When a meat lover goes vego

Australia has surpassed the US in our consumption of meat. So when an ex-NRL player attempts a plant-based diet, it’s not just challenge for him, it’s a challenge for all of us.

When you’re surrounded by yogis and gym goers who advocate vegetarianism, it’s only a matter of time before you get pulled into the plant-based world.

But for ex-Cronulla Sharks player and owner and director of Flow Athletic Ben Lucas, the concept of giving up meat was a challenging one. In a career that required him to store up on animal protein for the strength and power notably associated with rugby league players, the idea of focusing more balanced plant-based diet did require some thinking.

“I’ve come from a big resistance training background. I would normally eat some form of animal protein about four times a day so I had to cut that down drastically … It’s kind of an old football players headspace where I would be eating loads of meat because I didn’t want to lose muscle,” he said.

“Owning a yoga studio, I’m surrounded by vegetarians and vegans. They’ve been trying to consume less animal protein so they've been a really good catalyst for me to bite the bullet and try it. I did a lot of reading around it, about alkaline levels and the like. I feel better for it.

Australia is a meat-loving nation. It’s all about getting a steak on the barbecue or more pork on your fork. According to the most recent figures from the Organisation of Economic Development and Cooperation and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, in 2015 Australians surpassed the US to claim the title of the world’s most voracious meat eaters (per person).

“I was apprehensive because I felt I was going to wither away to a feather without eating 300 grams of protein a day, but that really wasn’t the case,” Ben reflects.

“I feel that it was more easily digested. So I feel lighter, like I’m holding less water. Even my skin feels better.”

To adjust his diet to be more plant-focused, Ben focused on switching up his favourite meat meals with vegetarian options. Where before he would have bacon and eggs for breakfast, Ben decided to switch it up with a smoothie of coconut water, banana, vegan protein and berries. For lunch, big, leafy salads were the focus with avocado for a little more density. Steamed vegetables were the go for dinner with a light sauce.

“The more [vegetables] I ate, the less I consumed sauces or salt. I found it to be more tasty and more vibrant eating them on their own. You can really taste your food,” he explains, “With meat you forget what beetroot tastes like or how good tomatoes taste on their own - because usually I’d only be having them as part of something else or with sauce on a big steak.”

Appreciating the taste of each ingredient wasn’t the only thing Ben noticed change. By eating less meat he was automatically increasing his consumption of fruit and vegetables which had its own benefits.

“It helps me sleep better. I mean, I’m not sleeping the best at the moment because I’ve got a little baby,  but I’m feeling good off not as much sleep. So I’ve been sleeping quite well considering,” he said.  “The quality of sleep has been better for sure.”

With a very active lifestyle, both Ben and his wife (Sunrise presenter, Talitha Cummins) have felt the need to eat meat to sustain the energy needed for their long days. But this challenge has impressed more than just Ben.

“I think she’ll follow my lead and eat more vegetarian meals. I think you can definitely get children into better habits and even just less red meat in general is positive I believe.,” he said.

“This challenge was the catalyst for me. I’d been thinking about it for a while but this was the motivation that I needed. After feeling as good as I do I would continue for sure and will definitely include more vegetables in my diet ... I don’t feel like I need to be the biggest guy at the gym anymore. I just want to be healthy and feel good and eating a few vegetarian meals a week really helped that.”

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