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Niamh is the editorial assistant for Healthy Food Guide. She loves trying out the latest healthy food trends and gets stuck in with trialling new exercise classes

After switching to a vegan diet back in 2018, Manchester United star Chris Smalling is living proof that you can sustain energy on plant-based meals. We caught up with the footballer to find out what his teammates think of his diet and what he cooks at home

1. Why did you decide to go vegan? I had watched a lot of documentaries and read a couple of books on the effects of a traditional diet on our health, the environment and obviously, animal welfare. I realised my taste buds weren’t more important than the pain suffered by animals and the future of the planet. As my wife and I were hoping to start a family at the time, reading about the topic had a bigger impact on me. I wanted to be healthy and make conscious choices that would benefit my children and their children. Plus, once I started trying the vegan dishes my wife had been preparing for herself, I realised I didn’t have to miss out as everything tasted amazing!

2. Have you noticed a difference in your health and fitness since going vegan?  My energy levels have only increased since changing my diet. I’m finding that my recovery from matches has accelerated and the usual aches post-match have reduced, enabling me to be in better shape for the next training session. I have also hit a few personal bests in the gym, which is further proof that my body is benefitting from the switch. I believe that my tendonitis, which I have suffered from in my knee, reduced significantly once I cut down on red meat. My skin also suffers less breakouts.

Chris believes his energy-levels have increased since going vegan

Image of Chris Smalling playing football

Image: Tom Purslow, courtesy of Manchester United, via Getty Images

3. What do your teammates at Manchester United think of your diet? They’re curious, which is great, as it opens discussion on the topic of veganism. I enjoy answering their questions, as I really took the time to educate myself on the subject when I was making the decision to transition. We have a team chef who prepares our meals at the training ground and in the away game hotels. He devised a plant-based section for me, but it’s often near-empty when I get there, as the food looks and tastes so fantastic!

4. Do you cook for yourself and, if so, what are your go-to recipes? I must admit I didn’t cook very much at all before I met my wife, Sam. She opened my eyes to different spice combinations and the importance of fresh produce. I hadn’t realised how much my food had lacked taste before Sam began cooking for me. Now, my personal go-to dish is spaghetti bolognese. It’s a dish I have perfected over the years as it is always my pre-match meal.

Image of lentil bolognese

Try this delicious vegan bolognese dish, which uses lentils

5. What are your healthy store cupboard essentials? Tins of chickpeas and coconut milk are used a lot in the house. My wife is conscious of waste, so buys in bulk and uses Kilner jars to store things like chia seeds, cashew nuts (which are great for making a creamy sauce or toasted in a stir-fry), pumpkin seeds, oats, quinoa, brown, red and black rice, coconut sugar, lentils, and nutritional yeast (which is good for adding a savoury, cheesy flavour to vegan recipes). We also have three spice racks. Sam is big on flavour combinations, so these come in handy whilst cooking!

Curious to try a vegan diet? We have over 100 vegan recipes to get you started…