While it might seem like everyone with a pulse has a podcast these days, few can rival the success of Rich Roll. The swimmer-turned-corporate lawyer wants always the pinnacle of health we see today, a man whose vulnerability and strength has encouraged so many others to come forward and share their own stories of addiction and recovery, all while embracing a strong sense of community in sport. Since launching The Rich Roll Podcast, Roll has become a leading voice, one known for its curiosity and compassion. He might be known for his interviewing techniques, but now its Roll spilling the beans.
In a recent interview with GQ UK, Roll explained how an experience of heart pain while ascending a flight of stairs during his days as a lawyer saw him make major changes to his lifestyle. Intent to avoid the history of heart disease that runs through his family, Roll overhauled his diet and became a strict vegan. Within just a matter of weeks, he was running, biking and swimming and, in the space of two years, he completed his first Ultraman: a 3-day, 515km double-Ironman distance triathlon. The man, who could barely ascend a flight of stairs without breaking a sweat, had somehow ascended to the ranks of demigod.
Now 55-years-old, Roll is showing no signs of slowing down. Not surprisingly, many who have found themselves stuck in the rut of unhealthy habits and a sedentary lifestyle they can’t seem to shake have looked to Roll as a source of inspiration and strength. While Roll admits that his daily diet changes depending on the intensity of his training, he’s no stranger to intermittent fasting and tends to do it a couple of times a week. “I’ll basically have a cup of coffee in the morning, drink a bunch of water, and then I’m out the door to train. I’m a morning person,” Roll admits. “I get up and get it done right away. Otherwise it becomes infinitely more challenging to squeeze it in.”
For his morning workout, Roll tends to swim, trail run, or get on his bike. He often doesn’t schedule work before 12pm, allowing his morning to be devoted to exercise to ensure he makes it a priority. “The first part of the day is just for doing my stuff, including training, journaling, writing, all that kind of stuff. No phone calls, no podcast,” he tells GQ.
A typical day of eating for Roll includes coffee, a green smoothie with a base of dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, and then a mix of berries, hemp seeds, chia seeds, water and beets. While the smoothie tends to be enough to see Roll through the morning, he explains that if starving, he’ll reach for some oatmeal or granola. After a workout, he adds protein to the smoothie which sees him through to lunch, which is “generally a huge salad.” As Roll explains, “I try not to eat heavy food during the day so that I can keep my energy high. Just typical salad stuff with a lot of vegetables and a light dressing.”
But while Roll eats clean, he admits to having a huge appetite which he indulges for dinner. “I appreciate going to fancy restaurants and eating delicacies and things like that, but on a day-to-day basis, food like rice and beans is the staple. A proper example could be rice, black beans, guacamole, some hot sauce, and greens on top,” he says.
Having been a vegan now for 15 years, Roll admits that the changes he made to his diet have made an instrumental impact on his lifestyle. Having come from the corporate world of long hours spent in the office, Roll didn’t come to see his health as a priority. When he got sober at 31, he transferred a lot of that addictive energy onto “medicating” himself with food, and admits that his food choices were far from healthy, often resulting to junk food like McDonald’s and Chinese food. “Just before I turned 40, I was 50 pounds overweight, super lethargic, and had a huge health scare,” says Roll.
“I had to take stock of how I was living in a very purposeful way, which began this journey of trying to find a way of eating that would be healthy for me.”
Since going plant-based, Roll now has more energy and his post-workout recovery has benefited significantly. “It’s not per se that eating a plant-based diet makes you a better athlete. I think that’s overstating the case, but just by virtue of eating lower on the food chain foods that are very high in micronutrients and phytonutrients, they’re more anti-inflammatory and higher in antioxidants. These foods allow your body to expeditiously repair itself in between workouts,” he says.
But while Roll’s success has been well documented, he assures his followers that his is not an overnight success story. Rather, consistency has been key to seeing Roll enter the best shape of his life since hitting his 40s. “I started in motion years ago, if not decades ago. And now I’m able to be someone who’s perceived as successful in a variety of areas, but I’ve been baking this bread for a bit,” says Roll.
“So for the person who feels stuck or feels like they can’t do X, Y, or Z, the solution really is in the beginning steps. Can’t run well? Well, can you put your shoes on? Like, can you tie your shoes? Break things down, make the journey more digestible.”