Chris Smalling has become a hot property in soccer. The English centre back plays for the world famous Manchester United in the English Premier League, and has also been picked for the English national team.
He signed for United in 2010 aged 21 and has helped the club towards the FA Cup (2016), Europe League title (2016-7) and an English league title (2016-7). As the 2018-9 season closed Chris had 206 appearances, and playing in defence had not stopped him scoring 12 goals.
Following 20 appearances at U18, U20 and U20 level he’s played for England 31 times as at the end of the 2018-9 season.
The centre-back removed meat from his diet in 2017. It was his wife who convinced him to make a nutritional switch.
Since then he’s made a video for PETA in which he discusses what led him to embrace vegan eating, saying, “I realised how brutal [animal agriculture] is to animals, how unnecessary it is to us, and how damaging it is to the environment.”
“Ultimately it’s the animal welfare that kicked me on to make sure that this is my lifestyle now.”
He’s since noticed the effect it had on recovery, an essential consideration with today’s busy schedules.
“I think it is a blend of a lot of things and I think my diet is a big factor in that” Chris says. “I think it helps me to recover quicker and the fact we play every two or three days, I did feel fresher. I think that also comes along with the coaching side in terms of managing training and doing your recovery well but all of it goes hand-in-hand with the end goal.”
“I had a lot of tendinitis in my knee, and then once I went fully vegan, all those symptoms just dropped away.”
“The second day after a game is often when I feel most fatigued, but my fatigue levels have gone down and, on the second day, I’ve felt a lot more recovered than previously.
“We did a test of our hamstrings and I’ve increased by 35 percent from the last test. On the bike, my power output has gone up.”
He’s also noticed that his skin has become more healthy.
While Chris’s wife Sam was a big influence, Chris was also affected by the wealth of information available.
“There are so many documentaries out there and so much more information,” he says. “I think it is hard to ignore some of the facts and that is definitely a big part of why I will stay vegan.”
Maintaining fitness in a pressured sport
Footballers today play with high expectations placed on their shoulders, and the number of games has increased. Manchester United frequently play in European competitions as well as a large league, and two cups competitions, and Chris also has international appearances.
Training routines are often intense, with work on skills as well as fitness.
This is all activity which needs to be fueled, and Chris is fortunate to have a good chef on board.
“He (the chef) knows my diet at home and that I get the right nutrients, it is an easy setup,” he said.
“Me and my wife come up with a list we have at home and bounce ideas off each other.
“At United, there is often a nice buffet of food and one or two are plant-based. Quite often, a lot of people who aren’t following that diet will try it as well because it is good food.
“Many of the meat-eaters ate the dishes too – vegan meatballs and things like that” says Chris – who noted that the vegan options often ran out before the meat based ones.
“Before I game I have pasta to carb-up before with a vegan Bolognese but there are so many ideas you never get stuck for what to have.”
He also has had the issue of protein raised, which he has found isn’t an issue.
“People still wonder about that, but it isn’t a problem. There are so many sources of protein for vegans: tofu, chickpeas, lentils, quinoa, tempeh, seeds, broad beans. I still have a couple of protein shakes a day, though just vegan ones now.”
With things sorted at home and while training in Manchester, Chris has also had to consider things abroad. Fortunately his chef is still on hand to help.
“When we go abroad, our chef works with the kitchen staff wherever we stay. Eating out at dinner is easy, because there are so many good vegan options. Sam and I went to Vietnam for six weeks last summer, to some off-the-beaten-track places. We weren’t sure what the food would be like, but it was unbelievable.”
Telling the vegan story
Veganism is clearly something that Chris feels strongly about, and he has supported a PETA campaign, in which he encourages fans to help animals by proclaiming, “Be Their Biggest Defender. Try Vegan!”
He’s also raised concerns which have helped encourage Nike to work on a non-leather boot. “I still have to kick a leather ball, but that’s not my choice” he says. “One day, though, there might be an alternative.”
Chris and his wife Sam have co-authored a book about their vegan lifestyle with meal plans and recipes, which is scheduled for publication later in 2019.