Canadian middleweight boxer Tammara Thibeault took up boxing at age 9 after seeing her brother and father Patrick Thibeault, a Canadian pro football player, taking up boxing for fitness and fun. By the time she was 12, Thibeault was not only boxing herself, but competing as a fighter, while also slowly setting her sights on becoming an Olympian.
But the 6-foot tall Québécoise known her her southpaw stance also credits her lifestyle as a part of what’s made her a better athlete and eventually a representative for Team Canada in the year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“I had an interest in wanting to go plant-based when I was fairly young,” Thibeault said, “and so it was very easy for me to transition as an adult, and eventually keep with it as a full-time competitive athlete.”
Thibeault says she had always leaned vegetarian growing up as a kid in Montreal. But after graduating from school and moving out on her own, she went fully plant-based. And as one of the relatively few but growing number of Olympic athletes who are committed to plant-based eating, it’s not surprising that Thibeault enlisted a partner with a plant-based foods expertise to keep her on track while she trained for Tokyo.
This summer the boxer announced that she began partnering with Vejii, the world’s largest multi-vendor online marketplace for vegan and plant-based food products. But Thibeault says the partnership wasn’t put in place just to fill her fridge. She says that in representing the company she wants to raise worldwide awareness of the nutritional and health benefits of living plant-based.
“Personally, I am against mass farming, because I just don’t think it’s a good practice that is sustainable,” Thibeault said. “But I recognize too that it wasn’t really until fairly recently in history that we started to consume meat so much, up to three meals a day.”
Thibeault says that for elite athletes such as herself eating plant-based does not at all take away from her energy or performance, and actually helps minimize inflammation that can lead to or exacerbate injury. And for everyday consumers, she said that going plant-based is pretty easy, now that more online purveyors such as Vejii (pronounced “veggie”) have made it simple.
“It’s great to have so many options for plant-based foods of all kinds. And as an athlete, I feel like I’m living in the perfect era for it,” Thibeault said.
Just before Thibeault boarded her flight for Tokyo, I got to talk with her more about her diet and how it fits in with her Olympic training regimen.
Andy Frye: You’re representing Team Canada in the Summer Olympics. Talk about how you got ready for Tokyo with a year postponement in the mix.
Tammara Thibeault: The load has been a lot heavier leading up to the Olympic Games. There’s lots of conditioning, obviously. The intensity was always there, but in the beginning (of training) you focus on fundamentals and laying groundwork—but now its go, go, go. Then, the increased work load brings increase stress. But Team Canada has been really good about making sure our athletes have the right amount of conditioning to balance out the stress of the workouts and the sparring.
I have never been to the Olympics before. But leading up, we’re training in more of a “power phase,” to master the repetition, and also the explosion that we need in the ring for the three rounds.
We do sparring usually four times a week, and the type of sparring does change. It’s important to work on technique. But as boxers, and everybody knows this, we do take on some damage. And you want to minimize that damage, so that you are as fresh as possible in Tokyo.
AF: We hear about fighters consuming ridiculous amounts calories. And you’ve been boxing long before you went vegetarian. How did you work a new diet in?
Thibeault: I decided when I was about 17 or 18 I wanted to go plant-based. And so, when I fully moved out on my own a few years ago from my parents, I wanted to go fully into (being vegetarian) to see if I could stick with it. And it only took a few weeks, and from then on I had no meat in my fridge—that was it.
I’m super in-shape and have tons of energy, so that works for being a top-level athlete, and it helps me manage well.
AF: But what’s your diet as a boxer who’s vegetarian? What do you eat?
Thibeault: I have a nutritionist who helped me make it work, making sure I had all the nutrients, protein, and everything I needed to perform and recover. We worked a plan to get me there, and one of the things that makes it easy working with Veiji is the variety.
So, for example if I’m in the mood for something that I think of as more decadent like a croissant, they have one that’s vegan. But it’s lots of pasta and vegetables dishes. My go-to’s when I meal prep are a lot of legumes, like chick peas, lentils and all that. Because legumes are really easy to manipulate and have tons of protein. I make tend to make chick pea fritters and tons of salads, and if I’m feeling adventurous I’ll get some Beyond Meat. I love eating tacos and burgers, and I have to admit, I love hot dogs too. So, it’s awesome that now we have so many options.
AF: In recent years we’ve seen a huge upsurge in the popularity in mixed martial arts. What made you pick and stick with boxing?
Thibeault: For me boxing speaks to me. I was introduced to me by my father, who was a professional athlete in football. He did boxing as his main workout during the off-season. And so, when he took up boxing I followed him, and for me it was my time to be with my father and to connect with him. And then eventually I just fell in love with the sport.
I did grow up watching both UFC and boxing, but boxing stole my heart.