Veganuary: Why Are Some Athletes Going Vegan?

A record half a million people pledged to eat only vegan food in January 2021, according to non-profit Veganuary. The reasons for joining Veganuary include health, the animals and the environment. Some athletes are also fueling up on plants and following a vegan diet to help boost their performance and recovery.

Will Brooks is a martial artist who trains in Brazilian jiujitsu. Will says he’s in the best shape of his life since he became vegan.

“I had been plagued with tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow for years and years when I was eating meat. And on top of that, I injured my spine pretty badly right before I went vegan. And I was dealing with a lot of joint pain. So, as soon as I went vegan, about two weeks in, all my joint pain was gone, which resulted in me being able to push harder in the gym, train harder with jiujitsu, being able to build my strength back better than it ever was, along with my stamina and my ability to burn more fat, essentially. So, it’s overall improved every aspect of my athletic life. The power of the plants is real. And I made a lot of progress that I would have never seen if I hadn’t switched to being vegan. So, it’s been life changing.”

23-year-old pro surfer Tia Blanco grew up vegetarian and she became vegan eight years ago. She says she had a lot more energy after becoming vegan.

“I definitely think that being vegan has given me somewhat of a competitive edge. I think first and foremost, I’ve noticed a great difference in my energy levels. I feel very strong. And especially when I cut out dairy, I noticed that I just had a lot more energy and my recovery levels were way better.”

Will says he thinks more athletes will try plant-based diets in the future.

“Even just my jiujitsu gym alone, there are a few of us who are vegan, and some of the guys are like, I can’t believe you’re vegan. You roll so aggressively or you feel so strong. I can’t believe you don’t eat meat. There’s already a heightened level of awareness with athletes just seeing what we’re doing now. But as time progresses, more people become interested and see what’s capable, what you’re able to do on plants, I think we’re going to see a lot more of this in the future.”

And if you’re thinking of trying a vegan diet, Tia suggests not being too hard on yourself.

“ I would suggest that you educate yourself and learn about all the benefits that come with being vegan. And number two, I would say to not be so hard on yourself. Nobody is perfect. And just making conscious decisions with every meal to eat better is good enough. So, be patient with yourself and hey, you don’t have to be perfect.”

For Will, the benefits of being vegan are numerous.

“Looking at it from a fitness and a physical point of view, just you know my body looks better than it ever did 10 years ago. It operates better than it did 10 years ago. But if you’re going to look at it from an animal ethics point of view, I love that if I see a documentary where animals are being slaughtered, I know that I don’t contribute to that anymore. That feels really good.”

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