Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

The misunderstood concept of Veganism in football

Posted on 1 November 2021 by Ben Thorne

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Veganism is seen by the vast majority as being endlessly beneficial for your health, the environment and in line with ethical moralities.

Birmingham City FC and AFC Wimbledon nutritionist Vicky Newbold believes that a vegan diet can be beneficial for football players. But it is clear that veganism within football is far more complex and heavily misinterpreted by many.

Being vegan as a football player can of course bring many health benefits. However, the argument that obtaining a vegan diet can indefinitely improve performance is not accurate.

Vicky Newbold explains:

“There is no research at the moment that says that being vegan is going to improve your performance, nobody has done that research, specifically in football.”

“A football player can choose to go vegan, and if they get it right then they won’t see any decrement to their performance, no decrease or change from a negative perspective.”

“But if they are not getting it right, there are some other pitfalls that could actually reduce or compromise their performance. Sometimes consuming meat or dairy that you can still get a lot of the benefits from a vegan diet without going the whole hog.”

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Football players are required by their clubs to maintain a balanced and nutritional diet, but those that are considering changing to a vegan diet need to be aware of what is needed for it to be beneficial.

Newbold said:

“I think that there’s a reasonable amount of awareness that a vegan diet can be a really beneficial diet for health. I think that a lot of players know not much more than that.”

“I don’t think that very many of them are aware of the things that you really need to consider to make sure that you’re meeting your nutritional needs, if I’m honest. You may get 5% of players know what they are doing, but I think that’s probably the limit of it.”

This clearly needs to be addressed, as football players need to be informed clearly and correctly of the requirements in order for a vegan diet to be beneficial for them.

Vicky Newbold highlights the experiences she has had within her role and how she has dealt with players that have decided to turn to a vegan diet.

“The players that I’ve worked with who have decided to go vegan have not been fully aware of all of the considerations and haven’t been meeting their nutritional needs of their vegan diet. In that sense that has been challenging for them, they weren’t aware that they were missing out on certain key nutrients until we started having certain conversations.”

“The vast majority of them decided to actually step back from a strict or ‘wholly’ vegan diet and have decided to go for more of a plant-based approach. But the proposition there is that if your diet is mainly plant-based and flexible, sometimes consuming meat or dairy can still get a lot of the benefits from a vegan diet without going the whole hog.”

There is a ‘simplistic’ perspective about veganism from many people about how a vegan diet can merely improve health, performance, or recovery from elite-level physical activity. Nevertheless, changing to a vegan diet does mean that key nutrients can be missed and forgotten.

As Newbold mentioned previously, football players can therefore see ‘pitfalls’ in health and performance occur as a result of a poorly organised vegan diet.

“Vegan is not default healthy, nor balanced or going to support performance. If you had the best possible vegan diet and got absolutely everything right then you could argue that that might be beneficial, but again there are so many boxes that you’ve got to tick to say it can be beneficial.”

“There are some key nutrients that you can’t meet from a vegan diet, and you need to take supplements for, so you must be taking supplementation. The key consideration which is important for recovery in football is the intake of protein, it is really easy not to hit those nutritional needs.”

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The media portrayal of veganism in general has to be refined going forward. This can lead to not only football players but everyone to be conflicted about what is required to obtain a good vegan diet, whilst considering the benefits and drawbacks.

“I think they like to sensationalize anything and report completely conflicting viewpoints from one day to the next.”

“They’ll publish a headline from a study and maybe they’ll misinterpret it, maybe they won’t. But then they’ll be saying ‘we should all be going vegan.”

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There is no doubt that over recent years the availability of vegan options across the greater part of popular food retailers, restaurants and café’s has opened people’s eyes to the idea of going vegan.

Vicky Newbold emphasises her support for this societal change but believes more can still be done, in terms of the quality and the number of options for vegans.

“The landscape in the wider world for someone who is trying to eat plant-based is easier, there are generally more vegan options on the menus, which is a good thing. The increase in availability in vegan meals, food and café’s is only encouraging people to become vegan or eat more vegan meals.”

“But the vegan options are much worse generally from a nutritional perspective than vegetarian ones. Where there is no real key source of protein in the meal that makes it harder.”

“We need more reliable and authentic advice about vegan nutrition that is easy to access within the mainstream media, which isn’t social media.”