There are plenty of professional athletes that have proclaimed veganism as the source of their power, endurance, and fuel. From Olympic powerlifter Kendrick Farris to ultra runner Scott Jurek, pro athletes are proving that if you think a vegan diet is a weak diet, then you should think again. And Tia Blanco, the 19-year-old surfing phenom, is proof. Blanco’s pro career is on fire. She’s ranked in the top 50 female surfers in the world by the World Surf League, took the first place Gold medal at the 2015 International Surfing Association (ISA) Open Women’s World Surfing Championship in Popoyo, Nicaragua, and came back in 2016 to successfully defend her title by winning the 2016 Championship in Playa Jacó, Costa Rica.
And all this achievement comes on the coattails of Blanco’s choice to go vegan in 2013. “Growing up, my diet was pretty easy and simple — I was raised on a vegetarian diet,” she says. “My mom has been vegetarian strictly for ethical reasons since she was 12, and she never forced a vegetarian diet on us, but that was the food she was cooking at home. So as a result, we all just ate vegetarian together because my dad ate what my mom ate and I ate what my parents ate.”
As a result, Blanco has never had a bite of beef, sampled a slice of pepperoni pizza, or gone in on a carnitas taco — and that’s how she likes it. But now, her choice to eat a vegan diet is her own — not simply a product of her environment like her vegetarian upbringing was. “When I was 11 or 12 I started to get the questions — ‘Why are you vegetarian? Meat is good for you!’ ” she says. “And all I could say was, ‘Shoot, I have no idea.’ Then when I was 15, I watched the documentary Glass Walls and read The China Study, and then it became quite clear to me why I wanted to be vegetarian and why I wanted to adopt a vegan lifestyle. After doing my research, I chose to go vegan and have been dedicated to a vegan diet for four years now.”
One year before going vegan she did allow herself to eat fish — since seafood is such a prominent part of surf and sea culture, but Blanco’s time as a pescatarian was short-lived. “I wanted to fit in but I didn’t even really like it [the taste of fish],” she says. “I felt kind of embarrassed and that made me realize that I don’t see the food the same way as everyone else does and that’s okay. I get grossed out about what’s in the food that’s not vegan. That’s just what’s right for me.”
But with vegan lifestyle and options becoming more mainstream, Blanco has been able to maintain her lifestyle despite traveling around the world for surf competitions and often finding herself in situations where fresh lobster is easier to find than a bag of carrots. “Ten years ago I don’t think anyone knew what veganism was and now you can find and eat anything that’s not vegan in a vegan form. There are burgers, mac n’ cheese, cakes, tacos — options everywhere it seems.”
That comes in handy when Blanco has a craving, but being vegan doesn’t mean she has a “get out of jail free card” when it comes to dialing in her diet during competitions and training season. “I have the biggest sweet tooth and so does my boyfriend, so we gain a little bit of weight after we spend a couple of weeks off of training and being in the kitchen together,” she says, laughing. “Cupcakes are my favorite dessert and I love making them. If I want to have a cheat day I’m going to have a cheat day — but I have to be mindful that vegan junk food is still junk food.”
In the throes of competition season, Blanco focuses on consuming whole foods to get in top form and maintain the energy necessary to work the waves for hours on end. “I feel healthier on a clean, whole foods diet that is very simple — especially during competition. And since a plant-based diet is less calorically dense than other diets, I need to make sure I’m eating enough food so I up my portions a lot. I think of veggies as nutrition and water, not a food where I can get energy so I don’t even count veggies when I’m counting calories and nutrition. For energy, I go to potatoes, whole grains, and starchy veggies. I’m obsessed with carrots and sweet potatoes.”
Following a workout Blanco will make sure to eat within 30 minutes to begin the refueling and repair process for her body. “I eat a lot of fruit and fruit smoothies and occasionally I’ll do a plant-protein shake with Vegan Smart Protein,” she says. “Actually, I just came out with my own flavor with them.” And if she doesn’t have a sweet tooth that day and wants something savory, she reaches for lentils, which are high in protein and fiber.
And although she’s very open about her ethical beliefs when it comes to veganism and how a vegan diet has fueled her through her impressive athletic accomplishments to date, Blanco strives to keep her relationship with food and others positive — especially with so many other pro surfers adhering to meat-heavy Paleo diets. “I definitely get my haters,” she says. “Even when I was vegetarian not everyone agreed with it, obviously. But I don’t push my beliefs on others. I express the benefits if people are asking, and in my case people were asking. I never tell people how to eat. Respect what’s on my plate, I’ll respect what’s on yours.”
Here’s one of Blanco’s favorite recipes from Tia’s Vegan Kitchen for you to try in your own kitchen to try before your next workout.
Tofu scramble ? Ingredients: 1 tablespoons nutritional yeast 1/4 teaspoon turmeric 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin 1/4 teaspoon paprika 1 tablespoon water sea salt to taste 1 cup of collars greens 1/8 teaspoon black pepper 1 onion finely diced 1 clove garlic, minced 1/2 package firm tofu, very well drained and dried 1 tablespoon chopped parsley —————- In a small bowl, mix together nutritonal yeast, turmeric, cumin, paprika, water, salt, and pepper. Set aside. Once your pan is at medium heat, add onions and garlic, and saute for about 3 minutes. Crumble tofu into the pan, breaking it up with your fingers. Or you can use a fork. Pour seasoning over tofu and mix well, try to distribute the color as much tofu as possible. Cook for 5 minutes or until tofu is hot throughout. Add in greens and cooked for about 2 minutes Once cooked, serve with favorite sides and toppings! I used tortillas, avo, parsley, salsa, and oranges ? #tiasvegankitchen
Get the latest recipes, health news, and more delivered directly to your inbox. Sign up now for the Men’s Journal newsletter.