Increasingly, athletes at all levels are finding unexpected benefits from switching to a vegan diet.
Early pioneers admitted they had concerns about maintaining muscle mass, strength, speed and endurance, but as these three former Veganuary participants tell us, there really was nothing to worry about … and so much to gain.
Charlotte Sims, Worcester
Charlotte is a competitive bodybuilder, who took part in Veganuary 2015. “I was really passionate about being vegetarian and it never even crossed my mind that I could be doing more,” she says, but that was before she heard about Veganuary.
“The more I researched the dairy industry, the more it shocked me, and I was ashamed I hadn’t tried out veganism sooner!”
But there was a catch. At the time, Charlotte was training for a bikini fitness bodybuilding competition and her diet consisted of a lot of eggs and dairy protein powders. Ethically, she knew what her heart was telling her, but still, she had doubts. “I was worried that my health may suffer as a vegan,” she admits, “but it has been the complete opposite.”
“I have never looked better, I have lost weight, always feel energetic and my teenage skin problems finally cleared up at the age of 29! I wish I had done it sooner!”
Helen Campbell, Northumberland
Before taking part in Veganuary, Helen was a “full-on omnivore” and always enjoyed her food but after giving birth in 2012 and again in 2014, she had gained weight, felt sluggish, unfit and like a “frumpy mum”. Together with her husband, John, she embarked on a period of education and made some profound changes to her life that included meditation, reducing stress, prioritising sleep and taking part in Veganuary. Everything fell into place, and that included significant improvements in her fitness.
“My running has gone from strength to strength,” she told us, “and I have started doing marathon training now. My strength has improved, my stamina has vastly improved, I do two ‘strength for runners’ classes a week, and four runs and I also do yoga and meditate. I used to have mild asthma but since being vegan I have not needed to use my blue inhaler at all and my breathing whilst exercising has massively improved.”
Shereen Hutton, Sheffield
As a competing athlete, Shereen had always thought she could never become vegan as her diet consisted of so much animal protein. She also admits that she thought she would miss it just too much. Watching The Game Changers documentary was the pivotal moment. It sparked an interest, and Shereen searched out scientific studies and other documentaries to find out more about athletes who had adopted a plant-based diet. Shereen decided to sign up for Veganuary 2020.
It turns out, that was a great decision. Shereen’s digestion improved, and her energy levels both increased and became more consistent, but it was in the boxing ring where the results really started to show.
“As a boxer my weight is constantly watched and has to be managed. Simply from changing to a vegan diet, I lost weight without trying. I am leaner and carry less body fat now compared to before.
Even when I’m not watching what I eat I am able to maintain form without gaining weight, which I struggled with before. My coach noticed a difference in my training, particularly in terms of endurance.
I could work harder for longer without tiring as much as I used to, as though I was running off a better fuel source.”
Shereen says that switching to a plant-based diet has been “a great decision” and that she hasn’t looked back since.