Train like an Olympian - Nourish: plant-based living

Train like an Olympian

Meet Morgan Mitchell, Australia’s rising track star who just happens to be fuelled by plants.

Morgan Mitchell rose to fame when she made her Olympic debut at Rio in 2016, competing in the 400-metre track event. She had run her personal best in the lead-up to the games, after going vegan and dropping a whole second off her time. She also featured in the runaway hit The Game Changers, which looked at protein, plant-based diets, and human performance.

But improved athletic performance wasn’t Morgan’s main motivation in adopting a vegan diet. Her partner at the time suggested they try it so as not to contribute to environmental issues and animal cruelty. She says, “For some reason it just clicked, no questions asked, and I switched to a vegan diet.” The performance benefits came thereafter, and the key benefit? “Recovery, for sure. It’s incredible!” There are challenges, too; however, they’re not what you may think.

The most challenging aspect of being a plant-based elite athlete, according to Morgan, is other people. She says, “It’s the backlash for sure. When I run well, people will say ‘it’s the hard work and training’, but when I have an average performance, they say ‘it’s because of the diet’. It sucks, but I know my body and what does and doesn’t work, so I just try to block out opinions that are misinformed.” And she’s had to endure some pretty harsh criticism about her diet and even her body. In an astonishing 17-minute attack by a fitness YouTuber, her thighs (powerful and muscular as they are) were described as “cottage cheese”. We know! It’s outrageous.

Morgan says, “It used to eat me up big time. We race in crop tops and briefs on the world stage, so it opens up the door for a lot of criticism. We are there to run fast and perform well, not walk the Victoria’s Secret runway. Now I just bite back or ignore it.” She’s trying to set an example for other young athletes and knows from personal experience the dangers of focusing on body image, having recovered from an earlier eating disorder. “People just project their own insecurities onto you,” she says.

Her advice is, “Focus on your goals from a performance perspective. Once I switched my mindset to that, I started running faster, eating more balanced, and I don’t really worry at all about how I look. That’s what helped me.” She also surrounds herself with a good team of professionals.
“You can succeed on a plant-based diet if you put in the research and talk to the right professionals to help you reach your goals,” she says. What about the protein, you may ask? Morgan says, she has no trouble training hard or building muscle and gets plenty of protein through tofu, beans, and mushrooms. “They’re my three go-tos. It’s really not that hard.”

Despite running her personal best in the lead-up to Rio, Morgan was disappointed in her performance at the games. Afterwards, she made the somewhat controversial decision to hang up her hat on the 400-metre event and switch to the 800-metre event, which was her main event when she was younger. This went against the advice of some people around her, but she felt she had exhausted her time in the 400. “A lot of people were against me switching events because they believed I had more to give to the 400 and couldn’t see me making it far in the 800, even though they didn’t know my background with the event. I ended up qualifying for the World Championships in my first season, so I guess the joke is on them.”

In the lead-up to the Tokyo Olympic Games this year, Morgan’s personal best for the 800-metre event was 2:00:06 (yes, milliseconds count when you’re an Olympian), which was just 1.28 seconds off the Australian record at that time, held by Catriona Bisset. Breaking this record was her goal going into the games. While this wasn’t to be, she is a rising star on the world stage and one to watch in the coming years.

Being an Olympic athlete is just one aspect of Morgan, however prominent that part is. She’s also keen on playing netball at an elite level and has recently become the first Olympian to partner with F45 Training. The functional fitness network specialises in high-intensity, 45-minute circuit classes, designed by sport scientists and elite athletes to burn body fat and build muscle. Morgan says, “I have been going to F45 sessions for a while now. I am so proud to represent female F45ers across the globe.”

There’s much more than sports to this down-to-earth Aussie, too. Despite various commercial commitments and a gruelling training regime, she is also studying. “I study both Spanish and a bachelor of business and fashion marketing, which is fun because there is no relation to sport whatsoever,” she says. A keen fashion devotee, Morgan would like to start her own fashion line one day. “I like having a mixed bag of things to do, it keeps things interesting,” she says.

And Morgan is a likeable and interesting character. A fan of hip-hop, she also has a dream of celebrating her birthday with rapper A$AP Rocky, who has the same birthday. She would love to be in an animated Disney movie, too. On her days off though, she is not so different to the rest of us. “Honestly, I’m a bit of a nerd. I touch up on my Spanish on Duolingo, fill out my sudoku book, play piano, or shop online.” However, as a famous Olympian, she is different to most of us owing to her very public career. So, what does she want to do with the influence this fame can offer?
Morgan says, “I would like to inspire the next generation in a way that teaches them to be kind to others and accepting of all different walks of life. Also, to just unapologetically be themselves and remain true to that. You honestly live a happier life doing it this way, I believe.”

TRAINING TIPS FROM AN OLYMPIAN

TOP THREE TRAINING TIPS

  1. Meditate and breathe! It’s helped me so much as an athlete.
  2. If you get bored, switch it up. That’s why I joined F45. It’s so different to any training I do on the track.
  3. If you’re tired, rest! I’ve learnt that it’s so important to listen to your body.

KEEP IT FUN

I love long runs on a Sunday because I can do it with any of my friends, even if they aren’t track athletes. The pace is steady, which means anyone can join. I also love doing a Redline class at F45 with one of my good mates – every session is a competition!

AN AVERAGE DAY OF MEALS

  • Breakfast: porridge with banana, berries, peanut butter, and dark chocolate.
  • Lunch: a vegan Beyond Burger and air-fried chips.
  • Dinner: tofu, brown rice, and mixed veggie stir fry.

WHEN TRAINING HEAVILY

I’m mindful to fuel my body with enough protein and veggies while really limiting the processed foods. I love eating out, but when I’m in season, I only allow myself one to two nights out a week. Off-season is a different story!

HYDRATION DOS AND DON’TS

I drink four to five litres of water a day and I’m a massive green tea and peppermint tea lover. I’m not really into flavoured drinks and I don’t drink soft drink – ever.


This article was originally published in Nourish Issue 66, Spring Clean - View Magazine
Rachael Morris

Rachael is our editor at Nourish and has been committed to veganism for over 13 years.

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