James Southwood - Martial Arts
Favorite fruit: bananas
Favorite veggie: kale
Hobbies/Other sports: boxing, running, psychology
1. When and why did you choose to stop eating animal products?
I have been vegetarian my whole life. At 16 I was persuaded by a book that going vegan was the reasonable next step. While my relationship to the ethics behind this has changed over the years, I still maintain a diet that is ostensibly free from animal products.
2. What has been your experience as a vegan athlete? Have you noticed any performance or health benefits or problems?
I barely notice the influence that being vegan has on my athletic life. I eat to be as healthy and I need to stay within a strict weight limit for my sport, so diet is certainly important. I do that with plant-bases sources of protein, carbs and fat and I can 'make weight' very precisely. Any athlete who is eating unhealthily is certainly short-changing themselves. For many years I have been lean and fit on a plant-based diet and now it hardly registers that I am doing it.
3. Have teammates and other athletes been supportive or critical?
I have a close-knit group of fighters and team mates with whom I train and compete and I like to think they are supportive of me whatever the circumstance. In fact, within my sporting world I get fewer comments about a vegan diet because people know me as an athlete first. I am not often confronted with the insistence that I cannot be getting, for example, enough protein. My team does have to put up with me ducking out a meal times or bringing my own food along, but that isn't usually a problem.
4. A brief history of your athletic career.
I started Boxe-Francaise Savate when at university. After four years of training I became an instructor and have since developed the largest club in the country in London.
In 2005 I first won a national play-off and earned the chance to represent GB at the European Championships in Paris. I trained very hard but still lost both matches. I didn't know at the time how much harder I could push myself and how much more determined I would be in future.
A run of good results eventually came - in 2007 I won a European Silver medal and in 2008 a World Bronze. Then, after some disappointing seasons and a failed experiment at light-heavyweight, I decided to change my focus. From 2012 I have been developing my own fight psychology. This has had a dramatic effect on my career.
I write about my approach to sport psychology at www.DyingToWin.net. It is a mix of existential psychology, psychoanalysis and Zen. Since applying my new approach I have won dozens of matches at home and abroad, made a successful return to the European Championships with a Bronze in 2013 and then, this year (2014) at the age of 35 I won the World Championship.
I currently fight, I teach at my club and train other competitors, and love every minute of it.
5. Most memorable results or achievements.
It has to be my 2014 World Championship win. All else kinda fades away. All the matches I lost, all those I won over years of international fights, all the hours of training, frustration and contemplation went into that performance.
6. Why did you join OA's PRO-Activist team?
I am slightly wary about promoting examples of fit vegans to 'prove' that the diet works. It opens the way for detractors to point to those who have fallen ill as equal and opposite proof. What I do believe in though is inspiring people. If you read this profile on OA, look at my blog, train with me or watch me fighting and it inspires you to aim for a healthier and fitter life, then I will have done my bit.