Vegan Life Talks to Elite Athlete Jenna Robinson About Getting Back into Fitness and Competing in the Obstacle Course Championships
Jenna Robinson is living proof of the power of plants.
The elite athlete, who will be running in the obstacle course racing (OCR) world championships in Ohio this October, has been a vegan for three and a half years.
OCR is an extreme sport where participants wade through muddy pools and take on obstacles like crawling under barbed wire. It’s fast becoming one of the most popular and inclusive events around, catering to both beginners and seasoned athletes. It’s tough, and the best performers have to be at peak fitness.
“You can be very strong and not eat any meat,” Jenna, who lives in Nottingham, says. “A lot of people don’t realise that. I am just as muscular as anyone else and just as fit.”
Jenna started transitioning to a vegan lifestyle after watching videos about factory farming.
She says: “The more I looked into it, the more I realised ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I don’t like how animals are reared and slaughtered.
“Before, I had been blind to it, but the more I learned, the less I could ignore it. It got to a point where I couldn’t enjoy certain foods anymore knowing how they had been produced.”
Jenna, who previously did a lot of kick boxing, had taken a break from fitness and found herself gaining weight. In order to get back into shape, she signed up for a famously difficult race, not realising how gruelling it was going to be.
“It’s an event called Tough Guy,” she says. “I knew it was a muddy obstacle course, but that’s all I knew. I ended up getting hypothermia, and having to walk the last bit. But instead of feeling like I had failed, I said I would come back the next year to finish what I had started.
“I got back into fitness again, weightlifting and cross fit, as well as doing lots of smaller races in preparation for the next Tough Guy. I am one of those people who will keep trying. I am not a competitive person, but when I am standing on the starting line, I want to beat myself, I want to do the best I can.”
When she returned to the race the following year, she qualified for the world championships, which required a top 25 finish. “I was so chuffed because it was the only race that had beaten me.”
She credits her diet with enhancing her performances. She doesn’t take any kind of supplements or protein shakes. While many of the cross fit athletes she works out with eat meat-heavy paleo diets, and drink protein shakes, Jenna believes you can get all the nutrition you need from real food.
She says: “I don’t put a lot of planning into my food, but I generally eat at certain times, before and after a workout, and I always take my own meals into work with me.
“I had already been vegan for a while when I did my first race, but I was not a particularly healthy one. I had not learnt how to eat fresh food, and I was eating a lot of bread and pasta all the time. I needed more variety.
“I think that’s where people go wrong. Lots of people don’t actually like the idea of eating animals, but it can be hard to make the transition, and to make the changes. I don’t feel like I deprive myself of anything, which makes veganism a good choice. I eat so much every day, but just good stuff, I don’t really eat a lot of processed food.”
According to the racer, there are a few vegans in the OCR world.
She says: “I found this out online. After races, there are food truck and stalls, but most of them don’t have vegan options – even just chips. It’s generally burgers and other meat.
“Someone brought this up on one of the forums and a lot of others commented on it. You think you’re alone, but you’re not. I hope race directors saw that discussion and will take it on board, because sometimes, especially after a race, you just want something like chips.”
In the last year, Jenna has seen three of her friends give up meat, saying it feels ‘really good’ when your ideas inspire others. “I never put people down for their diet or lifestyle, but I am happy to provide advice, she says. “After all, I haven’t always been vegan, it took something to change my mind.
“It’s about education – I show people what I eat, and the workouts I can do fuelled by plant-based foods, and when people see it doesn’t affect performance, they think of trying it themselves.”
Her best advice to those turning to veganism is to read labels, and that it’s ok to make mistakes – don’t get mad about it, just don’t do it again. She claims reading labels can be quite an eye-opening experience in terms of learning what is processed food.
She says: “It can be quite disgusting, you can’t believe what’s in there. That’s why for most of my diet, I stick to food that doesn’t have a label – fresh fruit and veg. I also like to eat a lot of raw food because we cook a lot of the nutrition out of things.
“I love raw veg, and when my diet is really clean, I feel the benefits instantly. You know that feeling you get from eating a massive take away? I used to feel like that all the time, with everything I ate. It’s about enjoying your food, and eating to refuel.”
Jenna is looking forward to the world championships. “When it comes to it, I am just going to try my best, it’s not about having to achieve a certain position.
“It’s all fun to me, I don’t ever want to get to the stage where I’m not enjoying it because I’m too busy worrying about where I rank.
“I am happy to be competing.”