One of the accusations sometimes levelled at meat free eating is that a lack of meat equals a lack of energy. But a growing number of top sporting stars are helping explode that myth.
Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere is the latest to reveal how going vegan has helped him reach the peak of physical fitness – and goal-scoring. Wilshere gave up all animal products as well as gluten in the last six weeks of 2017 and believes it has helped him stay fit. “I feel sharper and quicker on the pitch. I feel like I can last longer. For example, at the end of the Chelsea game [in January] when we scored the second goal, I felt ‘Come on, we can go on again here’. I was pressing them and felt good. I think I’m in the best shape I have ever been.”
Wilshere joins England and Bournemouth striker Jermaine Defoe, whose move last March to a partly vegan diet was inspired by the Netflix documentary What the Health. “I wanted to try something different to prolong my career,” the 35-year-old said. “I’ve always had energy, but sometimes you feel a little bit lethargic and bloated. Now I feel like I’ve got more energy. I feel completely different.” The American documentary looks at the impact on the body of meat and dairy products, and reveals how the US livestock industry’s rampant overuse of antibiotics has led to the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. While that isn’t a problem here in Britain, there is concern that any trade deal forged with the US following a hard Brexit will require us to accept American meat.
Except after training, Defoe eats only plant-based meals, and no eggs or dairy, and is doing his best to encourage other Bournemouth players to follow his meat free lead. “A lot of the younger players look at me and they’re like, ‘Wow, how can he still be playing at that sort of level at 35?’ I think they look at me and think they should try [going vegan] themselves – and they should, because the earlier you try it, the better it will be.”
“I don’t find anything hard to give up, as such, because I know the feeling scoring goals gives me. So, while getting in an ice bath isn’t nice, I just think: ‘You know what? I’m going to do this and be rewarded.’ It’s hard but in another way it’s easy, because all I want to do is play well and score goals.”
And on the other side of the pond, American football players are leading by example. Star quarterback Tom Brady, whose team the New England Patriots lost out to the Philadelphia Eagles at last month’s Super Bowl, is a fan of meat and dairy-free eating. In a sport at which players typically retire in their late twenties and early thirties, Brady is still going strong at 40 thanks to his vegan lifestyle. Top-rank Grid Iron stars who have followed Brady’s lead include linebackers Derrick Morgan and Wesley Woodyard, defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and defensive lineman DaQuan Jones.
Other sports stars who have changed their diets and found their form include tennis ace Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam winner; racing driver Lewis Hamilton, the first Briton to win four F1 titles (“Physically I feel the best I’ve ever felt … incredibly clean and healthy”); and heavyweight boxer David Haye, who has been vegan since 2014 (“It’s a myth that you need meat for strength”).
And if you think individual sportsmen and women going vegan isn’t that impressive, then consider a whole club: Forest Green Rovers, based in Stroud, Gloucestershire. Food outlets at the club, owned by green energy tycoon Dale Vince, have been serving meat and dairy-free food since 2014. Vince, himself a vegan, began to move the Rovers away from the traditional footballing fare of pies and burgers soon after becoming chairman in 2010, first banning red meat from the menu and then white, fish, milk and cheese. While the League Two team’s players may not yet all be vegan, they know what they need to do to get to the Premiership …