Make Your Plant- Based Diet Work for You: Tips from a World Championship Athlete

Recently, we had the total privilege to interview Sonya Looney, one of the world’s best endurance bikers. Sonya also hosts a podcast about how to live a high-performance life and works as a professional writer, photographer, speaker and blogger. Not only this, but she is a strong advocate for a whole food and plant-based diet and has found some amazing ways to maximize her diet in order to TOTALLY ROCK her extremely active life. We all need to eat more veggies and Sonya gives some amazing insights and advice on how to fit more plant-based foods into your diet. Ready to pick up some pro tips from a pro athlete? Read on.

SH: How would you describe your diet and when did you move to this diet?

Sonya: I eat a whole foods, plant-based diet.  That means that I do not eat any meat, dairy, or eggs and I also avoid processed foods as much as possible.  I aim to eat food as close to its original form as I can! I changed my diet about 6 years ago after watching the documentary, Forks Over Knives.

SH: What motivated you to begin eating plant-based? What motivates you to continue?Plant- Based Diet

Sonya: It was empowering to learn that I actually had some control over whether I would get certain diseases.  I have always been afraid of getting sick and dying prematurely, and seeing a wealth of scientific evidence that a whole foods, plant-based diet can prevent and reverse heart disease, is extremely protective against many types of cancers, and so many more lifestyle diseases is one of the most important things I’ve learned and put into action.  I was nervous about changing my diet at first because I’m a professional endurance athlete.  However, I gave myself 3 months to try it and something unexpected happened.  Not only did I get healthier, but I also got faster.

SH: How has eating plant-based helped you to kick butt as an athlete and in other parts of your life?

Sonya: Plant-based eating is the most anti-inflammatory diet out there!  That means you recover from your workouts faster.  (Caveat- biggest mistake athletes make is that they do not eat enough calories!)  Because you have better blood flow in your body, that also means better blood flow to the brain.  I have a lot more mental clarity and energy too! I also love sharing the benefits of plant-based eating through speaking, writing, and some of my podcast guests because it helps people in their lives too.  I think it’s important to say that while it’s ideal to go 100% plant-based, you’ll still get a lot of health benefits if you go mostly plant-based.  I tell people to add in as many plant-based meals and food as you can.  It’s about being better, not being perfect.  However, you might find that you like it so much that you’ll go all in!

An awesome resource for adding in more healthy foods is Dr. Greger’s Daily Dozen app. Just add as many of these foods into your diet as you can!

SH: Do you change your diet much seasonally?

Sonya: I am fortunate to live in a farm region (Kelowna, BC) where we have an amazing farmer’s market.  I try to eat local as much as I can.  I’m so fortunate to have access to locally grown fruits and vegetables (and even foraged mushrooms!)   Eating local is also powerful because the foods are allowed to ripen to their peak instead of being picked early with the hopes they ripen off the vine. They have more nutritional integrity and taste better too!

Plant- Based Diet SH: What are the top 3 benefits of being plant-powered, in your opinion? 

Sonya: Health & longevity, athletic performance, and massive environmental benefits (and also preventing needless death of animals).

What are some resources that you would recommend for people trying to maximize their plant-based diet or even start on one?

Sonya: I always recommend the website:  There are great videos on pretty much any health topic you can think of with recommendations of what plant-based foods to add into your diet.  The videos show all the double-blind, placebo-controlled research as well.  As a person with a master’s in science, I appreciate the science!! 
The book Becoming Vegan by Brenda Davis is the most complete textbook to plant-based nutrition out there! I also recommend “Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine”, PCRM: 
 I also have a free Facebook group that everyone is welcome to join called Plant-Powered Tribe. We have over 1,500 members and people are always helping one another. It’s cool!  I also just self-published my first cookbook if you want to get some fast and easy meals that I love!

SH: Are there any myths about eating plant-based that you’d like to take this opportunity to debunk? 

Sonya: You get enough protein and iron if you are eating a whole foods, plant-based diet. The food tastes amazing and you don’t just eat salads all the time!  When people come over for dinner, they are often amazed our food is vegan because it tastes so good… and then they promptly get the recipe! 

SH: What are your WOWs (words of wisdom) for anyone wanting to live a healthier and more balanced life?

Sonya: Downtime and rest are so incredibly important.  It’s something I struggle with as well, but we need time for our bodies and minds to recover.  Activities like spending time with friends and family, spending time in nature, and doing things where you don’t feel like you need to progress are great ways to recover from daily life.  SLEEP!  Sleep is my #1 priority. It should be your foundation. It’s hard to make good decisions and feel good if you are sleep deprived.   We get so busy that the first thing to go is recovery, sleep, and social time but the research (and personal experience) show that spending less time working and adding in that recovery time will make you more efficient.  You might work one hour less, but you’ll get more done in the time you ARE working because your brain and body will be way more efficient!
Plant- Based Diet

SH: If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life what would it be?

Sonya: Burritos with all the fixins’!

SH: If you could make any dessert healthy what would you choose?

Sonya: COOKIES! :):) And you can! Instead of butter, you can use peanut butter or almond butter.

Thanks Sonya! PS: you can also check out our awesome healthy cookies here!

It was a total pleasure interviewing Sonya and gaining her insights about how to maximize a plant-based diet or add more veggies in. Anyone else feeling inspired?! Please find more inspiring tips and cool content on her Instagram page and website. Interested in reading more insights from wellness leaders? Check out our awesome interview with body-positive blogger and influencer, Sarah Nicole here.

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