How Olympic Athlete Dotsie Bausch Fuels With a Vegan Diet
At 26 years old, Dotsie Bausch was a fashion model struggling with eating disorders and drug addiction. One day, during a therapy session, her therapist encouraged her to move her body again, encouraging her to take up a physical activity that was not attached to a goal of fitness or weight loss. She chose cycling, which ultimately led her to take up competitive cycling and rise to the top of the sport long after many athletes were established in their careers.
As a professional cyclist, Dotsie has won eight US national championships, two Pan American gold medals, including a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics. During her training for the 2012 London Olympics, she started living a plant-based lifestyle. Within the first 10 days of going plant-based, she noticed that she woke up feeling lighter and more energized, ready to get on the bike within an hour of getting up! She later went on to win a silver medal in women’s track cycling at the age of 40, a record for the competition.
Now, this athlete is using her voice for change by promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet and advocating against animal cruelty. To date, she has delivered a TEDxTalk with over 24,000 views, spoken on multiple panels, and been featured on The Game Changers, the groundbreaking 2018 documentary that has been reported as Netflix’s most-watched. In 2018, she also launched Switch4Good, a nonprofit organization focused on building grassroots educational campaigns to raise awareness about the harmful effects of dairy.
In an exclusive interview with The Beet, Dotsie shares her inspiring story as a vegan athlete, how her organization Switch4Good is disrupting norms about dairy and health, and how she cycled her way to win an Olympic silver medal. Here is exactly what a former Olympian eats on a plant-based diet, to inspire you to reach for your own healthy body goals.
The Beet: What made you go vegan? How did your thinking change?
Dotsie Bausch: I went vegan in mid-2010 after coming to the full realization of what it means to eat animal-based foods. I came across a horrifying video of a slaughterhouse and that tumbled me down the research rabbit hole. I just could not rationalize what I saw. None of it made any sense. Once I realized that atrocity was the norm when it came to animals raised for food, I decided I no longer wanted to contribute to this system of abuse, and I dropped meat overnight. I have been plant-based ever since.
TB: Did you see differences after making the switch? How did it impact your performance as a professional cyclist?
Dotsie: Definitely. I had been competing professionally for about ten years before adopting a plant-based diet, but when I finally did (two years before the 2012 Olympics), it felt like rocket fuel. I was more energized and able to recover from workouts so much faster than ever before. As the oldest person to ever medal in my discipline, that recovery factor really helped me pursue and earn a spot on the Olympic team.
TB: What do you eat on a typical day?
Dotsie: For breakfast—I’ll have something savory as I’m not really into sweet things. In the morning I’ll make tofu scramble with veggies and avocado if I have time, but lately, I’ve gravitated to the ease of using JUST egg. I’ll have that with a cup of coffee with a splash of Silk vanilla creamer.
Lunch and dinner are iterations of the same concept: greens, grains, beans, nuts, or seeds—all drizzled with a yummy sauce like tahini in a big bowl. I call it my trough bowl. I tend to eat a lot of volume––and I love feeling satiated while still feeling light and energetic after a meal. I never felt this way when I ate animal foods. They always made me feel lethargic and bloated most of the time.
TB: What advice would you give someone who wants to consider switching to a vegan diet?
Dotsie: Know yourself. If you’re an “all-in person”, go ahead and do it overnight, but if that sounds intimidating to you, take it in manageable steps. You don’t have to give up animal foods all at once, just start incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet, and eventually, they’ll make up your entire plate! I love to help people make the transition and focus on abundance, not scarcity. Going vegan is all about making progress, not pursuing perfection.
TB: What has been your personal biggest triumph? What are you proudest of?
Dotsie: I am super proud to be working in a way that will make a difference for good. An Olympic silver medal is definitely up there, but that is not what I am most proud of. The work we do at Switch4Good is saving the lives of animals, humans, and this beautiful blue ball we are all spinning on. It’s creating a better world to live in on so many levels, and I’m so proud to be a part of that. And although it is rewarding most days, running an organization is the greatest challenge of my life. I look at it as my second Olympics.
TB: Tell us about your journey building Switch4Good. What inspired you to start this initiative?
Dotsie: The deliberate misinformation spread by the dairy industry has always frustrated me since I learned the truth. Most people think dairy does a body good, but the truth is the exact opposite. Human or animal, the only body that thrives off cow’s milk is a baby cow. I saw a milk commercial while watching the 2018 Winter Olympics that made my skin crawl, especially after being lied to for so many years inside the walls of the Olympic Training Centers, which heavily promoted cow’s milk for athletes.
The commercial stated that 9 out of 10 Olympians grew up drinking milk. Well, 10 out of 10 Olympic athletes also grew up drinking water, but that’s not what got them to the Olympics. I quickly brought together five other dairy-free Olympians and Academy Award-winning director Louie Psihoyos to create our own Olympian-driven commercial that aired on NBC. I thought that would be it, but my need to reveal the truth about the dairy industry wasn’t satisfied, and I believed I could do more. That late fall of 2018, Switch4Good was formed.
TB: Why is dairy harmful, especially for athletes?
Dotsie: Dairy is detrimental to health for a vast number of reasons, but in specific regards to performance, it can inhibit recovery, increase mucus production and restrict airways, and make athletes—particularly those who are lactose intolerant—sick. Several components that make up dairy—such as IGF1 and Neu5gc—make dairy a highly inflammatory food. Athletes experience enough inflammation as it is through intense exercise—the last thing they need is more inflammation to deal with. No matter how much grit you have, if you’re inflamed and not properly recovered, you can’t perform at your best. Athletes who consume dairy aren’t competing at their full potential.
TB: Tell us a bit about the work Switch4Good is doing to promote a dairy-free lifestyle.
Dotsie: Switch4Good has a lot going on both on the individual and systemic change levels. We’re halfway through our Eat Like an Olymp*an campaign (the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has banned us from using the “O” word; note: the dairy industry is the USOPC’s title sponsor) to educate others about how to optimize their lives with athlete-level nutrition.
Participants get exclusive access to retired and competing Olympians’ favorite foods and nutrition tips, and we’ve had a tremendously positive response from those who have signed up. We’re also working to ensure soy milk is available in all public schools at the same reimbursement as cow’s milk, and we have a momentous campaign this fall that will tackle social injustice issues when it comes to the non-dairy upcharge at most coffee shops.
TB: Do you have a mantra? Words you live by?
Dotsie: Never stop discovering. So many folks become stagnant in life where they feel like they can’t do something because they are too old, too stuck, or too inexperienced. My road to the Olympics was fueled by discovery entirely, and so is my work today with my non-profit. My cycling career, which was never supposed to happen after I almost lost my life to anorexia and didn’t pick up a bicycle until the age of 26, was entirely guided by me just being open to what the following day could bring.
Yes, I worked hard and pushed through the rough patches, but honestly, I just kept asking myself “what is possible if I just keep pushing?” I always stayed true to simply discovering what I was capable of and it was so much more than I ever would have imagined in my wildest dreams.