Xavier Desharnais, The Vegan Swimmer

Xavier Desharnais, The Vegan Swimmer

Xavier Desharnais, The Vegan Swimmer

Courtesy of Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches from Montréal, Québec, Canada.

Xavier Desharnais is a Canadian professional open water swimmer who won the 2014 32 km Traversée internationale du lac St-Jean. Desharnais follows a strict plant-based diet, also known as a vegan diet. Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches interviewed him to learn how he fuels and why he became vegan.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Since when are you vegan and what were your reasons to change your diet completely?
Xavier Desharnais: I’m a vegan since fall 2012. I wanted to try it to see if it could give me an edge in my sport, see if it would give me more energy like when I tried vegetarianism a few months before.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Has your reasons for being vegan changed since you started?
Xavier Desharnais: Yes, I became aware of a lot of things while adopting a vegan lifestyle. I started to care more for animals, saw how good for the planet it was and how beneficial it could be for the health of a person.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Did you become vegan gradually by being vegetarian for a while or you became vegan right away?
Xavier Desharnais: I did a short transition by being vegetarian for a few months. But from the moment I started bringing my meat portions down, I also brought all my animal products down. I guess that’s why it only took a few months for me to transition.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Do you know other swimmers and more specifically professional open water swimmers that are vegan or vegetarian?
Xavier Desharnais: I don’t, there might be a couple swimmers who are vegetarians, but I am not aware of any pro open water swimmers living this lifestyle.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: In which country you have visited for your competitions or training camps was it the hardest to find vegan food?
Xavier Desharnais: It’s pretty hard in every country except in North America. Most of the time, in World Cups, we are nourished and there are not a lot of vegetarian options, let along vegan options. I always bring my stuff to make sure I don’t miss anything. If I had to take a country, I’d say Argentina and Italy. In Italy, everything has cheese on it.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Are you able to find vegan food and meals in airports? What do you usually bring with you during a long flight?
Xavier Desharnais: I don’t have a lot of problems in airports and planes. I usually tell the plane company and they plan a vegan meal for me! For shorter flights, I bring snacks. And for a travel day, I usually always find a restaurant, most of the time Asian in an airport who serves vegan options.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Have you noticed any changes in your performance and recovery since you became vegan?
Xavier Desharnais: Yes, I’ve noticed a lot more energy, and I tend to recover faster from big workouts than before. In swimming, where we train twice a day, from 10-12 times a week, this is a big plus.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Have you had any health problems since you became vegan?
Xavier Desharnais: I haven’t had any health problems related to switching, but I had a virus due to overtraining in 2013, which shows that whatever you eat, you must always listen to your body.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Do you still sometimes treat yourself? If so what do you usually eat to treat yourself?
Xavier Desharnais: Of course, I love dessert. I eat brownies or cookies every week. I make a mean vegan brownie.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What do you eat to treat yourself after a race and in the off-season?
Xavier Desharnais: I used to treat myself with a poutine, but since I became vegan, this is a little harder. I like a big greasy meal, which can take any form…as long as there are no animal products in it.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What is your favorite meal?
Xavier Desharnais: My favorite meal changes a lot, depending on the season. But right now I enjoy more than anything a big warm quinoa salad with lettuce, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, corn kettle, chickpeas, hemp hearts and a homemade dressing.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Do you have more a sweet tooth or a savory tooth?
Xavier Desharnais: It’s hard to say; since I’m vegan I would say I have a more savory tooth now. But still love everything that is sweet, especially sweet fruits.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What is your favorite fruit?
Xavier Desharnais: Wow, this is hard; I would have to go with mangos and avocados (which is a fruit).

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What is your favorite vegetable?
Xavier Desharnais: I love Brussels sprouts when they are just well cooked with a little salt and pepper.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What is your favorite carbohydrate?
Xavier Desharnais: Pasta.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What is your favorite source of protein?
Xavier Desharnais: The mix of quinoa and chickpeas.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What are the top 3 foods you must have during a training camp?
Xavier Desharnais: I bring my chia seeds, hemp hearts, and nutritional yeast everywhere.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: Do you take any food supplement?
Xavier Desharnais: I take some probiotics, VEGA supplements (soy proteins).

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What is your best smoothie recipe?
Xavier Desharnais: Kale – Celery – Mango – Banana – Blueberry. I then add these super-food: Hemp hearts – Maca powder – Flax seed oil – Goji berries.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What do you eat and drink during a long training such as a long bike ride?
Xavier Desharnais: Mostly Gatorade and water, but when I swim for more than 3 hours I use Cytomax or Endura.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What is your favorite pre-race meal (supper before the race)?
Xavier Desharnais: I’m a very old-fashioned guy for this so I will almost always have a big spaghetti plate with my dad’s vegetarian sauce.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What do you eat the morning of a race?
Xavier Desharnais: Pool races: fruits and bread or a big bowl of cereal with almond milk. 10 km marathon swims: 3-4 toasts with fruits. 20+ km races: a LOT of toast.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What do you eat during a race?
Xavier Desharnais: I have many drinks depending on where we are in the race, but basically a base of endura/cytomax with VEGA gels every now and then. I also eat bananas and fig bars for my longer races.

Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches: What do you eat after a race to recover?
Xavier Desharnais: I always take the VEGA proteins and the VEGA recovery. I love the taste of strawberries after a race in salty water.

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