We take a look at some of the world's leading vegan footballers and how a plant-based diet improved their performance on the pitch.
Footballers around the world are turning to a plant-based diet to reduce inflammation, improve their recovery times and enhance their performance.
In fact, there’s even a fully vegan football club in the UK, Forest Green Rovers, which is the world’s first vegan and carbon-neutral football club!
The club is owned by ‘green energy’ industrialist Dale Vince and serves only plant-based food to punters at its ground as well as to its players and staff.
Here we take a look at some of the leading vegan footballers to find out why they ditched meat and how it’s helped them achieve their fitness goals…
1. Hector Bellerin
Real Betis defender Hector Bellerin has been vegan since 2016 and recently invested in vegan football club Forest Green Rovers. Image credit: Aitor Alcalde/Stringer via Getty Images
Real Betis defender Hector Bellerin went vegan in 2016 and has been vocal about the benefits he has enjoyed on a plant-based diet.
Initially, Belleriin adopted a plant-based diet in a bid to improve performance on the pitch. However, the vegan footballer soon noticed his recovery time improving which motivated him to stick with it.
“At first, it was all about trying it. How it tastes, how it feels, and how it helps, but I think it does way more than that, and now I see myself totally dependent on this particular diet. There is no denying that I love it more than anything else on my table,” Belleriin told The Players’ Tribune.
Like many people who initially go plant-based for their health, Belleriin soon realised there were more benefits to ditching animal products.
“It doesn’t just make a difference in your body but I strongly believe that with what we’re doing to the earth [it’s] paying back the earth too,” he explained.
Seven years later, Bellerin is now proudly vegan for his health, the environment and the animals.
“The sustainability of the environment and animal cruelty now motivate me just as much as health. The way I feel physically and mentally, knowing I’m doing the right things, makes me really happy to be a vegan,” he said in a video for Veganuary.
Bellerin also recently invested in Forest Green Rovers, the world’s first vegan football club, to help create a more sustainable future.
2. Chris Smalling
Vegan footballer Chris Smalling initially ditched meat and dairy thanks to his vegan wife, but stuck with it after his recovery time and performance on the pitch improved. Image credit: Alessandro Sabattini/Stringer via Getty Images
Roma defender Chris Smalling originally went plant-based thanks to his vegan wife, but soon found a plant-based diet helped him stay healthy and injury-free on the football pitch.
Speaking about his journey to veganism, Smalling told The Telegraph: “My wife is vegan and has been for a few years. She’s often tried to persuade me. She cooks a lot at home and half the time I was eating vegan anyway. I wasn’t fully vegan. When we ate out, I would have what I normally have.”
“After a while I started to cut out red meat, because red meat causes quite a lot of inflammation and I had a lot of tendinitis in my knee, which many footballers get. Red meat causes a lot of that inflammation and when I was cutting that down, the tendinitis started to go. It used to be a problem in terms of warm-ups, because getting going was a bit of a nightmare. My tendinitis has got better and better.”
According to the vegan footballer, this change led to cutting out meat from his diet altogether, and eventually going fully vegan.
Discussing the impact his diet has had on his match performance, he said: “Since [turning vegan], I’ve played a lot of games,’ he said. ‘Normally the second day after a game would be the worst. I would feel very tired, but I felt like I was recovering very quickly.
“In terms of the vegan diet there were a lot of factors that helped with that and I was able to keep banging out games without being too sore.”
3. Fabian Delph
Former England midfield Fabian Delph healed his body by eating a plant-based diet and practicing Thai Chi. Image credit: Robbie Jay Barratt via Getty Images
Former England midfielder Fabian Delph ditched meat and dairy from his diet in favour of plant-based food to help him recover from the injuries he sustained during his footballing career.
Thanks to the power of plants and practising mindfulness through Tai Chi, the footballer, who recently retired from the sport, managed to heal his body and revive his sporting career, going on to win a Premier trophy and compete in the World Cup.
Speaking about the changes he made to recuperate from his injuries in Soccology: Inside The Hearts And Minds Of The Professionals On The Pitch, the plant-based player, said: “I carried out mindfulness exercises like the moving meditation of Tai Chi. I changed the fuel I put into my body and switched to a vegan diet.”
4. Alex Morgan
Image credit: Brad Smith/ISI Photos via Getty Images
American soccer player Alex Morgan has been for many years after ditching animal products in 2017.
While many professional athletes go vegan for performance reasons, Morgan turned vegan due to ‘ethical reasons’.
Speaking to The Beet, she explained: “I did it for ethical reasons because of factory farming we do in the US. I felt disgusted with myself since I didn’t feel good eating this meat that was part of that. I didn’t want to support that. It’s so unnatural, the way animals live and die.”
As an additional bonus, Morgan has found her mental clarity, recovery time and energy levels all improved since going vegan, and she’s fitter than she’s ever been before. In fact, her ‘cholesterol dropped in half’ and her blood work is better than ever before.
“I was fearful it would affect soccer in a detrimental way but it was the opposite. It made me feel better,” she said.
To keep her body fuelled and fighting fit, Morgan typically starts the day with oatmeal and fruits and enjoys Mexican cuisine for dinner, noting that her mother-in-law makes ‘amazing vegan dishes.’
5. Neymar da Silva Santos Junior
Image credit: Eurasia Sport Images via Getty Images
After sustaining a serious injury that threatened to end his footballing career in 2021, legendary Brazilian footballer Neymar da Silva Santos Junior turned to a plant-based diet to speed up the recovery process.
According to Brazilian media outlet UOL, a combination of three daily training sessions and a vegan diet helped the footballer get back on his feet
6. Jenny Beattie
Image credit: Soccrates Images via Getty Images
Scotland and Arsenal defender Jenny Beattie has been vegan since 2017 and keeps her energy up for matches with vegan curries.
Although the player has previously been relatively tight-lipped about her diet, she revealed all in a recent interview with Sky Sports.
Beattie said that she first went vegan for ‘performance reasons’ while playing at Manchester City, who she said were ‘amazing’ at accommodating her new dietary requirements. She worked with the team’s nutritionist to work out what foods she needed to eat to fuel her body and soon saw her performance improve.”
Since ditching meat and dairy, Beattie said: “I sleep better, I feel fitter, I felt like I recover quicker between trainings. My bloods also improved.”
She also revealed that her teammates are supportive of her lifestyle, with many trying to reduce their meat intake too, and noted fellow footballer Karen Carney as one of her inspirations for going vegan.
“Kaz Carney was another one for me who I looked up to in that sense as she was outwardly spoken about being vegan as well.”
Although health might have been her motivation to go vegan, her concern for the climate has helped her stick with it for many years.
“The number that always stood out to me was reducing your carbon footprint – being vegan reduces it by up to 70-80%. That for me made it a deeper meaning and so much easier to stick to as well,” she told the interviewer.
7. Karen Carney
While Karen Carney now works as a sports journalist after retiring from a successful career as a winger and midfielder in 2019, she stays fit and healthy thanks to a plant-based diet.
The former professional player, who went vegan in 2017, made the switch to plant-based eating to help her recover from an ankle injury.
Speaking to Your Healthy Living, Carney said she was looking for ways to heal her body which lead her to research who a plant-based diet could help.
“At the time, I was suffering with an ankle injury and I had a lot of inflammation in my ankle. I found that the vegan diet really helped with that,” she explained.
She soon found not only did her injury heal, but her performance on the pitch improved too.
“Once my body started to adapt and get used to it, my recovery was better, my stats were significantly better and I just felt so much better in myself,” she said.
As well as healing her injury, Carney has enjoyed additional unexpected health benefits too.
“None of my blood tests have ever come back suggesting that I’m deficient in anything. The interesting thing is that I was found to be iron deficient when I was eating meat and playing football professionally. I was always having to have iron top-ups”, she added.
In fact, her only regret is that she didn’t go vegan soon, telling The Telegraph: “I feel fabulous; it’s great. I wish I’d done it earlier… I feel more energised, healthier and happier.”
8. Graeme Souness
Former professional footballer turned TV pundit Graeme Souness has been vegan since 2018. Image credit: Matthew Ashton via Getty Images
Although no longer an active player, Sky Sports pundit and former professional football player and manager Graeme Souness has been vegan since 2018.
He revealed he was vegan during a discussion about environmental issues while covering a Premier League match, leading to fans calling the revelation the “shock of 2021.”
Interestingly, he said that his main motivation for being vegan was due to his distaste at the way farmed animals are treated.
During the coverage he explained: “The reason I did it, my concern was animal welfare. That was the biggest single reason.
“I think the way we treat animals is despicable, but that’s for another day. I’m in the process of having a new house built, I’ve air source heat pumps, I’ve got solar panels, so I’m aware of it, and I’m trying to do my wee bit.”
These footballs aren’t the only ones going vegan, check out these vegan tennis players!
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