Leeds Rhinos rugby star speaks about his plant powered performances

There is nothing more satisfying than letting dismissive family and friends know that actually, the outdated view of what a vegan looks like (that they probably still have in their head) no longer rings true.

Nothing does this more positively than incredible athletes that are at the peak of their respective sports, subverting stereotypes on a daily basis. David Haye and Venus Williams are two of the A-list stars pioneering the way for a more positive view of plant based athletes, but now there is a new kid on the block.

Rugby giant Anthony Mullally isn’t your stereotypical vegan. At a towering 6’5” and weighing in at 252lbs he is evidence that protein deficiency when you solely eat plants is a complete myth. We spoke to the Leeds Rhinos and Irish international player to find out how moving to a plant based diet has changed his on-pitch performance, the reception in the changing room and his top tips for transitioning to veganism.

What prompted you to start cutting animal products from your diet?

I originally started to cut out animal products after watching a video by Gary Yourofsky. That sparked my journey and from then I started to research and to make sure I was making the right decision for myself.

How was the transition for you going from meat eater to plant based?

Mine was a long, drawn out process. It started with cutting out red meat, then chicken, fish, dairy and so on. The reason for this change was due to my profession. Being in a profession which is based on physical performance, I didn’t want to make any drastic changes that may have hindered it
in any way.

But with each transition and the longer time went on and the more research I did, I became more passionate about it and that made each stage easier for me.

For people looking at transitioning to plant based eating, what are your top tips?

Doing lots of research would be my main tip. You can’t go into it in a light-hearted manner, it is a big decision and needs to be taken seriously, and otherwise you will fall out of it. Secondly, be prepared to do a lot of your own food preparation at home, because although veganism is becoming more popular it is still not easy to just nip to the nearest sandwich shop for lunch — as the chances are they won’t have anything for you.

This is especially true if you are an athlete as you need to know how many calories you need to maintain weight and you need to know what essential amino acids are in your staple plant based proteins so that you can optimise muscle growth and maintain strength.

How has your change in diet impacted your game and overall fitness?

Well, this season for me has been by far the best of my career! I’m not going to say that turning vegan is the reason for that, because that’s not the case, but it definitely hasn’t had any negative effects. And personally I feel great in myself.

How do you try to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients and vitamins you need?

Like I mentioned, research is a massive part of it. So once you’ve found out what you need to, there are a couple of things we need to make sure we are getting that we may fall short on. B12 is the big one that everyone knows about. I supplement that with a spray. Another is omega 3 fatty acids — I get these through walnuts and flaxseeds. It is about being conscious of what we need on a regular basis.

What is the response from people when they find out you’re vegan?

It’s often disbelief. There’s a misconceived perception that you can’t build muscle or be a top level athlete being vegan, although there are plenty of cases out there. I spend a lot of my time explaining to people that plants have protein also. I’m aware that the protein levels aren’t as much as meat and I’ve never argued that. But I’m not willing to eat animal products if it means another species had to die for my gain, especially when there are so many other options out there now.

What has the reaction in the changing room been like to your diet change?

The reaction was exactly how you would imagine it to be in a room full of testosterone-filled rugby players. But it’s all in jest and I enjoy it. It never seems to end though — every time we eat out it is a running joke. People will jokingly say that my dinner is like the grass outside, but I enjoy the banter.

What about Leeds Rhinos, how has the club catered for your new dietary requirements?

My club Leeds Rhinos have been great. We often go away and stay in different hotels and they always let the hotels know about my requirements. I feel uncomfortable sometimes as I don’t like making a fuss, but it can’t be helped.

I’ve recently got back from the World Cup in Australia with Ireland, and that was the same, they made a really big effort to make sure there was choice for me. Even in Papua New Guinea.

How do you navigate speaking to others about vegan topics?

It depends on whether they are vegan or not. I’ll never push my views on anyone but most people are curious and then I get into the topic with them and explaining my decisions for turning vegan. Usually people understand and I have even managed to help sway one of my teammates to go vegetarian.

What is the best new dinner you have started making since going vegan?

I enjoy making a Thai red curry with seasoned tofu, using coconut milk and a paste for the sauce. I’m a very basic cook, so I just make sure I have everything I need on my plate and eat it.

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