinations all the time for that vitamin and mineral intake. Diet in general for me is the reason I am in good shape. I think that's one of the main reasons I'm still the same size as I've always been. People are in awe that I still look like I can run!”

Throughout history there have been a handful of world-class competitors who have settled on a vegetarian or vegan diet – from nine-time Olympic champion sprinter Carl Lewis to near-superwoman Serena Williams. And while Moses “never discussed” his meat-free methods with potential rivals who were consistently trailing in his wake, he hopes to see more young Olympic hopefuls cotton on to the trend.

“I have a garden at home, so I can plant every year and eat out of the garden during the summer,” he says. “And I cook every day, I'm really into cooking. Over the sort of 45 years I've been doing that, I've become quite a good chef – especially soups and salads.

Edwin Moses

“I would recommend it, but I don't think most of the younger athletes have the patience. It would take a lot of time away from their phones and digital time to do that. But as I got older and had the space in my yard I wanted to do it, because I grew up with a grandfather who was a farmer and my dad taught me how to grow vegetables, harvest and can goods and things like that when I was growing up. I figure it’s one of those things that young athletes aren't into as much. You see on Instagram sometimes some of the food they're eating and some of them eat the right types of things – but I eat like that every day; every single day.”

Yet just like his dedication to honing his hurdling technique, building a diet and nutritional regime fit for a professional sportsman off the back of fruit and veg alone has required immense hard work. Since Moses’ retirement from athletics in the late 80s, he has continued to work on his everyday intake.

“One of the problems I faced was that I had a lot of people in my family who have been diabetic, so when I quit I had to figure out a way to reasonably go from 4,000 or 5,000 calories a day to around half of that, which is what a normal person eats each day,” he explains. “It took me two and a half years to wind down my metabolism so that I wasn't overeating versus my energy burn-off.”

Having said that, there’s a lot to be said for Moses’s love of simplicity. Five thousand-strong calorie counts, Olympic-level training and even new and invigorating juice concoctions all carry an air of complexity seemingly reserved for those who are able to run the 400m hurdles in a sub-47 second time. But for Moses it’s not all about ingenuity, but rather “passion” – and that remains the same when it comes to his love of nutrition and good food, as it does his technical excellence on the track.

“Two summers ago I went to a party of a friend of mine who's an art collector, and everyone had to bring something,” he reminisces. “I brought a salad with spinach and fresh onion, and basil and mint chopped up and a homemade salad dressing with balsamic vinegar. Fresh tomatoes out of my garden, that kind of thing.

“I brought two of the largest salad bowls I had, and people were still taking it home in plastic bags! To this day they still want some more of that salad because they had never tasted stuff like fresh basil, fresh mint and fresh thyme and little pieces of oregano chopped up. The tastes just burst in your mouth – and no one ever forgot it!”

The moral of the story, then, is to never underestimate the power of a good salad?

“Yes!” he laughs heartily. “Exactly!”

 

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