Anthony Mullally: I play professional rugby, so why would I become vegetarian?

By September 23, 2016

Politics. Leeds.


It only seems right that my first Rugby AM column relates to my diet, as this one of the most important aspects of being a sportsperson—plus there are reasons for my choosing a way of life that is so alien in my industry. This column focusses on the reasons I am a vegetarian and how I dealt with the transitions into cutting meat products from my diet.

Firstly, I will explain my reasons for being a vegetarian, “reasons” being the definitive word as there are an accumulation of them. It started not long after my sister and her boyfriend turned Vegan. Every time I would visit back home and the subject would arise the things they said to me started to make more and more sense. Stevie (my sister’s boyfriend) told me to a watch video from a vegan activist called Gary Yourofsky. After some pondering I finally got around to watching the video and it had an instant effect on me. The biggest eye opener for me, aside from the ethical principles, was his theory that we as humans are not carnivores (meat eaters) but in fact we are herbivores (plant eaters). So after I did a lot of research on similar theories comparing the anatomy of ourselves to that of herbivores and carnivores, my mind had been changed. I should say at this point that I am not trying to preach or force anything on people, just explaining why I made such a sudden and abrupt lifestyle change, and that this was my main reason, cruelty to animals being another. Once I delved in more—and I’m still learning—there were so many other negative effects eating meat can have. Not just for us but on the environment—animal agriculture is one of the leading drivers for climate change.

Secondly, how I transitioned from being a meat eater. It has been something of a weaning process. I originally gave up red meat, then chicken, and now fish. The reason being I naively thought it would inhibit my physical performance on the rugby field and my ability to maintain strength and muscle mass, especially being a prop forward, who historically are supposed to be the biggest players on the team (I know sometimes this isn’t the case). Never the less, it was in the back of my mind, and I’m health conscious, as most professional athletes are. That was the reason for the slow transition, but as time went on and I was gaining more knowledge, my strength and size has not decreased. If anything I feel better, especially in myself. I started to think to myself: if am doing all this research and actually putting it into practice by slowly working my way off animal products, and I believe the theory that we as humans are natural plant-eaters, then why should I be conscious that I will lose size, or think it will affect my physical performance, if began eating like a herbivore. Realising I could do this was the turning point.

Thirdly, there were still some dietary modifications I needed to make to ensure I get the right nutrition and vitamins—protein, healthy fats, B12, and so on. The first question I get asked when it comes up in conversation with people for the first time is “Where do you get your protein?” Along with a look like I have just slapped them across the face. Then “How do you maintain your size?” and “Surely it’s not good for you if you play professional sport?” All in my opinion are common misconceptions, although, as I’ve said, these stigmas were in the back of my own mind at the beginning. I understand where they are coming from. To reiterate, I am a vegetarian not a vegan. I still eat eggs and cheese on occasions, though I try to stay away from milk, and will only buy coconut milk and almond for my fridge. I don’t overindulge on cheese and eggs to compensate because I don’t agree with the dairy industry either, or the factory farmed egg industry. I understand it is hypocritical to still eat dairy at all but, like I have explained, my process of turning into a vegetarian was a slow one.

If I am to become vegan in the future that transition will be no different. I now get my main sources of protein in things like lentils, black beans, kidney beans, tofu, soy chunks, Quorn (although I try to limit the amount of this source), eggs, quinoa, nuts, many varieties of seeds. These are the corner stones of my diet in terms of getting a high protein intake. To complement them are obviously a lot of vegetables which themselves have protein in, just not as much as a piece of steak (though on the positive they do don’t contain high levels of cholesterol). Superfood supplements can be a good option too: take a look at this detailed review on Athletic Greens. The biggest alteration for me had to be the improvements in the culinary department and preparation. I couldn’t expect to maintain size and performance if I wasn’t getting the sufficient calories. Now, I just find myself grazing all day.

Lastly, how it is being a vegetarian athlete around a team full of carnivores and the hilarity that comes with it. As I mentioned earlier, when I tell people I am a vegetarian the expressions on their faces are priceless, none more so than my teammates when we first met. Each day is a battle with them (in a harmless and funny way). We eat together near enough every day and I still can’t have the waiter or waitress say my order out loud without one of the lads muttering under their breath. No matter how long I’ve known them or how many times we eat together, the outcome is the same—mentioning no names (Keith Galloway). They like to say I bring it up all the time but in fact I am only ever answering or debating questions that come from them. I have a go-to reference to try nipping it in the bud: I say gorillas are vegetarian apart from the odd termite, and we share 96% of our DNA with them. Take from that what you will but it always turns into further discussion. However, it is all in jest and I enjoy the camaraderie that comes with it.

That, in brief, is why I don’t eat meat and what it is like being a vegetarian professional athlete. My next column will focus on how I manage to cope as a professional athlete that does no longer eat meat.

Anthony Mullally plays professional league rugby Ireland and Leeds Rhinos. 

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