On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.
Shortly before he turned 40, Rich Roll was walking up the staircase on the way to his bedroom when he suddenly felt a tightness in his chest. The simple act of walking up the stairs had the corporate lawyer sweating and breathing laboriously, like he was on the verge of a heart attack. That was the moment when Rich knew he had to overhaul his lifestyle.
“That really shook me out of my denial about how I was living,” he told Men’s Health in an interview years later. “I made a very concrete decision in that moment that I was going to change my priorities. That’s how I set in motion this exploration of food and nutrition and ultimately after that, fitness and human potential.”
Back in high school, Rich had been a nationally ranked butterfly swimmer at the Landon School in Bethesda, Maryland. He made it into Stanford and represented the university, competing against future Olympian swimmers Bill Stapleton and Anthony Mosse, and nearly winning the race as well. Unfortunately, that was the peak of Rich’s swimming career. After earning a law degree from Cornell University, alcoholism and drugs had overtaken his life.
“During my 20s and the first part of my 30s, I was sort of a lost soul, struggling with alcoholism, drug addiction and it really took me to a very dark place,” he recalled. “But I was lucky enough to get sober at 31. I spent 100 days at a treatment facility in Oregon.”
After getting sober, Rich threw himself into his work, working 80-hour weeks, while eating junk food, in the hopes of making partner at a prestigious law firm.
“In the first decade of my sobriety, I realized in retrospect that I transferred a lot of that addictive energy onto medicating myself with food, making terrible food choices,” he told GQ. “I was really a junk food addict, and I would frequent drive-throughs and Jack in the box, McDonald’s, Chinese food—you name it.”
This pattern continued on for several years until suddenly, Rich found himself as a 39-year old who was 50 pounds overweight and struggling to walk up the staircase without feeling chest pains. Shortly after his moment of clarity, Rich began his journey back into fitness.
For the first time in a long time, which at first was just a very casual relationship with going outside and jogging, swimming, or biking with friends. I lost the weight really quickly and made some pretty significant improvements in compressed periods of time. That started getting me thinking about challenging myself, because although I had been a swimmer in college at Stanford, alcoholism really kind of destroyed that career. I had this inkling that I hadn’t achieved my potential as an athlete, and this new phase of life was really reigniting that passion again. So that’s what ultimately lured me into the ultra-endurance world.The Real-Life Diet of Rich Roll, Who Went Plant-Based in his 40s and Never Looked Back | GQ
Rich Roll’s training routine & diet
These days, Rich juggles his ultra-endurance athletic career with being a full-time wellness & plant-based nutrition advocate, public speaker, husband and father of four. On a typical day, Rich is usually up at about 6-6.30am (after going to bed at around 9) — he never sets an alarm, preferring to wake up naturally.
On an intermittent fasting day, which he does a few times a week, Rich will have a cup of coffee, drink some water and start his morning training before anything else can get in the way.
“I’ll go to the pool for a swim, trail run, or get on my bike for a couple hours,” he said. “I try not to schedule work stuff before 12 p.m., so that 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.”
As the ultra-endurance athlete has gotten older, he’s begun to prioritise more strength training as part of his routine. While he still does his usual swimming, biking, running, yoga and stretching, he’s also focused on maintaining his strength.
Maintaining a strong core is super important. Yes, I do sit-ups, but I do lots of planks, pushups, inverted sit-ups to strengthen my lower back, lots of squats, including air squats, kettlebell work, medicine ball work, lunges. And then, I do some really basic weight work. I like to do low weight, high rep stuff on all the basics: bench press, floor exercises, sled work for the quads and all the typical stuff you’d do in the gym.The World’s Fittest Vegan Is a 51-Year-Old Ultra-Endurance Athlete | Men’s Health
Rich will change up his training routine if he’s getting ready to compete in a competition. In a 2017 interview with The New Daily, the former corporate lawyer revealed what a week’s worth of training looked like:
- Monday is “sacred rest” day.
- Tuesday is a double-run.
- Wednesday is a 6000-8000m swim, with 2-4 hours cycling in the afternoon.
- Thursday is a long run in the morning and yoga in the afternoon.
- Friday starts with a long swim, immediately followed by a 3-5 hour bike ride.
- Saturday is 9-10 hours cycling.
- Sunday is a 60-70km run.
When it comes to his diet, Rich Roll is one of the most well-known vegans in the world. If he’s having a heavy training day, he’ll typically start his morning off with a green smoothie, which includes dark leafy greens like spinach or kale, berries, hemp seeds, chia seeds, coconut water, beets and some protein powder.
For lunch, he’ll normally go for a huge salad dish, and he’ll snack on fruits and nuts throughout the day. “I’ll add some Athletic Greens to water if I’m dragging a little bit in the late afternoon,” he said in a 2021 interview. For dinner, Rich likes eating a variation of a vegan burrito – rice, black beans, guacamole, some hot sauce, and greens — with or without a wrap.
I am busy, juggling many things in my life beyond my training – doing the podcast, writing books, travelling to speak, reining-in 4 kids. I don’t have the time or patience to be obsessive about my nutrition – I have learned to go more on feel.Rich Roll: A day in the life of the vegan iron man | The New Daily
Before you go…
Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Joe Rogan, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.