Anthony Mullally is an Ireland rugby league international and Leeds Rhinos forward. At 6ft 5ins he is known as the Vegan Warrior because he doesn’t eat any meat or animal products, and is one of the strongest and fittest players in the country. He actively works with Veganuary, an event that promotes a month of a vegan diet each January, and has recently opened a vegan restaurant called Vital Café near his club’s grounds in Leeds.
Anthony was a vegetarian for two and a half years before going vegan two years ago. “I watched some talks and documentaries on YouTube which changed my perception of things.” he said. “Obviously because of the nature of the sport, I didn’t want to do anything drastic that would affect my performance, but I know now that was never going to be the case. “Initially for health reasons I gave up red meat, chicken, then fish. But then I looked into the dairy industry and decided to go vegan for ethical reasons.”
Though he says he didn’t miss eating meat, he sometimes found it hard when he and the rugby lads went out for food after training. “We’re quite social, so that was difficult to go places where there weren’t vegetarian options. I used to get some stick off the lads for not eating meat. Other players from the club were initially shocked when it first happened, but then people had questions and wanted to know why.”
Anthony had to research the right things to eat to maintain his weight. “You definitely don’t need meat to gain muscle and perform at your best at the highest levels of sport,” he says. “But it’s more than just eating veggie burgers or white bread and rice. It’s important to have a balanced and varied range of greens, wholegrains, beans, and legumes,” he says. “As long as you get the right amount of calories you’re going to perform as well you could anyway. At the time I didn’t realise that but now I know that’s the case.”
He says that he feels better since going vegan. “I’m as strong as I’ve ever been. I was the strongest in the team so there’s definitely been no decline in strength or physical performance. I’m still competing with the real big guys. “I also noticed that I wouldn’t be as sore after weight sessions. I feel really good.”
Leeds Rhinos have been very supportive of Anthony’s vegan diet. “As a club, they really look after me,” says Anthony. “They provide vegan food at the club, and when we’re out they always ask the chef to make a vegan option for me. Even on away tours, they’ll do the same with the hotel. They’re very accommodating.”
He suggests that vegan and vegetarian players should discuss their needs with their own club.
“Everyone deserves to be treated equally based on their beliefs. At your own rugby clubs it’s good to speak to whoever’s in charge of the kitchen to see if they could provide at least one option. Everyone needs to eat after a game, and a pack of veggie sausages doesn’t cost a lot!
Birthday: 25th June 1991
Weight: 112 kilos
Pre-match rituals: No rituals really. Just try to keep in the moment and not dwell too much on what might happen or what has happened.
Advice to youngsters? Enjoy rugby. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you want to make it as a rugby player you have to put in the hard work, dedication and discipline.
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Interview by Nima Suchak