From vegan athletes to cruelty-free sportswear, the sporting world is currently more influenced than ever by veganism. We have long been aware that veganism benefits personal health, animal rights and the environment, however some fall into the trap of thinking that a plant-based diet will leave us feeling lethargic, weak and lacking in vital sustenance. If that were the case, veganism would surely be a terrible choice for athletes who want to be at the top of their game. So, how come so many athletes are making the switch?  

Myth busting 

In the recent documentary about veganism in the world of sports, The Game Changers, world record holding strongman, Patrik Babouman, recounted times he has been asked, “How will you ever be as strong as an ox if you don’t eat meat?” After a chuckle, he answered, “Well, have you ever seen an ox eating meat?”.  

This sentiment characterises the entire nature of the pro-vegan film, which only took a week to become the biggest selling documentary of all time on iTunes and received high acclaim when it later aired on Netflix. The idea behind it was to myth-bust the pro-meat narrative in competitive sports. Each athlete who took part told stories of the times they’d been doubted — when they’d been told they didn’t get enough protein or iron, and that their career in professional sports would suffer because of it.  

In reality however, a hearty steak is going to do nothing but hinder your sporting prowess. Despite intense advertising from the meat industry, which has long told us that meat is intrinsically linked to strength, masculinity, and athleticism, we are finally starting to see through the myths.  

Within The Game Changers there are multiple experiments conducted which compare vegan diets to non-vegan diets. One such test monitored the progress of a seven-day vegan challenge taken on by a group of firefighters. The results of their new plant-based diet showed that they now had more energy, reduced cholesterol and blood pressure, healthy weight loss, and improved blood sugar control. 

After looking further into the so-called “plant-based advantage”, the documentary also explained that meat and other animal products cause inflammation in the body. This inflammation demands the need for a longer rest time between workouts, in comparison to the quick recovery time needed if you choose a plant-based diet. Therefore, vegan athletes have the advantage of being able to train more often, and really improve their game. Just look at Venus and Serena Williams, David Haye, and Lewis Hamilton — all vegan, and all undisputed icons in their sport of choice. 

How is the world of sports evolving? 

Thanks to documentaries like The Game Changers, vegan ambassadors in the sports world, and scientific evidence that disproves the “meat equals strength” narrative, we are seeing a takeover of veganism in sport. From full vegan diets, to vegan trainers and sports equipment, the plant-based lifestyle choice is taking the world of sport by storm.  

It isn’t just individuals either. Whole sports teams such as Nailsworth’s Forest Green Rovers have embraced veganism. Forest Green champion sustainability and take an innovative approach to football, from their solar panelled football pitch to their fully vegan match day meals. The sportswear industry has also made a massive shift towards animal friendly and sustainable clothing with major trainer companies such as Gola offering new vegan ranges. 

Clearly, there are many contributing factors as to why more and more athletes are making the big plant-based switch. When talking about her own transition to veganism, Venus Williams said,  

“I switched to an entirely vegan diet in 2004 for personal ethical reasons and was immediately surprised at how great I felt when training and competing. I recover faster from workouts and have more energy than I did before. For me, it is a simple, life-long decision. Not only do I feel physically better than ever, but I also have the satisfaction of knowing that I am not directly contributing to the industries that are so detrimental to animals, the environment and the people involved.” 

Veganism in 2020 

At the rate veganism is growing in the sports world, we are likely to see more and more athletes make the switch in 2020. According to Sainsbury’s “Future of Food” forecast, vegans and vegetarians are set to make up a quarter of the British population in 2025, and flexitarians just under half of all UK consumers. What’s more, in early 2019, we saw a record-breaking quarter of a million people take up the Veganuary challenge. Almost half of those involved decided to continue their plant-based diet permanently after the month was up.  

Considering this gradual trend and the fact that myths surrounding the traditional meat-based diet are being disproved, 2020 is set to be the biggest year for veganism so far, both in and out of the sporting world. Why not give it a go? How could veganism up your own sporting game?