TCM Profiles: Rich Roll, Vegan Ultra Endurance Athlete
7.6.12

Ultraman athlete Rich Roll wasn’t always in such amazing shape. But after a mid-life health crisis of sorts, he experienced a complete health revolution.  Like so many of us, not until we he was forced to deal with a serious ailment did Rich take a deeper look at what his body needed for vital health.  Taking up a vegan diet Rich not only recovered from his health crisis, but took his sense of wellness to a whole new level. He discovered his love for long-distance endurance exercise and began to compete, placing 11th in the Ultraman World Championships in 2008.

We caught up with Rich to find out more about his journey and to talk about his new book, Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself.

The Chalkboard Mag: Rich, besides the fact that you lived smack in the center of all that is LA – the entertainment industry, the new age community – you were something of an unlikely candidate for this kind of natural health transformation. Is that right?

Rich Roll: “In certain respects, that is correct. I had been a swimmer in college, but when that chapter closed, so did my interest in anything athletic. Despite the fact that I live in Malibu Canyon, I had never once explored any of the trails that surround my home, and now comprise my backyard training grounds. My focus was on career, marriage and kids. Health was simply never part of the equation throughout my 30s. And my approach to food – cemented during my childhood swimming years with a focus on cheap, fast calories – remained unchanged for decades, a period of time in which my waistline expanded in proportion to my increased feelings of depression and malaise. It took a health scare for me to take a second look.

(The author before and after)

But pain is a great motivator. And when I was finally ready to make some changes, I had my wife, Julie Piatt – a longtime yoga practitioner and advocate of a wide variety of alternative healing modalities – as an incredible resource to help guide my transformation.”

TCM: ‘Rejecting middle age’ is actually part of the title of your new book Finding Ultra. Can you tell us about what sparked your mid-life transformation?

RR: “As I describe in the book, I was blessed with a moment of clarity. It was the precipice of my 40th birthday when I found myself defeated by a mere flight of stairs – buckled over and breath labored, I felt my chest tighten. My grandfather was an Olympic hopeful swimmer in the late 1920s and remained active throughout his adulthood. And yet he was felled by a heart attack at a very young age. I knew if I didn’t implement some pretty radical changes that I would likely suffer the same fate. I foresaw my future, and the immediacy of my situation was palpable. At the time, I had no interest in ‘Rejecting Middle Age’ – I simply wanted to live. And experience my children at their energy level.”

TCM: When you began your journey toward vibrant health, was it always related to these pretty massive fitness feats? Did these large goals, like the Ultraman, fuel the initial fires of change or come only afterward?

RR: “The athletic goals came as a resulting by-product of my dietary shift to what I call my ‘PlantPower’ lifestyle. In the wake of my “staircase epiphany”, I didn’t have any fitness goal. All I wanted was to feel better, maybe lose a little weight and take measures to prevent the onset of heart disease. But as I began to pursue a plant-based diet and lifestyle, I was rewarded with such an increase in vitality, I needed an outlet just to burn off the extra energy. This fueled an interest in returning to fitness – not to compete but rather just as an outlet to enjoy my body’s resiliency and rejuvenation resulting from my adoption of a vegan diet.

It wasn’t overnight, but it also wasn’t long before I discovered I was capable of running for hours without fatigue, despite the fact that I had never been a runner. Was it my diet? Was it in my genes? All I knew is that I loved ‘going long’ – being alone on a trail for hours or out on my bike in the canyons. And what began as an active meditation morphed into a quest for an athletic goal – just how far could I push this previously abused and now suddenly vital 40+ year-old body of mine?

So in the most simplistic sense, I would say that my athletic feats are just a natural progression of pursuing this ever-evolving journey that began with adopting a plant-based diet.”

TCM: In 2008, you placed 11th in the double ironman “Ultraman” triathlon. When you began competing on this level, was it just a personal belief that it could be done ‘vegan’ or were there others who had done this as well? Tell us about the fitness community’s reaction to you.

RR: “In 2008, after just 6 months of legitimate training, I placed 11th at the Ultraman World Championships. My only goal was to finish without dying, so I was thrilled. The following year, I returned to actually compete. I led the race by a full ten minutes after the first day, but crashed my bike during the Day 2, 170 mile cycling leg and lost my lead. I didn’t think I would be able to complete the day, let alone the Day 3, 52.4 mile run, but somehow soldiered through and ended up in 6th place overall.

I can’t say I started the trend – Scott Jurek had been destroying the competition in ultra-distance running events for years as a vegan and there are several other athlete pioneers I looked to for guidance, like Brendan Brazier and Rip Esselstyn. But to my knowledge I was the first person to complete the Ultraman on a vegan diet. I initially met with some resistance from friends and colleagues, but I knew not just that it could be done, but that it was a huge part of why it could be done.

Now athletes across all sorts of disciplines are discovering success on a vegan diet – from Ultraman competitors to ironman athletes. Veganism is all the rage in the MMA / UFC world, and even boxer Timothy Bradley went toe to toe with Manny Pacquiao on a vegan diet. The trend is only going to continue and it’s amazing to watch.”

TCM: Talk to us a little bit about protein and men’s fitness.

RR: “There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the role protein plays in health and fitness. To be sure, ensuring you get the proper amount of essential amino acids in your diet to repair the body in the wake of exercise-induced stress is very important. But what most people don’t realize is that it simply isn’t that difficult to meet your protein needs on a plant-based diet, no matter how hard you are training.

I discuss this important issue at length in my book, and have written extensively on the subject online. Here is a recent article I wrote about the protein myth for OneGreenPlanet.org.”

TCM: Most vegans love to cook – or learn to! If you could make just one meal to convert a non-vegan into a vegan, what would it be?

RR: “Probably my wife’s vegan eggplant lasagna with kale chips and homemade lemonade. Her basil almond pesto is to die for! Followed by chia seed pudding with our raw cookies for dessert – delicious! (For all the recipes that have fueled me and my family, check out our digital e-cookbook JAI SEED – 77 pages of awesome plant-based nutrition information and dishes certain to please even the most finicky eater in your family.)

TCM: Favorite vegan workout meal/snack?

RR: “Anything in my Vitamix blender. Pre-workout, I love a blend of organic kale and beets with pineapple, hemp seeds, spirulina and coconut oil. Post-workout it’s usually coconut milk, banana, almonds, berries, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds and a scoop of my plant-based protein formula JAI REPAIR.”

TCM: Favorite way to hydrate?

RR: “Coconut water! Packed with electrolytes!”

TCM: Yoga, massage, acupressure… what is your favored form of relaxation?

RR: “I love yoga. Aside from the fact I met my wife in yoga, it’s an integral part of my fitness routine. Here’s a popular article I wrote for MindBodyGreen on why I think all athletes can benefit from an avid yoga practice.”

TCM: Favorite recent health product/vegan food discovery?

RR: “If you can permit a little self-promotion, I’m very excited about the new vegan post-workout recovery product I just launched, called JAI REPAIR. A formula based on my experience as an athlete and what I need to maximize my recovery post-training, it’s packed with three types of plant-based proteins (hemp, sprouted brown rice & pea), a wide array of antioxidants like resveratrol and berry extracts, as well as l-glutamine. In addition, it contains cordyceps sinesis, a fungus native to high altitude areas of remote China and Nepal that have been found to increase oxygen uptake.

As far as other products, I love Veganaise, Uncle Eddie’s vegan cookies, Daiya vegan cheese and Sweet & Sara vegan marshmallows. You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy any of these – they are all awesome, plant-based or otherwise.”


Book Giveaway!

One Chalkboard reader will win a copy of Rich’s book ‘Finding Ultra: Rejecting Middle Age, Becoming One of the World’s Fittest Men, and Discovering Myself‘!  Leave us your comments below and tell us about your own fitness journey to win. Good luck!

 

For more information on Rich and Jai Lifestyle visit his websites at richroll.com and jailifestyle.com.

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  1. What an inspiration…

    Seana | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  2. What an inspiration…I’ve done a couple of marathons and always wanted to do an ironman……..

    Seana | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  3. My fitness journey began 9 years ago when I tried out a kickboxing class because I wanted to lose some weight. I fell in love and to this day I’m hooked on boxing and kickboxing and am fitter and have more energy at 37 than I did in high school. I did an amateur boxing fight a couple of years ago, and still spar with the guys at the gym regularly. I’m also always looking to balance my fighting side so I practice yoga as well, as I find it to be just as tough and mentally challenging but in a totally different way. I love the Rejecting Middle Age concept! Why trap yourself in the middle age box if you can continue to improve by exercising and eating a plant based diet?

    jenny | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  4. Hearing Rich’s story is so inspiring to me. I have been a life long athlete. After graduating from college and no longer being a D1 athlete I struggled trying to figure out my next adventure. Roller derby came into my life and brought back the athletic experience I craved. I wasn’t sure how to compete in such a high intensity sport while being a vegetarian (a decision that I made post-college). I made a lot of rookie mistakes relying too heavily on dairy and carbs to really take advantage of what the new diet was providing. I’ve gotten better over the years but am motivated by Rich’s story to continue to improve my diet to aid in my athletic performance.

  5. I’m 48 and help manage a quick service business, which tends to lead to poor eating habits. It’s great to read an article about recalibrating your habits after living with them for so long. Thanks for the article.

    Tim | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  6. I started running more a couple of years ago after several years of cycling and doing triathlons. I’ve been vegetarian since my early teens and in the last 2 years I no longer eat dairy or eggs. I find that I recover quickly from runs, but I just wish I was faster!!

    Jane | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  7. I cannot wait to read your book…..I have been vegan since 2000, vegetarian before that since 1992….I chose that lifestyle for the animals and the environment impact. It was later that health came into the big picture. As a athlete myself, just really getting into tri’s and training for my second (or first olympic distance tri), I hope to do the vegan community proud and complete the race to the best of my ability!….Recently I went back to school to become a certified health coach- to help others transition to a plant based (whether fully or partically), vegetarian, or vegan lifestyle. I also would like to include their four legged friends to join them on their journey to a healthier, happier lifestyle- as dogs have to stay fit as well- (dog as well as humans have touch on the obesity problem, as well as other health problems we all have in common!)….Anyway, I feel once I read your book, I will be that much more informed and more in tune than now in helping others find their way to a PLANT BASED, VEGETARIAN, or VEGAN ACTIVE LIFESTYLE! (by the way, I dislike the word diet as the meaning has tended to gone astray over time, and therefore try not to use it!)…..Here’s to a HEALTHIER WORLD ALL AROUND!

  8. Have been plant based for ~6mo and I love it. Dropped about 25lbs, feel great, and have more energy then ever before. Plus its very rewarding to know I’m making a difference for the planet. Would love to read this book!!!

  9. I spent the first 22 years of my life morbidly obese. My family didn’t have much, and did not understand nutrition. For my whole life I was the fat kid, no matter how active I was. After an animal rights class and hundreds of failed diet and exercise regimes I became vegitarian then vegan. In one year from age 22 to 23 I went from 320lbs and a 10 minute 1 mile run to 185lbs and a 14 minute 2 mile. I was so healthy ad energetic I joined the U.S. Arny Special Operations Command active duty component. The army life makes vegan livng impossible at times and is generally unpopular amoung my peers, but with a hole in the tendon in my ankle, a torn rotator cuff, and over 40 inches or scar tissue and loose skin I eat vegan as often as possible and because of this I still preform at a level I never dreamed I could achieve. I do this with minimum pain, and tons of energy. My father and brother have also followed suit and changed ther diets, and are encouraging others to do the same. I really can not emphasize the positive change that is possible because of beets and arugula instead of lean turkey and fat free yogurt.

    Eric | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  10. Just began my own rejecting middle age at 40. What an inspiration!

    Chrys | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  11. My name is Chantel and I am a manager for an organic produce store in Edmonton Alberta Canada.
    My jouney in raw food started a few years ago when I took a few classes, however for some reason, even though I felt amazing I went back to my old ways, believing the ‘bodybuilding lifestyle and diet’ would get me the results I wanted.
    Although I did make gains, it took forever. So when I first took this job, I was still eating meat and lot’s of cooked food, things that were ‘fat free’ which usually means a chemical crap storm, but for me, all I wanted was to look good from the outside.
    I didn’t realize how unhealthy I actually was until I started eating less cooked food and more raw food. All of a sudden, my workouts didn’t deplete my energy levels, my hair and skin started to grow and shine, my muscle gains took off!
    I have since enrolled in a raw food chef certification class that is about 4 months long and I hope to be able to educate others about organic produce, the reasons they should be eating them, superfoods and even though we have heard the saying over and over again but not many of us put much stock into it ‘you ARE what you eat’ as your body regenerates using the food you eat, so that being said, who wants to be made out of tortured animals and fat?
    Recently I came across Rich’s book and honestly, wow. Struck home. I don’t have a lot of support in my family for our food, but my daughter and I are now completely off meat and by her own choice (she is 11) she is going more and more raw and feeling amazing.
    Thanks Rich so much for the inspiration and I can’t wait to finish your book! (I just bought it the other day as they didn’t have it yet here in the bookstores where I live).
    Thank you so much for writing this book, and thank you for being such an amazing influence!!!

    Chantel | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  12. In the summer of 2006 I was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack, it turned out to be a gall bladder attack. During the scans for the diagnosis, it was also noted I had a fatty liver from years of alcohol abuse. My Gallbladder was removed. I stopped drinking and smoking. My father died aged 54 from smoking related disease.
    2 years later came a diagnosis for sleep apnoea. An illness which is associated with being overweight and obesity. I was the heaviest I have ever been, but not hugely over weight, but I decided to do something about my fitness as the weight was going the wrong way. In September I started cycling the 6 miles to work and went to watch my first triathlon. Watching it I thought I can do that and added running to my recreation. 2 months later, in November 2008, I ran my first 5k in a painful 31 minutes. The following year 2009 I did my first sprint triathlon. In 2010 I competed in my first Ironman distance race and got a top 10 finish in a 6 race series of various distances. In 2011 I completed 2 iron distance races and got a 3rd in AG for an olympic distance race. In 2012 I completed my first double iron distance, finishing in 15th place and a month later attempted my first 100 mile run. I pulled out at mile 75, but have signed up to start and finish it this year. I turned vegetarian at the end of 2011 and have seen the difference in my results and endurance. This year I still have an Iron distance race to do, 3 days after a 12 hour bike race! I also keep 2 allotments where I grow a lot of the fruit and veg that I eat and I like to find wild food to eat too. Often taking a rucksack on my long runs to collect wild berries and greens.

  13. I am so amazed at the transformation of Rich Roll. I am 59 and need to drop 50 pounds!!! I became aware of him through an amazing molecule names ASEA; that we both take daily! ^5 to Rich and I want a ^5 from him when I have dropped my 50 pounds!

    Elizabeth Hansen | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  14. My fitness journey began 11 years ago when I met my husband. Beyond walking, I was never interested in exercise. He’s a marathoner and Iroman, and encouraged and inspired me to exercise. Shortly after we began dating, I did an 8k race.. I’ve done shorter distance races since then. Currently, I’m considering a half marathon. Last year, I took a “vegan challenge” and decided to stick with it.

    Aneesa Bhimani-Trimble | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  15. I was sick, overweight and wondering if I could follow my dream of creating a greenhouse business because I just didn’t have the stamina to get anything done. At 55 I thought my life was pretty much over. Then I caught a glimpse of the story bout Rich. He inspired me. Then I watched “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and “Forks Over Knives” and “Food Matters”. My revolution a nd metamorphisos began. That was last Christmas. Now I am 50 pounds lighter, I juice and eat raw, And I started running this week after 30 years of not being able to. This man, among others, helped to change my life!

  16. two words..BAD ASS!!!

    shane | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  17. I am so inspired by Rich and his story. I am a long-time vegetarian with a gnawing desire to go vegan. Rich is an inspiration and someone who we can all learn something from, vegan or not. Persistance, hard work, dedication, a true desire.. Thank you Rich for sharing your “every day” story with us and for helping to inspire so many. Even if one person goes “plant powered” because of you and your story, it was worth it. Many blessings to you!

  18. Looking forward to reading this book. Everyone I know that has read it always says the same thing, “it’s so inspirational!”

    Esther | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  19. I went vegan just over a year ago, at the age of 40. (I initially mistyped that and wrote 410 — that would say a LOT for a vegan diet, wouldn’t it?) I was never overweight, but immediately noticed that my pants fit better and my energy was way up. My middle-of-the-day slump took a permanent vacation. This year I’ve started doing bikram yoga a few times a week and have noted a real difference in my skin and muscle tone. I’d love to get back into running — not really to race or anything. Rather, I want to recapture that wonderful I-can-take-on-the-world feeling that used to accompany my three- or four-mile runs in my teens. And I want to hop on my bike more and have some more fun with that!

    Thanks for having this giveaway!

  20. What an inspiration to those of us who are “older” and have fallen into a more sedentary lifestyle and a belief that it’s too late;…it’s never too late!

  21. I love this! How inspiring! I have always been an athlete all thru school and as an adult. In college I still gained the freshman 15, although for me it was more like 25….As hard as I have worked out, trained and ran 2 marathons along with countless short races I was always challenged by the extra weight that I just couldn’t shed. Then I saw a documentary about becoming a Vegan (“Vegucated”) I was inspired and became a vegetarian. This was about a month and a half ago and I am already shedding the unwanted weight without even changing my workout routine! Wowsers! I feel amazing, I am firing on all cylinders and look even hotter to boot! :) My next goal is to do my first triathlon as a Vegetarian *gasp* This is the inspiration I need to stick to my guns and not weaken when someone says “but, where do you get your protein??”
    Thanks again!

  22. Rich has given me more inspiration than anyone I have ever read about. This man in amazing. His wife is amazing. Having just turned 43 I refuse to act old & be old. I’m trying very hard to adopt a more healthy life style.

    Kathy Bankston | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  23. I was planning my mid-life crisis for 60 so I could win my age division…maybe I will just skip the crisis & kick booty!

    Kim | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  24. As a 52 year old grandmother of two, I thought my get up and go had got up and went!! Then I heard the raw vegan message and gave it a try…I feel like myself at a much younger age!! Now I want to take it to the next level and begin running. Durianrider, who has been most influential in getting me to go vegan, gave this book a glowing report. I can’t wait to read it!!

    sarah high | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  25. I’m glad there was a before and after picture, pictures give so much more power to words! I’m interested in reading his book and knowing his story and strength so I can share it with my boyfriend. We both don’t work out much unfortunately, maybe we just need some inspiration.

    Christine | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  26. Rich, keep it up. It’s stories like this that let the rest ofus know we can live healthy too. About a year ago I was pretty low. My girlfriend broke up w/ me. I was broke. I had to move in with my parents. I was overweight and unhappy. After wallowing in self pity for too long, I realized the only way anything would change was if I changed my own life. I started dieting. I joined a Crossfit gym. I really thought I’d pass out the first day I went. So did the instructor, who told me to lay down after the *warm up*. Apparently I’d lost all color in my face. I started running again (ran all the time up till my 20s). It wasn’t all at once, but the change came. I’m in the best shape of my life now, and more convinced than ever that I can make my life better every day. Thanks again, Rich. You might just make a vegetarian out of me.

    Austin | 07.06.2012 | Reply
  27. So inspiring. My fitness journey started three years ago – I couldn’t even run half a mile without gasping for air, but I wanted to lose weight. I started running and made little goals for motivation (run one more song, run to that telephone pole, run up that hill without taking a break, etc.) I also realized that most of the food I was fueling my body with had mile-long ingredient lists. Flash forward to today and I’m a vegetarian with a half marathon under my belt and a total Michael Pollan fangirl.

    Maryellen | 07.07.2012 | Reply
  28. This is incredible! The fitness journey I would like to write about is not my own but my boyfriends. He had been * chunky* from a young age and had always been encouraged to eat big as he was a high school football player. Unfortunately he suffered a terrible ankle injury and his football career vanished but his eating habits stayed. When I met him at twenty one years of age he was tipping the scale at 300lbs. Later that year we began dating and initially I couldn’t wrap my arms around him. He was a heavy smoker, carb lover and couch potato with low self-esteem. One day, much like Rich, he walked up the stairs and was out of breath after FOUR steps! That day he made a change. He went for a walk. This walk turned into a long walk everyday. He began to eat right and even joined a gym! An even bigger accomplishment, he quit smoking! After ONE year he dropped 150lbs!!! He is now leaning into veganism and in the best shape of his life and I can finally wrap my arms around this incredible man. I think that as a couch potato turned vegan weightlifter, he would gain a great deal from this book.
    Thank you for this wonderful interview and lovely website!

    Helen | 07.07.2012 | Reply
  29. I struggled from a terrible eating disorder for many years. Simply put, yoga saved my life. The deep breathing, meditation, slow vinyasa flows, each yogic component helped me recover. Eventually, I began to run as a way of filtering my disordered thoughts from the more pure and positive. It was a slow and steady process, but I am proud to say that my passion for health has cured me. I am a raw vegan today, and Pressed Juicery is one of the few juices I trust to purify my body weekly. It has been a long winding journey, but I’m in a much happier place today.

    Alicia | 07.08.2012 | Reply
  30. Wow, readers. Amazing stories have been shared by all of you but we can only pick one winner…
    Congratulations, Paul Corderoy! We’ll be contacting you to arrange your winnings!
    We wish all of you the best as we make the lifelong journey toward more vibrant health together!

    The Chalkboard | 07.09.2012 | Reply
  31. I have been plant strong since November! I love the lifestyle so much. I went vegan because I have a history of diabetes, heart disease, pancreatic cancer, arthritis, copd, sleep apnea and macular degeneration. I am a 21 year old college student and even though I’m busy with college and work, I still cook all my meals even on a budget. I get alot of criticsism from my friends and family about the way I eat. People think that we must need animal products but rich shows us that we can even be endurance athletes on plants. I agree with him 100 percent that you can really be strong and fast by simply changing your diet. I am training right nOw for a triathlon and a marathon right now. I don’t have alot of money right now to buy rich’s book but I really want to read it as it will be a huge motivation to keep me inspired to keep going and never give up! :)

    Lindsay | 07.09.2012 | Reply
  32. Thank you for the book. I hope my story can inspire others.

  33. I just started a vegan raw diet and am amazed by the results in just a short time. I have a lot to learn and look forward to the opportunity to read your book.

  34. I probably need all the help I can get, I realised only weeks ago that I was in total denial about my health and that I needed to ‘really’ do something… this time. I planned doing that green smoothie thing and choose foods that would provide some nutritional value to my malnourished body, I also knew I had to go back to exercise and finally do something big time about my stress levels. I have done one thing, just recently taken 9 months off work to finally do what I have been promising to do – I just need to information / the knowledge / someone who has gone before me (has been in the same boat, so to speak) I would truly appreciate any help I could get and this book looks like the right information to turn my life, health around. The opportunity to ‘look inside’ thanks to Amazon sparked my interested and it looks fantastic and Rich is now walking the talk, I hope I can too……

    Debbie | 07.12.2012 | Reply
  35. I became a vegetarian one year ago and a runner 6 months ago. I began this journey for weight loss and to bring down a slightly rising blood pressure. I immediately lost 4 lbs., blood pressure was in the normal range within 3 weeks and gained a tremendous amount of energy. However, the weight loss now, even with all the running (4-5 miles/day, 3 days a week) is SO slow. I just wonder what I am doing wrong. I see that people have lost as much as 25 lbs. Why can’t I have that success. So, you see, your book is much needed by me. Thanks for the give away. By the way, you are in great company with Kris Carr.

    Laurie | 12.14.2012 | Reply
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