Danielle Sidell is no stranger to pushing herself to the limit. Before becoming a world-class CrossFit athlete she ran track and cross-country for Akron University in Ohio where her best mile time was 4:56! Most people can’t maintain that pace for a 50-yard sprint. But her involvement in athletics goes back way farther than that. In 7th grade she remembers running sprints up a hill with her mom riding alongside on a bicycle for pace. That got her ready to dominate in her high school's basketball, volleyball, and track teams. She was All-Ohio in all three sports and won state titles in track for the 4x4, 800m and 1600m. She went on to earn an athletic scholarship at Akron and get a Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology.
But that wasn’t enough for Dani. After checking out a few CrossFit classes at the suggestion of a friend, she was invited to join a team that went on to place 2nd in the 2012 CrossFit Games. Just like that Dani was catapulted into the elite ranks of one of the most physically grueling sports out there.
Dani continues to compete in the highest levels of CrossFit and will be at the Regionals in West Palm Beach this June. Dani will be one of few plant-based athletes competing however we’d guess it won’t be long before others notice that you don’t need meat to perform on that level.
When Dani isn't busy being a professional athlete she's running ATP Strength and Conditioning. They do programming for gyms across the nation and for individual athletes in CrossFit and Olympic Lifting.
We recently caught up with her to learn how eating plant-based has helped her unlock even more athletic potential.
BLOK: What first interested you in the plant-based diet?
Danielle: My fiance and I watched Cowspiracy in November 2016 and that’s all it took to change our views of what we were putting into our bodies. It was more about what animal agriculture is doing to our environment and how it’s killing our planet. That’s what triggered us to change. The amount of resources it takes to raise any sort of livestock is insane. What really stuck out was a statistic about if everyone switched to a plant-based diet there’s be no more starving people in the world. People are selfish, they want a hamburger and have no idea how many resources goes into just that one hamburger - something like 650 gallons of water. That really hit home. For me, the environment was the main reason I decided to switch to a plant-based diet.
BLOK: Before you saw Cowspiracy was the plant-based diet on your radar at all?
Danielle: No not at all. I was a huge meat eater. Steak, cheeseburgers..I ate everything. I grew up on the meat and potatoes diet. Then one day was browsing on Netflix and Cowspiracy popped up.
BLOK: Being an elite athlete, were you concerned that switching up your diet might impact performance?
Danielle: Its funny, I have a very addictive personality so when I commit to something it’s 110%. At the time I didn’t give it too much thought. Within the first week I lost a little weight and both my fiance and I were going for a 1-rep max on clean and jerk. Ironically we both PR’d! I was like holy crap, we were expecting the complete opposite. We both lost weight, changed out everything we were eating and somehow we both hit personal records. Maybe it was a coincidence..but I thought it was interesting.
BLOK: Awesome! Certainly could have been a coincidence but it is curious.. Did you notice anything else changing?
Danielle: I’m leaner than I've ever been. I’m in the best shape of my life. This is my best CrossFit season ever so far also. I’m doing movements that I was never capable of before. I feel better in the gym. My aches and pains aren’t as intense either.
BLOK: It’s cool that you’re doing this with your fiance and that you can support each other. How’s he been liking it?
Danielle: Loves it. He had really bad acid reflux to the point he was on medication and possibly needing surgery. After 2 weeks of the plant-based diet his symptoms were completely gone.
I’ve even had people come up to me and ask if I’ve been tanning because my skin looks great and I’m literally glowing! Only thing I can think of to credit my clear complexion to is I’ve rid myself of all the toxic junk I used to be eating.
BLOK: Did you have to make any other adjustments to your lifestyle or diet when you made the switch to plant-based?
Danielle: I’m spending more time reading labels and trying to understand what I’m eating. I don’t take any new supplements besides the usual vitamins that I was already taking. Only minor adjustment to that was switching out fish oil for other sources of omega 3’s. But that’s it.
It did take a few months to figure out what foods worked best for my body and I had to sort of rewire my taste buds. Now I find myself craving foods I was never into. Fruit tastes like candy and candy tastes gross. It’s crazy how much your tastes buds can change. I never ate raw veggies before and now every night I’m dipping raw bell peppers into hummus.
BLOK: What’s an average day of eating for you?
Danielle: I try not to go crazy with measuring stuff, I like to go off feel, but I do have a routine. Typical breakfast is 2 slices of sprouted bread with vegan butter, half an avocado, mini fruit salad with strawberries, grapes and blackberries with peanut butter drizzled over the top and a cup of coffee. My snack before lunch is some roasted chickpeas and plain popcorn - it's a really filling snack. For lunch I’ll do a serving of Beyond Meat’s chicken or beef crumbles with jasmine rice, a serving of veggies and another half of an avocado. For afternoon snack I’m typically on my way to the gym so I’ll have a banana, spoonful of peanut butter and a glass of unsweetened soy milk. I like soy and pea milk the most because they have lots of protein. After I workout I’ll do a shake with pea protein and dextrose. For dinner I’ll have a cup of some sort of beans, hummus for the extra fat, some sweet potato and another serving of something by Beyond Meat. Then for a snack I’ll do a whole bell pepper with hummus or a serving of beet chips.
BLOK: Seems like everything you’re eating is pretty low glycemic load. Is that something you shoot for?
Danielle: Yes definitely. It settles better in my stomach. I’ve played around with the sources of my carbs and low glycemic has always worked best for me. Always feel more energy. Only time I do lots of fruit is in the morning or right after my workout.
BLOK: If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
Danielle: Funny I just saw something on Facebook about would you rather go back to being 10 with all the knowledge you have now or would you rather be 50 with a few million in the bank. I would definitely go back to being 10 with all the knowledge. I would have gone plant-based years ago. I’d love to see if I would have avoided any health issues and how much farther it would have taken me athletically.
Danielle first decided to go plant-based for the environment and to her pleasant surprise it’s helped her get in the best shape of her life. We’re excited to follow this Plant-Based Gangster’s Crossfit season while she once again shatters the myth that elite athletes need meat to perform at the top levels.