Friday, May 6, 2016

Vegan MuayThai fighter Claire Baxter explains her philosophy on food

Being a vegan in a combat-sport is so unusual one Australian fighter styles her Facebook page as “Claire the Vegan Baxter”.  

She talked to me about what she eats and how she deals with nutty (!) questions.

Asking people about food can be a sensitive topic, so I was relieved when Claire emailed later to say she enjoyed the project. Phew!

She’s also happy to talk about MuayThai, explaining her dedication: ‘Because I found beauty and integrity in the ring, and it's a hard combination to find.’



  WKBF champion in MuayThai, which came first – sport or ditching the meat?

Sport came first.  In my early 20s I was a professional cyclist. And after I retired I focused on running before coming to fighting. 

Back then I ate plenty of animal products like meat, eggs and dairy believing “animal protein” was important for performance.

I was moved to take the plunge into vegetarianism after reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, I became aware of factory farming and how that worked.

As a 400m track runner then, I was worried I’d be doing myself damage. I wasn't a particularly good one and I would eventually learn the hard way that sprinters are born and not made – but I was ambitious.

I kept watching for signs of diminishing strength and power, for atrophying muscles. It never happened. In fact, a month after become vegetarian, I bench pressed and power-cleaned PBs in the gym. That really confused me! I laugh now when I remember it, but it goes to show how deep beliefs really are.

I didn't even realise I held beliefs about “animal protein” and performance: I thought it was fact.

From Veggie to Vegan

Around 2012 when I’d been fighting for three years, I went vegan for a month to try it out. Four years later, my health seems excellent.

At the time I'd started at a new gym, and my training load was increasing. After a month of veganism, there was no muscle atrophy, no diminished physical capacity – hmmm, familiar story?

The only difference I noticed was that my upper respiratory problems seemed to have cleared up, and I no longer had trouble with my airways when I was running.

For someone who doesn't do any weight-training I seem to be pretty lean and strong for a female of my weight. I guess I discovered by accident much of what we consider to be essential dietary components – meat, eggs, diary – is a myth.

I seem to be able to get enough in grains, legumes, nuts, fruit and vegetables to keep my system functioning at a high enough level to fight professionally.

A slice or two of bread with peanut butter and banana, and a coffee
Pre-mixed salad OR Rice with lentils
Jam sandwich OR a banana shake – 3 bananas, water, chia seeds
A hot, steaming bowl of pasta with tomato and basil sauce

How do other fighters and combat folk react when you break the Vegan news?

PIC Saron Richards via Claire The Vegan Baxter FB
A few faces contort. Maybe a few snorts, the occasional eye-roll. There's a fair bit of humour. If I ever get sick or injured, everyone seems to enjoy telling me that I need to eat more meat.

There's a bit of a post-fight tradition that involves piling into cars and driving to the nearest fast-food place located between the fight venue and home.

If you've ever sat in a McDonald's restaurant late on a Saturday night alongside euphoric fighters with their post-fight, puffy faces and straight left legs, and eaten a garden salad while they demolish multi-storey burgers with bacon, then you'll know what it is like to be the joke.

McDonald's doesn't help much: they serve the most pathetic garden salad I've ever come across: a slice of pale tomato shivering on top of a lettuce leaf.

What’s your come-back?

I suppose I meet humour with humour. With only a limp, garden salad to back my claims, I haven't got much else!

None of it bothers me, I enjoy the laugh. I suppose it can be a bit awkward when I'm with friends or family and someone has done a lot of work preparing a meal for everyone, and then someone else pipes up and says “Oh but she's vegan!”

The hard-working host will frown and fret, and I have to reassure them that it's fine.

How do I explain the benefits? Well, I don't really. Each to their own.

Do you cook a lot?

PIC by Sharon Richards via Claire The Vegan Baxter Facebook 

Unfortunately, I am a bit challenged in the kitchen. I've never had the patience or interest to prepare anything complex. Boiled rice and lentils would probably be my greatest culinary achievement.

I don’t have an imaginative diet, but it seems to do the trick. I never worry about my diet – to be honest, if I had to worry about it, I wouldn't be bothered with it: food is to eat, and thinking about it too much is surely an eating disorder.


Claire landed in Thailand this week for two months of training. You can follow her adventures on Facebook at:  Claire The Vegan Baxter. 

Find more of Sharon Richards fight photography at: Sharon Richards Photographics 

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