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Veganism in Sports

WILF THORNE/ISI PHOTOS

Veganism saved me. I know what you’re thinking—veganism saved you? 

It sounds dramatic, sure, or maybe like I’m joking. But I promise you it’s the truth.

I’ve been a professional soccer player for eight years now, going all the way back to 2012. In 2016, I had my worst professional season.

There were personal struggles off the field that were affecting my on field performance, and, long story short, I just didn’t feel like myself anymore. It felt like I was sleepwalking through someone else’s life. I no longer felt confident on the pitch, which had always been a source of energy for me.

I knew something needed to change.

I didn’t know it was my diet.

But after that season, I took a hard look in the mirror and promised myself that I would turn it around in the offseason. I wanted to re-examine every part of my approach—my mentality, my fitness, and yes, my diet. Everything was on the table, because I needed to get back to feeling like myself.

And then I found veganism. Or I guess veganism found me.

I had already been cooking mostly vegetarian meals for a month or so before I made the full transition. Initially, I was just curious. Because it was the offseason, I knew I had some leeway to experiment. Though I’d read some accounts from players raving about the vegan lifestyle, never in a million years would I have guessed that taking animal protein out of my diet was just what I needed to turn my life around.

Right away, I noticed positive changes. I wasn’t as tired between workouts. I was quickly getting leaner, and sleeping a whole lot better. I started knocking off my fitness goals with ease. I dropped 20lbs, which made long-distance running much less of a struggle. My endurance improved, and I was able to run at a faster clip without feeling fatigued.

At 5’10”, I’m already on the bigger side for a soccer player, so changing my physical composition was a huge positive for my game. And people noticed. As the offseason went on, I’d have friends and teammates approach me and ask about how I’d managed to so quickly change my physique. Of course, running six days a week and lifting for three helped. But it was my diet that allowed me to train as hard as I was training during that time. I had always spent the offseason running and lifting, but I’d never gotten these results.

Now, I’ve come to genuinely believe that veganism isn’t just a nice alternative, but truly the optimal diet for an elite athlete. I can tell you right now that I’m not going back. As a professional, I’m always looking for habits that give me the best chance to succeed. And after seeing what a plant-based diet has done for me over these past few years, I know that it’s the cleanest way to eat, and that if I want to compete, it only makes sense for me to continue giving my body the proper fuel it needs to function.

Of course, if you’re serious about making the transition, I would recommend talking with a nutritionist to make sure you have a plan to support your needs. You can’t just cut out meat and not add protein elsewhere. When I was making the switch, I talked to my club’s nutritionist in order to ensure that I was still getting the proper nutrition. We talked about supplements, like iron and b12, and went over which plant foods contained the proteins I needed for gaining mass and helping my muscles repair.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that pretty much all plant foods contain protein. Some even have a higher protein-per-calorie count than meat.

Another underrated aspect of going vegan is just how fun it can be. Seriously. It forces you to focus on what you’re putting into your body in a way that you never have. People aren’t just being cutesy when they call it a lifestyle. It really does change the way you relate to your body, which impacts every single aspect of your life.

Plus, if you like to cook like I do, discovering substitutes for dairy and meat can be an enlightening experience. I routinely make meals for family members, friends, and teammates, and more often than not, they are shocked that what they are eating is both vegan and delicious.

To say veganism saved me might sound over-the-top, but the truth is that transitioning to a plant-based diet gave me the opportunity to really take ownership over a central part of my everyday life. It helped me re-discover the confidence and sense of self that I thought I had lost. It meant I was healthy and happy and focused, which helped me pull myself out of the rut I’d been in.

I can, without even a sliver of doubt, say that I will continue on this path for the rest of my life. I already know how much it has helped me, and that’s not even taking into account the good it does for both the environment and the welfare of the animals who we share this planet with.

My recommendation? Give it a try. You might just surprise yourself.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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