Community Leaders Spotlight #4: Ben Legree

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Ben is a do-all mountain dude! His passion for the mountains, nature, and the environment make him an inspiration to anyone looking to shift to a more sustainable diet. Ben spends his time studying environmental science and geography, skiing, biking and climbing and fighting the stigma around the macho-man meat diet. 

Who is Ben Legree?

My name is Ben LeGree, I was born and grew up in Calgary, AB but moved to Canmore full-time about 7 years ago. I currently go to the University of Victoria and will finish my undergrad with a BSc in Geography and Environmental Studies next year. Aside from school, I spend as much time as I can on my bike, skis, or climbing.

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What is your athletic background and how has being plant-based/sustainable changed or affected your athletics? Any advice for those looking to go plant-based?

I retired from Alpine ski racing in 2016 (until I was 20), and have since been out of competition. I’ve also been big into mountain biking for most of my life and climbing more recently. While I was ski racing, I fell into the stereotype of a person who spends a lot of time in the gym, a lot of time training, and a lot of time eating. Although at that time, I was still eating meat and animal products, with little thought put towards a plant-based diet, as any old school coach would tell you that you’ll wither away to nothing if not for eating a tonne of meat after a training session. It wasn’t until my first year in University that I chose to stop eating meat completely and only have any other animal products on rare occasions. 

From the athletic and performance side of things, there are a few things that really stand out to me since ditching meat and changing my diet. The biggest one for me was recovery time, I was able to feel much less beaten up by something like a big workout, big day of riding, or a session in the boulder gym. I began to feel like I was able to get right back into another activity right after finishing one. Now that it’s almost summer, I’ve been getting out on my mountain bike for some training rides to get into shape for the season. And every day I wake up the day after a ride I feel ready again. I also noticed that during periods of time where I was active every day for a long period, like when I’m not in school, I had way more energy. And I used this to my advantage, turning down less offers to go for a ride or go climbing after class, stuff like that. 

My advice for any athlete aspiring to be plant-based is this. Be conscious of what you're eating, just as you would with any other type of diet, you’ll find out very soon that it is very simple, all you need is period of time to adapt to the fact that you are not eating meat, and therefore you need to figure which foods are high in which nutrients, stuff like that. Once you get that figured out, it sort of just becomes a routine! My other piece of advice is not to let people get into your head about not being able to sustain an athletic lifestyle with plant-based food, because people will. If I had told my coaches that I wanted to stop eating meat during my years of competition, I probably would have gotten told to f*ck off, so that could be tough. There are some incredible athletes that perform incredible feats of athleticism on a plant-based diet, look it up!

What is something you look forward to every day?

Lately I have been super motivated to just push myself physically on a more frequent basis. Being in university for 3 years now has definitely ‘gotten in the way’ of my passion for sports. To make up for that I have been making an effort to get out and do something whenever I have some free time. I mean I’m still young right? I’m a firm believer in the idea that you only start to feel old when you stop moving. So that motivates me, I never want to stop being able to do the things I love, which is inevitable, but that’s a later Ben problem.

Who is someone you look up to or consider a role model?

My role models have changed throughout my life, or at least who I deem to  be my greatest role models. When I was ski racing, I looked up to Canadian skiers like Brad Spence Trevor Philp. Not only was I inspired by their talent on snow, but they both were very genuine people, so generous, humble, respected, and always had time to talk to me. Which is huge when you’re a young athlete. In University, I had a couple Professors who really made me realize what academic routes I was interested in. A couple honorable mentions to Fes De scally, who piqued my interest in Geomorphology, and Cameron Owens, whom I really respect for his work in sustainable community development and environmental impact assessment. 

In a more general sense, my brother is my biggest role model. His talent as an artist came from a place of pure passion and interest. What I respect most about him, and strive to emulate, is how true to himself he is. He lets his passion, his morals, and what makes him happy lead him through life and I really love that about him.

What is one of your biggest goals? How do you plan to achieve it?

Goal setting has played an ever changing role in my life as I’ve moved through competitive sports, to academics, to recreational passions. It’s turned out so that I have sort of lost touch with goal setting as a whole. Now I try to keep my goals very broad. My only goal lately has been based on being true to myself and doing what I love, and trying hard at it. So at the moment that is riding my bike, getting outside as much as possible, spending time with my friends (as much I can given current circumstances) and really trying to stay engaged in my university courses. 

When I was ski racing, I would spend so much time focusing on my future goals as an athlete, and looking back I think that was quite detrimental. I never felt like I was focused on the moment and what I had, how good I had it. So it has been really nice to have the opportunity to just focus on making the best of every day rather than being worried about my future athletic career. Despite it being a long time since I’ve been in that competitive scene, I still find myself having to adjust to not needing to have those kinds of goals in my life.

Why is being plant-based/vegetarian important to you?

Growing up doing sports, you’ve gotta be conscious of what you're eating, because if you mess it up, you're not gonna perform to the best of your ability. So that has definitely become a part of me. Being conscious and aware of what I’m eating and how it makes me operate both physically and mentally. Once I started university, it was brought up time and time again the impact of industrial agriculture on the environment and the amount of our emissions budget that this industry takes up. I mean I have heard of it before, but once you read the endless amount of research done on its negative environmental impact, it’s hard to feel good about being a part of that problem. And that’s what it came down to for me, I couldn't accept the fact that I was contributing to it while knowing that it was so simple for me not to. So I just kinda decided one day that I wasn’t gonna eat meat, and haven't looked back since. I felt better about myself, I felt as if I was being very true to myself, acting in accordance to what I believe in morally. To be completely honest, I have had no issues at all with it, I understand some people do, which is no surprise to me at all. Changing your diet to exclude such a wide range of options does sound super intimidating and difficult. But all you have to do really is think about the meals you’re eating, which I was conscious of prior to making this decision. So it came pretty easy to me knowing that all I had to do was cover all my bases when I am making food. Making sure that I am getting enough protein, iron, b-12, omega-3’s etc. Which by the way is not difficult at all if you know what you're looking for.

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If you could post a message seen daily to everyone around the world, what would that message be?

Don’t let anyone tell you that you need to eat meat to be strong, manly, or any other bs like that. Eat stuff that you feel good about eating.

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