Plant-Powered Athletes: The Intersection of Veganism and Professional Athletics

How Some Athletes Have Found a New Recipe for Success

Exhibitors bring awareness to veganism at Montreal Vegan Festival. Photo Caroline Marsh

Nowadays, we see athletes pushing their limits like never before, training and workout techniques have evolved and one aspect that has changed dramatically in the last few years is nutrition.

As part of the Montreal Vegan Festival, held from Sept. 21 through 22, we were able to learn more about how a plant-based protein diet can benefit athletes.

Spokesperson for the festival, Marc-Olivier Brouillette, a former Canadian Football League player who played for the Montreal Alouettes and the Saskatchewan Roughriders spoke about how his switch to a vegan diet had a positive impact on his game. Brouillette played nine years in the CFL, from 2010 to 2018.

The athlete presented a conference titled “Vegan, six years too late.” In 2016 season, after switching to a vegan diet, he was named to the CFL All-Star team and did not miss a game due to injuries.

“I was looking for something that could help me to recover faster after a tough training session or a hard game, and wanted to be able to perform the next day despite the pain,” Brouillette explained. “I soon realised that this new diet was good for my recovery.”

Brouillette was first introduced to the veganism by his wife. He tried her meals but because of the need to fuel his body for football, he continued to supplement these meals with an animal protein.

“I was eating what she cooked but always kept a chicken or something else on the side because I thought I needed more proteins,” he said.

However, after reading and learning more about veganism, he decided to try it for real this time. He wanted to find a new way to perform at a higher level and gain an edge on his opponents. During his panel, Brouillette spoke about the pressure of being a professional athlete.

“When you are talking about professional football, everyone works hard, everyone is talented, everyone is fast, everyone is big […] If I was not performing, I was losing my job,” said Brouillette. “How will I find that extra one per cent? During my whole career I was always looking in supplements, workout techniques.”

Once he had more knowledge about the benefits of a vegan diet, Brouillette decided to not only try it, but adopt it.

“When you see athletes such as Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Lewis Hamilton that are all vegans, you start to feel that there is a new wave,” Marc-Olivier Brouillette

He talked about how he had to adjust his diet, referring to a common misconception that to be fit, you must cut carbs. He said that hearing people say that carbs were something to avoid to stay in shape is the most stupid thing he’s heard.

“Carbs are the fuel you put in your engine to make it work, to not eat carbs is like to put ordinary gas in a Ferrari,” he said.

For him, it was a big change. He said that when he was a teenager and started to workout, he cultivated the image of the perfect athlete body. “I became obsessed with that,” he said, referring to the fact that he was a bit overweight and quickly became lean and fit after a growth spurt at 15. The former safety said that it was in line with professional sport values because many people believe that when you are an athlete, you will have a six-pack and big arms.

“I was counting all my calories carefully,” he said. “I used to look at magazines of muscle and fitness with weight protein and mass gainer, for me that was being healthy. I was a supplement junkie, I was talking about 30 pills a day and a shake every three hours.”

He mentioned that those pre-workout shakes are full of artificial sugar and caffeine, not necessary for muscle recovery.

Brouillette added he was aiming to have about 1.5 grams of protein per pound per day. In his case, he was consuming 300 grams to his 200 pounds.

“I truly believed that it was the only way. Today, if I reach 100 grams of proteins, it’s a big day for me,” he said.

He said that before he became vegan, he had to take a nap every day after practice. That has not been the case since he’s changed his diet.

Brouillette also mentioned that The Game Changers a recently released documentary about the benefits of a plant-based diet, will truly influence many more athletes to make changes to the way they eat.

“When you see athletes such as Novak Djokovic, Serena Williams and Lewis Hamilton that are all vegans, you start to feel that there is a new wave,” said Brouillette.

Brouillette took the time to say that being vegan doesn’t mean you are eating healthy, some people will have fries or Beyond burgers often.

Also there to share his own story of becoming a plant-based athlete was Antoine Jolicoeur Desroches, a triathlete and nutritionist who decided to cook his own energy meals to be consumed during races. He presented his recipe for a grab-and-go rice cake, ideal for bikers and runners, adding that it’s become a common snack for those participating in the Tour de France.

One thing is certain, veganism is definitely changing some of the old habits and beliefs many athletes used to have.