Personal story of Jeremy Reijnders
I will introduce myself. My name is Jeremy Reijnders, 25 years old. I am originally from Brabant, but currently live in Amsterdam. I graduated from the Sporthogeschool in Sports Science & Welfare. I am an ex-Judoka and currently elite CrossFit athlete and CrossFit coach at the VondelGym. Since November 2015, I switched to a fully plant-based diet with the intention to recover faster and deliver better sports performance. Since then, I became the 2018 Dutch CrossFit champion, second at the European Team Championships and I have also competed at the CrossFit World Championships (known as the CrossFit Games) in 2018 and 2019. My goal for this year is to qualify for the 2020 CrossFit Games.
Before I get into plant-based eating, let me just say that I always thought I would be the LAST person on earth to become a vegetarian, let alone vegan. I was all too happy to eat meat, fish, dairy, and eggs. By default, three times a day. I even had a job at a burger bar.
Apart from that, though, I was always interested in healthy eating. Before doing CrossFit, I did judo at elite sports level. In elite sports, nutrition is just as important as the training itself. So, I was always optimizing my diet in order to perform to the best of my ability. I was convinced that animal products were necessary. Therefore, at first, I also did not believe that you could also be healthy without animal products, let alone that you could achieve elite sports performance. I first heard this after seeing the documentary ""Forks over Knives."" This triggered me to dive into this some more. After that, I think I studied more than 100 videos, documentaries, articles, and books on plant-based eating and a vegan lifestyle. Because, of course, I didn't want to just take that delicious meat off my plate. After gaining all this new information, I had become convinced that a (unprocessed!) plant-based diet would benefit my athletic performance and health more than a diet with animal products.
During this search, I also came across other good reasons to eat plant-based. For example, after watching the documentary ""Cowspiracy,"" I learned that it's not just about your health, but that supporting animal products also promotes climate/environment degradation. The fact that the livestock industry causes even more pollution than all infrastructure combined was another reason for me to start eating plant-based foods. The last reason, also the most important reason for me, is the ethical aspect that comes with eating animals. This came in part from seeing several speeches by James Aspey, Gary Yourofsky and James Wildman. I always considered myself an ""animal lover"", but once I realized that we don't need animals for our health, animal products are bad for the climate and we can continue to eat delicious food even without animal products, I really realized that killing them was so unnecessary, and that the animals in the livestock industry (and not just my pets) also feel pain, fear, loneliness, and other emotions. Their lives are worth as much as my dog's. I no longer wanted to contribute to the suffering that came with producing and using animal products. This was the moment I not only started eating plant-based, but also switched to a full vegan lifestyle.
When I switched, I quickly noticed some differences. I felt more energetic, was less tired and, most importantly for me, I had shorter muscle soreness. Previously, I often had muscle soreness for 2 to 3 or sometimes even 4 days after a CrossFit workout. Nowadays, I have to try really hard to still feel it after two days. In elite sports, recovery is one of the most important things when it comes to performance. Athletes who can recover faster can also train more and thus progress more. For example, I noticed that I was able to add an extra workout in a week because my body could now handle more volume. Also, it felt like my body did have to get used to this new eating pattern. For example, I noticed a big difference in my bowel movements. Because I suddenly had more fiber, I had to use the bathroom more often than before. This was mainly the case for the first one or two months, but after that it didn't bother me anymore.
I was actually kind of known as the big ""meat eater"", which is why many friends and family were surprised when I told them I was no longer eating meat. Fortunately, I didn't have many negative reactions, but mostly others wondered why I was doing this. I always tried to answer these questions from my own perspective and empathize with the other person in order to answer the question as neutrally as possible. This is because for many it is a sensitive subject and everyone has their own opinion about it. I could understand all the questions I got very well, because I had a hundred questions myself before I started this journey. The most common question I got (which was also my first concern when I started eating plant-based foods as an athlete) was ""where do I get my protein from?"". Well, I know that when you get enough calories, it is impossible to have a protein deficit. If you exercise a lot and also do strength sports, you can increase your protein intake by eating more legumes, grains, nuts and seeds or possibly consider using a plant-based protein powder.
In the beginning, I found it quite difficult when I was in the supermarket and for a while I didn't know what to buy and what not to buy. Therefore, I changed only one thing in my diet each week, so that the transition to a new eating pattern was very gradual. This made it much easier for me to stick with it. So I slowly started adding new dishes and options that I liked, and from that base I continued to build further. What helped me a lot with this was the quote: ""strive for progression, not perfection"". By focusing on the times I could eat plant-based food and not on the one time at friends' houses where I wasn't able to do so, I slowly built up a new habit and at a certain point I didn't know any better. In the beginning, I did worry that I could no longer eat a lot of products. Fortunately, I soon discovered that for every product that I used to really like, there is now a plant-based alternative that often tastes just as good.
Currently, I am trying to follow an unprocessed plant-based diet. In doing so, I try to meet the ""daily boxes"" described in Dr. M. Greger's book ""How not to die"". So I avoid processed foods as much as possible, but that doesn't mean I don't make exceptions for a plant-based burger or a vegan Ben & Jerry's.
A typical weekday might look like this. I start the day with some water and a piece of fruit. Then I usually make a big smoothie or oatmeal bowl to which I add toppings such as granola, nuts and seeds. In the afternoon, I regularly eat scrambled tofu + vegetables, stuffed wraps, a quinoa salad or just a sandwich. My evening meals do vary from day to day. I'm a big fan of curries, burritos, or old-fashioned mashed kale but with sweet potatoes and a meat substitute. Late at night, I regularly take another bowl of Alpro cottage cheese to which I also add some nuts, seeds and berries. Should I still feel hungry, I try to satisfy it with fruit as much as possible. I always try to avoid eating a large meal at least two hours before my workout. This keeps my body from digesting food and allows it to use all the energy for exercise itself. Easy-to-digest foods like a piece of fruit or a granola bar certainly don't hurt to take fairly close to before you train. When I feel like I could use an extra energy boost before a hard workout or race, I take a caffeine Gum from First Energy gum. Furthermore, I make sure I stay well hydrated during my workouts and as a post workout I also take vegetable protein or eat a banana. As supplements I take daily extra vitamin B12, D3, Omega 3 (from algae) and magnesium. I also take some creatine regularly.
Because I feel so good, experience all the benefits of eating plant-based and also want to prevent the unnecessary suffering of animals, I hope to inspire others to eat less meat and change the image of veganism with my way of life and the sports achievements I perform. Simply put, I want to leave a positive impact on people, animals and the environment around me.