Veganism is rising in Ireland and around the globe. There are a number of reasons why those who lead a vegan lifestyle choose to do so, these include health, animal welfare and environmental consciousness. But can you be an athlete and be a vegan?
A vegan is defined as someone who does not eat or use any animal products. This means excluding meat, dairy, eggs and honey from your diet. In addition, vegans must abstain from the use of any products tested on or derived from animals or wearing any leather or fur.
As the vegan movement has grown a conversation has developed among activists. The beliefs that it is impossible to live a vegan lifestyle while remaining healthy, obtaining enough protein and being able to build muscle is being silenced by the growth in athletes and sports people following a vegan lifestyle. Professional rugby players obtaining the strong muscular physique, while following the vegan lifestyle include, Italian rugby union and league player Micro Bergamasco and Ireland and Leeds Rhinos player Anthony Mullally.
Richie Jermyn (26) plays centre for Old Wesley Rugby Club’s 1st team in Dublin. He has been a vegetarian since the age of five and became a vegan over four years ago following the completion of a degree in Agri-Environmental science.
Richie recalls a strong interest in where his food was coming from, from an early age “I’ve always been an animal lover and as a young child refused to eat them. Thankfully that formed the basis for my vegan journey. I now have a degree in Agri-Environmental Science and this has given me the knowledge and experience to avoid animal products altogether.”
The vegan lifestyle is often projected as expensive and difficult, Richie explains that although it can require some preparation to make sure he is getting everything he needs to be able to train hard, after a while you learn what works for you ” I’ve been on a journey with the whole thing since I was very young and so there has never really been any drastic change. I’ve figured out what works and vegan food is just food for me. I track my macronutrients to ensure I’m getting what I need and it’s actually really easy to meet all of your nutrient requirements on a vegan diet.”
Richie also wishes to dispel the protein ‘myth’, ” It’s easy to get enough protein in your diet, people use it as an excuse, there are many plant based foods full of protein like beans, pulses, quinoa and leafy greens. I get plenty of protein and have always been able to maintain a strong physique without animal products. ” An average daily meal plan for Richie includes plenty of fruit and veg, beans, pulses, lentils as well as grains, milk and dairy alternatives, tofu and a few vegan treats along the way.
There is much debate and criticisms of the vegan lifestyle but Richie has never felt criticised for his choices within the rugby circle. Teammates are fascinated by it and can challenge the choice but, he welcomes the opportunity to show people you can have a muscular physique and be strong while following a vegan diet, “I don’t think I’ve ever been criticised by coaches or trainers but people try to challenge me on it and I welcome that. There’s definitely a bit of banter that goes with it too. People are very inquisitive about my reasons and usually, respect my motivations. I’ve definitely inspired lots of people to explore the vegan/vegetarian world. ” Richie is delighted he took the decision four years ago to become vegan but confirms everyone’s fears that the hardest part is “Saying no to chocolate.”
The growth of veganism can be seen all around us, the restaurant scene in Ireland is jumping on board as a result of the rising demand. The first Sova Vegan Butcher restaurant opened its doors in 2016 in the heart of the city on Camden Street. The restaurant offers dishes including seaweed chowder, vegan burgers and kelp caviar. Other vegan hotspots in Dublin include Happy Food restaurant and Cornucopia. With the demand being served and the rising evidence of the benefits, the vegan movement is set to go from strength to strength.